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Buggy Whips vs Tesla

the 2017 Penguin Random House Red Velvet

The internet has radically changed many industries. It’s killing print publications (because paper is no longer the optimal delivery medium), it forced/enabled appliance sales to move online (not even Best Buy sells microwaves in store any more), and it has redefined the workspace to include any place in the world that has an internet connection and power.

But when it comes to the book industry –

Part of the book industry have embraced the modern era, but the are still parts of the industry that still stubbornly refuses to admit that it is no longer operating in the 19th century.

I was reminded of this dichotomy yesterday when I was reading Techdirt founder Mike Masnick’s tweets about his recent car shopping.

"Last week, my 13-year-old car died. It was way too young and I had expected a bunch more years out of it, but it’s dead," he tweeted. "So I’ve started car shopping for the first time in many years. And after visiting 5 dealerships the experience is totally different from what was 13 or so years ago. The dealers are much friendlier and much less aggressive. There’s almost no sales pitch at all."

"One of the sales guys finally explained it to me during a test drive: 'The internet has changed EVERYTHING man. I get one bad Yelp review, dude, and my salary drops by like $10k. So it’s a different world. Whatever you want, you get."

Now, not all car dealerships have changed how they do business because of the internet; my mother’s last car buying experience was a four-hour endurance match negotiation with a local car dealership (Lustine Automall).

Like the book industry, parts of the car dealership industry have changed with the times, while other parts are still holding on to business practices a generation out of date.

That industry is seeing a divide similar to the current state of the book industry where the Big 5 has decided to cling to print books, and uses agency pricing to force the price of ebooks up, and the indie press that price ebooks in response to market demand.

It is almost as if the major vehicle manufacturers were insisting that people should be buying buggy whips and carriages when the market has moved on to electric cars.

Sure, the holdovers can make things go their way for at least a little while, but how long will they be able to keep their heads in the sand?

In the case of car dealerships, consumers are voting with their pocketbooks – they’re using the internet to identify the better dealerships, and also recommending them by word of mouth. As a result, the dealers that have adapted to the times are making as many sales as they have time for, while the holdovers fight tooth and claw to make the most they can from each individual sale.

And we are seeing a similar trend in the book industry. Reasonably priced ebooks are enabling newcomers to make inroads to an industry that used to be dominated by a few dozen gatekeepers.

The newcomers are making more sales every year while the legacy book industry is insisting that no one wants to buy ebooks at the same time they are papering over their decline by acquiring smaller publishers.

The conventional wisdom is that everything is fine in the legacy industry, but anyone with a modicum of sense can see that the Big 5 are behaving like carriage manufacturers who proclaimed that automobiles were just a fad.

How many of those carriage makers are still around?

image  by melodyben

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Paul October 17, 2017 um 12:21 pm

I don’t think they are. I think what’s happening is that for the mid-tier level we’re noticing that they aren’t getting the love they used to get from publishers, particularly when it comes to editing. And when you read the self-published lot so many of them are full of errors its painful to read (plus I’d say about 10% would never be allowed to publish because its garbage).

I don’t think we’ve seen what the long term effects of ebooks are yet. Its too early to say. The closest example I can think of is the late 19th Century penny paperbacks. Not the Penguin ones but the really cheap novels that were all about western adventures and crime. There were a lot of prolific authors, very few who got rich or even made a decent living, (particularly as their work was frequently ripped off) but the distribution companies did (sounds familiar?). Things started to settle down when copyright law became more effective. I don’t think we’ve reached that point yet.

davemich October 17, 2017 um 7:28 pm

"when you read the self-published lot so many of them are full of errors its painful to read."

I purchase plenty of self published work in the sci-fi category and the authors I enjoy do not make the painful errors of which you speak.

Frank October 17, 2017 um 12:42 pm

Best Buy, at least in Jacksonville, FL, still has microwaves for sale in-store. However, there is just a handful there when it used to be lots more.

What else is nice about buying a car is there are services, at least from USAA and Costco, that will find the lowest price on a car in your area without hassle.

Nate Hoffelder October 17, 2017 um 12:43 pm

they still have a huge selection – the stock is jut at their warehouse now.

Carmen Webster Buxton October 17, 2017 um 1:46 pm

Frankly, a lot of retail seems to be in trouble. Shopping malls are dying everywhere. Habits change. I find it telling that small indie bookstores are doing better than large chain stores, and I think it’s because they offer a different shopping experience. I am guessing here, but I’ll bet (new) print books are mostly sold at small shops or online, with Amazon being the single largest outlet for books. If true, that means publishers are chained to Amazon, no matter how much they don’t want to be.

As for ebooks, I agree with the first commenter that it’s early days yet. But as a self-published author, I can’t help but chuckle that by insisting on high ebook prices, publishers enable me to compete by pricing my books cheaply.

I also agree they don’t see ebooks as the future. Look at how few traditionally published books have the X-Ray feature enabled! It’s a great feature that Kindle has and I don’t think anyone else does, but it requires effort on the publisher’s part to work well. Amazon recently added the ability to create the X-Ray feature from within KDP, which is fabulous! I’m encouraged that Amazon seems to be willing to devote resources to us indies.

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