…The inability of most traditional publishers to successfully adapt to technological change may be rooted in the retrograde editorial and marketing culture that has long characterized the publishing industry. As one prominent literary agent told me, “This is a business run by English majors, not business majors.” A surpassing irony: for years many of us worried that the increasing conglomeration of publishers would reduce diversity. (We were wrong.) We also feared bloated overheads would hold editors hostage to an unsustainable commercial imperative. (We were right.) But little did we imagine that the blunderbuss for change would arrive in the form of an avaricious imperium called Amazon. It is something of a surprise to see so many now defending the practices of corporate publishers who, just yesterday, were excoriated as philistines out to coarsen the general culture.
[Jason] Epstein, for one, doesn’t fear Amazon, writing recently that the company’s “strategy, if successful, might force publishers to shrink or even abandon their old infrastructure.” Thus will publishing collapse into the cottage industry it was “in the glory days before conglomeration.” Epstein insists that the dialectic Amazon exemplifies is irreversible, “a vivid expression of how the logic of a radical new and more efficient technology impels institutional change.”
Not very long ago it was thought no one would read a book on a computer screen. That assumption is now demonstrably wrong. Today, whether writers will continue to publish the old-fashioned way or go over to direct online publishing is an open question. How it will be answered is at the heart of the struggle taking place between Amazon and traditional publishers…