Amazon, for all that it seems to be riddled with inefficiencies and discontented employees from the inside, is turning industries upside down. Book publishers are terrified of the online retailer, and with good reason. Amazon already makes it easy for authors to self-publish Kindle editions of their books and sell them through Amazon, while earning a bigger share of any revenue generated. Now Amazon is acting like a traditional publisher, giving advances and handling editing, production and marketing for authors.
So, if traditional imprints don’t have any advantage over Amazon in marketing books, and e-books are quickly replacing print versions, how will they stay in business? Inertia will help for a while, as will specialization, but I can’t see any long-term path forward for companies like Random House, Penguin or Harper Collins. These businesses are gatekeepers of marketing and distribution. Amazon has opened many side doors, so fewer and fewer authors are queuing up to the front gates.
It’s a sad prospect for these companies, and especially for those who have built careers there. For authors who have been able to publish via Amazon after being ignored by traditional publishers, I imagine there’s a fair bit of schadenfreude in the air.
Should execs at these companies have done more to re-make their businesses in the face of creative destruction? Yes they should have. How many people who have spent 30 years doing things the same way can face tearing all of that down and building something new? Vanishingly few I’d guess.