The future of books is books, the prize is a diversified retail network.

As publishers fight Amazon  was the big page one story in the Times this weekend. I don’t agree with David Steitfeld and Mellissa Eddy’s proposition that “the real prize is control of e-books, the future of publishing.” There are many billions of dollars of printed book sales to come for years and there is no strong consensus on e-books ever replacing or even dominating printed books.

But I could agree that the prize is  control of distribution. What we are arguing for here is that that control is attainable by publishing and ought to be in publishers’ control.  Publishing cannot be responsible for the authors and agents and readers it serves without controlling the distribution and terms of sale. A very diversified set of retailers, all operating within the terms of sale dictated by  publishing is the path to ensuring that our cultural treasure is in the hands of those that treasure it.

Repeatedly capitulating to one or several  giant retailers has been the short term strategy that has centralized the power of those giants. It ought to be evident that their dictates would crush competition and cause their control to grow. That is what they are here for.

But now we are at a new low for book publishing and a new level of distrust and disgust of Amazon. Hopefully it is clear that any future for the book, in any form is not safe outside the houses of book publishers. Decentralizing the retail network will decentralize retailers’ power.

The fact is that small retail stores and giant big boxes and Amazon have very different cost structures. In order to have the high value retail sales that occur in stores that carefully choose and present books in local communities,  those kinds of retailers need to be profitable too. That is why publishing needs to insist on its price point and honor its value proposition.

All of the retail outlets must be accommodated but none to the exclusion of others.

 

 

The following clips are all from the New York Times’ articles on the expansion of Barnes and Noble in the 1990’s. They are being rewritten for this decade and Amazon is the center of the discussion. Comments and discussion are all too familiar, and these stories

 

many people — whether or not they would admit it — clearly liked what Barnes & Noble had to offer: the wide selection and deep discounts,

For three years, Shakespeare & Company waged a battle against the sprawling Barnes & Noble bookstore that had moved in one block north and lured away half its business.

Publishing executives also expressed concern with what they see as a troubling national trend. “It has been happening across the country for the last couple of years,” said Richard Hunt, the director of marketing and merchandising at Bantam Doubleday Dell. “From the publishing perspective, we value each of our customers equally

“I was just in Shakespeare and Company yesterday,” he said. “I went in because I heard it was closing. People were coming in not to buy books, but to reminisce. I bought three books out of guilt. But I shop at Barnes & Noble because it’s cheaper.”

Fans of the stores, including publishing executives, say they have brought a breath of fresh air. The stores are prospering, they say, because they are well run and a pleasure to visit, with a wide selection of titles, many at discounts.

What the small store cannot offer are the discounts and the number of titles available at the superstores. Barnes & Noble stores, which carry as many as 150,000 titles (compared with 35,000 at Endicott’s), offer 20 percent off all hard-cover titles, 30 percent off hardbacks on the New York Times best-seller list, and 20 percent off paperbacks on the list.

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