Wednesday, December 09, 2009

A News Triple Header

A number of articles caught my attention last night.

First, after all the talk about streaming music yesterday, I was interested when Engadget reported here that Pandora is working on "a variety of options for in-car music streaming." Engadget quotes Pandora's Chief Technology Officer saying that "the company is now working with various car manufacturers (including Ford). . ."

Next, Galleycat asked the question "How Did Publishing Survive the Great Depression?" here. My memory is that the infamous "returns" system began during the Depression as a way to convince booksellers to accept stock for sale.

Finally, my favorite Wall St. Journal writer, Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg, had an article here in which he reported that two of the Big Six publishers are deciding to delay the release of e-books for three to four months in order to advantage the hard cover edition.

Both Simon & Schuster and Hachette (parent of Grand Central Publishing) are concerned that e-books will "cannibalize" the "new best-selling hardcovers, which are the mainstay of the publishing business."

Let's call it what it is: protectionism.

And let me quote Alan Greenspan, the former chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve. He criticized protectionism because it leads "to an atrophy of our competitive ability. ... If the protectionist route is followed, newer, more efficient industries will have less scope to expand, and overall output and economic welfare will suffer."

Despite their protestations to the contrary, the Big Six publishers have done nothing to promote the growth of e-books. Even today, when electronic readers seem to be at a tipping point, New York is trying to treat them like a paperback--just a lesser version of the hard cover.

I find myself thinking of the British troops when they came to the New World to defend their colonies against revolution. They fought in traditional style--in strict line format with their bright red uniforms screaming their location. Meanwhile, the ragtag American revolutionary troops fought in commando style, hiding behind trees and thinking flexibly. The new thinking replaced the old.

New York publishing cannot seem to think outside the box in which they reside. Jane Friedman thinks an e-book should be priced at $14.95--simply because that's the price of the trade paper. That's a knee-jerk hidebound approach without a single thought to the notion that the price should reflect--in some way--the production expense.

I know there are lots of smart New York publishing people. Maybe they need to get out of New York for a while. It might clear the cobwebs out.

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