Monday, February 13, 2012

Penguin at Odds with Libraries; ABA at Odds with Amazon

Penguin has taken a new stand on its e-book and audiobook distribution, essentially cutting off any distribution to libraries in the future. It is also negotiating an agreement, though, that will allow libraries that have already bought Penguin e-books to continue lending them.

At the heart of this is that one purchase of an e-book can last forever, whereas paper books wear out and have to be replaced. Penguin previously tried to impose a limit on libraries that they could lend out a copy of an e-book only seventeen times (approximately the number of times a paper book is lent before it is worn out and needs to be replaced). After that the library would have to repurchase it. That didn't work out too well, apparently.

To be honest, I have mixed feelings about this issue. Penguin seems to be ignoring the inexorable tides of change and failing to see that they must also change to survive. But perhaps they are also firmly on the side of authors as well as themselves, and feel an imperative to support authors' incomes in the traditional marketplace. (The specter of what happened to so many musicians when the traditional music distribution network changed because of the internet is never far away. Incomes plummeted, careers were upended, many new voices were simply never heard because there was no support to develop them. The parallel to our industry is strong.)

At best, it seems that this aggressive action by Penguin might create additional recognition of how significant an impact the digital revolution is having on the publishing industry. Maybe this will get someone to think up a new business model that will allow all the players—authors, publishers, and distribution points including brick-and-mortar stores, e-readers, and libraries—to thrive.

Meanwhile, there are important issues cropping up that muddy the waters for the largest non-traditional publisher—Amazon—too. The American Booksellers Association has thrown down a gauntlet. Here's the news clip from Publishers Weekly:

IndieCommerce Pulls Amazon Titles
The ABA's for-profit subsidiary, Indie-Commerce, is removing all Amazon titles from its database. IndieCommerce director Matt Supko said its policy is "only publishers' titles that are made available to retailers for sale in all available formats will be included in the IndieCommerce inventory database."

More articles are also appearing that touch on the question of whether Amazon is guilty of predatory pricing in the book industry—through pricing Kindle and Kindle Fire at a loss, for example, while maintaining Kindle as the single-source for reading e-books from Amazon. If their pricing policies create a monopolistic type of environment, that's against the law.

What is your take on these developments? Are we just caught up in a muddling-through stage of change in the industry? Is the abyss opening before us? What's a writer to think?

~ Linda 


  1. Hi Linda, fascinating stuff this morning. Opinion? Me? lol. I think that libraries should have as many checkouts forever. Come on... it's a library. We want to encourage reading and their livelihood. This will NOT change sales. But only hurt libraries. Where is my petition to sign!

    On the other note, I understand. Anyone can upload an e-book for nothing other than the price of an ISBN. I could take an old homework paper and call it a book. On the other hand, it takes an investment to make it available in all formats. So... this is up for debate. A good thing? Or not? Hmmm.

    Great stuff. Great angle for a weekly blog too.

    1. Yeah, it's a potboiler for sure, Karlene. We ARE in a fascinating time, aren't we? I couldn't agree with you more about libraries. I'd like to think Penguin is looking out for its authors' livelihoods, but this seems more than a little short sighted. And Amazon. oy.

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  3. The industry is changing so much. I think the traditional publishers are just struggling to catch up and find their place in it. Although, it's looking like Amazon is attempting to run everyone else out of business and create a monopoly. Which I really, really hope doesn't happen.

  4. I'm still taking it all in. Things are changing so fast, it makes my head spin.

  5. It's hard to know which way to duck (or, alternatively, pounce), isn't it Lydia?