Will the Book Industry Repeat the Mistakes of the Music Industry?

Author and blogger Susan Piver worries that the book industry is about to repeat the mistakes of the music industry. She would know. She now works in publishing, but was a record label executive from 1990-2001.

She says publishing is where the music business was about 10 years ago in terms of the digitization of product and attempts to leverage social media. While attending the O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing Conference, she heard a lot of, “We don’t know what to do, but let’s do something.”

The “somebody do something” mentality duplicates the kind of hoping-for-the-best attitude espoused by long-time executives in music who simply could not or would not question the viability of the professional cocoons they’d built for themselves. I noticed a lot of talk of waiting and seeing how things are going to work out before making any earth-shaking, world-class responses to a world that has already changed.

Publishing’s business model is aligned to old rules which aren’t in play anymore. We like to talk about how the cloud and social media are changing everything, but the book industry has been behind in the game for a long time. When I listen to publishing executives talk, I hear the fear in their voices. That’s not good.

Ms. Piver continues:

Downloads did not kill the music business. Shortsightedness and turf-protection on the part of music business executives did. Piracy and changing distribution schema will not kill the publishing industry. Shortsighted infrastructure-protection on the part of publishing houses will.

Publishing’s desire to protect itself against mis-understood technology, practices and market desires could harm consumers. Readers are crying for the book industry not to repeat the mistakes of the music industry. Librarians and educators are crying for the book industry not to repeat the mistakes of the music industry. Authors and book-sellers are crying for the book industry not to repeat the mistakes of the music industry.

Piver goes right to the heart of the problem when she decries the commodification of book-selling:

Commodification of bookselling is the eight-hundred pound gorilla in the room, not e-books or DRM (Digital Rights Management) or the Kindle.

Books are commodities, but shoving a select few items towards the consumer at the expense of small publishers and booksellers, variety and even meaningful literature is setting us all up for major problems.

Piver expresses many more well-considered thoughts in her post.

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About James A Woods
Freelance Writer, Constant Learner, Family Man

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