In my previous post, How Amazon Destroyed Barnes & Noble, I explained how Amazon (alone) could not be held responsible for the bookstore’s troubles.
This post addresses another common complaint, that Amazon has destroyed publishing.
Again, things are not as black and white as that. Yes, Amazon is a shark. But it was the publishing industry which made blunder after blunder, allowing Amazon to take advantage of their mistakes.
Let’s take things from the start.
A Brief History of 20th Century Publishing
As Kristen Lamb points out in her must-read post, Goliath has Fallen & What This Means for Writers, publishing worked in a pretty standard way for over a century. Writers would take their books to publishers. If their pitch was successful, the publishers would then sign them on, publish the books, and distribute them to smaller chains and independent bookstores around the country.
The leaders in charge of the publishing business knew they had three jobs:
- Protect the writers, producers of the product publishers sold.
- Protect the bookstores, distributors of books.
- Protect the readers, consumers of books.
These are listed in order of importance. If there are no writers, then there is no content: no stories, no books, no movie rights, nothing. With no distribution network, even the most avid book readers will have no way of getting their hands on books. And with no readers, there’s no way to sustain your business.