If you haven't been keeping up with the price collusion suit among the Department of Justice, Apple and five major publishing houses (Macmillan, Hachette, HarperCollins, Penguin and Simon & Schuster) then here's a few articles worth reading to help you catch up:
- U.S. Warns Apple Publishers (WSJ)
- Letter from Scott Turow: Grim News (The Authors Guild)
- Konrath and Eisler's Response to Turow
- The Collusion Case Against Publishers (John Scalzi)
My take on the whole thing is pretty simple. Major publishers are trying desperately to protect their two biggest assets: distribution and print books, and they sided with Apple as a means to protect those assets. Does the DoJ have a case against Apple, et al? Sure do. I have to side with Konrath and Eisler on this one. It seems impossible that five publishers came to the same conclusion at the same time. But I also can't disagree with Turow when he says, "given the chance, any rational publisher would have leapt at Apple’s offer and clung to it like a life raft." Either way, it's something for the lawyers, who charge by the hour, to sort through for a really long time, no doubt.
I don't believe for a second, though, that these publishing houses are trying to protect their authors or bookstores. Puh-lease! They're trying to protect themselves. Here's why:
- Anyone can distribute an ebook online to every major retailer
- Anyone can hire a copyeditor
- Anyone can hire an artist
- Get a book mass distributed to libraries, bookstores, supermarkets, etc
- Offer a quality hardcover at a reasonable price point
That's what traditional publishers bring to the table, and that's what, in my opinion, is at stake here. If ebooks become the norm and bookstores go the way of the dinosaur, then big traditional publishers are gonna have a real hard time justifying their purpose. And, yeah, I imagine when these publishers agreed to release ebooks at the same time as hardcovers, and suddenly saw ebook sales blow up, they got on their knees and prayed for someone like Steve Jobs to come along and save them.
How this one will turn out is anyone's guess. I imagine it won't change the industry in any profound way, though--not with a presidential election on the horizon. After all, no party wants to be labeled as an industry killer, even if said industry is broken.