John Sargent is a good man and he is right.  I have been wanting to write that sentence ever since I read his full page letter to staff and authors yesterday which explained why Macmillan titles are no longer available via Amazon.  I shall go on searching out and selecting Macmillan titles and, as in the past, writing with respect when I think, as with Tor, that they are innovating at the front of a fast developing market.

And I hugely respect the innovatory skills of Amazon and the profound impact they have had on the accessibility of books.  However, Amazon cannot be allowed to use its muscle to collapse wholesaling into retailing and eat the margins accruing in a way that threatens the independence of producers.  Amazon is a good online bookseller: it is unsafe for us and them to become good publishers and agents as well.  It is the tendency of networks to collapse real world workflow models and disintermediate players who lack the ability to compete online.  That is a tendency which must be monitored closely in competition law, not because of intellectual property ownership issues, but because the public interest does not always equate with the delivery of supply chain economies.

Wonderful thing , the digital world: by the time I got this online, Amazon had capitulated to Macmillan.  This is sensible and progressive, but  it forces me therefore to  put the rest of the blog as a sort of italicized afterthought below !

I wanted to write this yesterday , but I was fighting a personal battle with the Machine all day and was too self-absorbed to set digit to keyboard.  In the first instance , on arrival at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 I found out that my ESTA travel authorization to visit the USA had expired the previous day.  Quick sprint (imagine the sight!) to Caffe Nero at the other end of the terminal to find an internet access point (BA does not do wireless in Departures).  Online to the US Embassy and its four screen form: what was my grandmother’s maiden name and  have I entered my inside leg measurement correctly?  New reference number is attained, so back to the 40 minute check-in queue (this is BA , the UK near monopoly supplier and holder of my 640,000 Air Miles, which can never be spent unless you can book travel a year in advance).  And so on board and ten hours pass, only to find out from an amused  immigration official at San Francisco that on my visa waiver form I appear not to have notified the USA of my gender.  Back to the end of another long line.
And then the joys of a wonderful downtown hotel room.  But Internet Explorer will not allow me to access the Web via the local WiFi.  Technical Support is baffled – the only solution is to go out and get a USB stick, download FireFox from a hotel machine, and load it up onto my machine.  And it works, as I speak to you now.
Why all this incidental travel chat?  Simply to demonstrate that big is mostly stupid and often bad.  That applies to governments and airlines and to Microsoft, and equates with our familiar experience of the world.  I experienced this long before becoming a publisher: at the age of 18 , with responsibility for 80 bacon pigs, I first encountered the brutal truth about price control from a Unilever subsidiary called Walls, and British farmers have become experts in the area as they face the collusive anti-competitive behaviour of the supermarkets.
The only real answer to all of this for publishers is to get to know customers intimately and sell to them directly and cost effectively.  Disintermediate the disintermediators.  And this is possible – Tor demonstrates it, and Nature in the Macmillan group demonstrates it further.  And , from other publishers who also face the same threats , a little collusive anti-competitive behaviour might be in order as well.  After all, when it came to the silly business of delaying eBook publication dates, publishers seemed pretty collusive, even if no one could accuse them of plotting together (!).


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1 Comment so far

  1. Anne Foster on February 1, 2010 11:19

    Wonderful blog. I note that even your technology solution – Firefox – proved the point again!