Rob Reid writes in the WSJ, praising publishing for getting behind ebook publishing by licensing books for electronic formats, rather than boycotting e-readers, as the music industry boycotted MP3 players in its early days, and suggests that publishing may fare better than music because of it. I agree with Reid that publishing has generally handled the digital transition with more grace than record labels, but I think it's worth pointing out that publishing did commit many of the same blunders as the record industry -- notably using DRM (which drives piracy instead of sales), and embracing proprietary formats (which locks their products to vendors' platforms).
This doesn't necessarily make publishers the Einstein to the music world's Ozzy Osbourne. Publishing had music's dismal example to learn from. It is also easier to see the digital light when a game-changing product is released by a major partner and customer, even if Amazon inspires more dread than comfort among publishers. Of course, things haven't gone perfectly smoothly: In April, three publishers—Hachette Book Group, Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins—settled a Justice Department lawsuit alleging they conspired to raise e-book prices. (HarperCollins is owned by News Corp., as is The Wall Street Journal.)
Publishers face many challenges today, and some may be existential—Amazon's dominance, for one, and the potential for authors to sell directly to readers. But as one industry executive wryly observed to me after ticking off a list of his industry's perils, "at least we're not self-immolators."
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