Publishers, Stop Being Craven, Forge Your Own Future

by Eoin Purcell

For some time there has been a funny dichotomy in the publishing industry worldwide.

On the one hand publishers have decried the growing influence of powerful tech companies from outside the industry. Google, Amazon, Apple all fall into that category (Amazon aside from being an impressive online retailer is also an amazing tech company). They are feared and despised both as huge outside firms with enormous capabilities and cash compared with publishers and also as companies driving the industry in a direction it wasn’t keen on going.

On the other hand, various parts of the industry have gushed about the latest moves by these companies, Apple’s launch of the iPad as a media’s saviour, Google EBooks as a game changer or now, Google’s One Pass as a way to beat Apple’s new and restrictive trading terms for content bought in App by consumers.

Perhaps the only exception to this has been Amazon who, despite being one of the most innovative and reader friendly companies in the business, has been routinely lambasted. Even it’s clever and effective popularization of ebooks and ereading was seen as a BAD thing. Amazon, it seems, can do no right!

Well I’m sick of it. I tired of hearing the industry complain and point one minute then jump up and down in happiness at the anticipation of NEW things SAVING content the next. I’m tired of bad strategy decisions prompted by poorly thought out positions. I’m really bored with people arguing about why this or that needs protection and honestly I don’t care what Apple does next.

Lots of sensible people have been talking about what publishers should be doing to make their OWN way towards a sustainable future. Mike Shatzkin has written about it, so has Brian O’Leary, Don Linn and Kassia Krozser, many, many others have too. But none of it seems to impact the mainstream discussion.

  • Here’s a simple truth: the web (in particular digital distribution of content) is undermining the existing economic model for publishing
  • A second: the author is gaining power vis-a-vis the publisher
  • A third: the existing system cannot persist, the parts of the industry that don’t change, will fail
  • And a last one: YOU are responsible for your own future and it’s time you stopped waiting for someone else to make it happen

Digital content WILL dominate the future*. You don’t have to like that, but you DO have to accept it. When you accept that you’ll begin to see that the systems behind publishing need to change rapidly or else you need to create a new organisation to work within the new rules (and economic realities).

It’s time for the industry to stop worrying about Apple, Amazon and Google. It is time for the industry to just forget about all of them and to decide how it is going to bring stories to readers in a way that keeps it relevant, interesting and hopefully profitable or else to decide that it is going to grow old and die gracefully. In either case, I’m pretty sure it’s time to shut up and do it.


  1. Rich Adin18 February, 2011

    Eoin, it is not that Amazon can’t do anything right — it’s that every time Amazon does something right, it tries to figure out a way to prevent any competition. If Amazon were one-fifth the influence in the marketplace (somewhat like Sony), this would not be a problem. But the larger and more monopolistic Amazon becomes, the more it tries to create a stranglehold, which is why it is perceived as not doing anything right.

    As you know, I’m not an Amazon fan. Sure I’d like to pay less for my purchases; sure I wish its competitors would at least try to duplicate its vaunted customer service — who wouldn’t, as a consumer, want these things? But my fear is that all these things that Amazon does that customers want will disappear once the only choice is Amazon. So I pay a little more and put up with less-friendly customer service because experience shows that once a company is near-monopolistic in a marketplace, the consumer suffers. Do we need to look any further than Adobe and InDesign or Microsoft and Office?

  2. Graham17 May, 2011

    Nice article Eoin and valid . I don’t and won’t buy from Amazon. (My blog gives a number of specifics). I agree totally that publishers, authors, etc have an ideal opportunity to direct their own future. In todays world we really don’t need a middle man . Each publisher can set up their own sales policies without these “exclusive” and restrictive deals given to monopoly players. I won’t use Kindle and I won’t “rent’ books. I will buy from whom the hell I want. (If they ever see sense and take their future into their own hands.) I will pay full paper price for a book if I own it. Innovation, logic and sense is all that is needed. Good article. Thank you.


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