Publishing Death Watch, Pt. Whatever

From now on we’ll just leave it at “Death Watch”, hmmkay?

First up: The Wall Street Journal – which generally knows a thing or two about business & legal matters – weighs in on the DOJ suit against Apple and the “Agency 5” (which is not, by the way, the name of an opening act for The Osmonds’ 1973 tour).

In this corner, the usual suspects defending Big Publishing. Read and try not to gag:

“I feel absolutely befuddled by the lawsuit,” Sen. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.) says in an interview. “For the Antitrust Division to step in as the big protector of Amazon doesn’t seem to make any sense from an antitrust point of view. Rarely have I seen a suit that so ill serves the interests of the consumer.”

David Carr of the New York Times has described the antitrust suit as the modern equivalent of leaving Standard Oil intact and “breaking up Ed’s Gas ‘N’ Groceries on Route 19 instead.”

Because wanting to charge something less than 14.99 for a friggin’ e-book is clearly bad for the consumer. What-evah, but no surprise given the sources.

Now for the challenger – that pesky thing called the law:

Some critics have said that, even if the publishers ran afoul of the law, they were acting in the best interests of the industry and, by extension, of readers. By that logic, they say, the Justice Department should have allowed the publishers to continue.

But antitrust lawyers scoff at the notion that the Justice Department would refrain from bringing a case if it believes it has solid evidence.

“Price fixing is kind of the first-degree murder of antitrust violations,” Prof. Hovenkamp says. “They don’t have discretion to just walk away from what appears to be a strong set of facts that, if true, are one of the most central of antitrust violations.”

(Emphasis mine)

And BOOM! Tap Out!

Got that, everyone? Price-fixing is bad, and lame-@$$ed arguments that they were doing it for us poor little readers and authors are just that – lame.

Today’s final juicy bit is an entertaining depiction of the industry as seen through a fictional publishing company, Extruded Books (the name alone just makes you want to wash your hands pick up a book, don’t it?).

Via The Passive Voice:

[One of Extruded Books’ long-time, much-abused authors decides to self-publish.] In just six months, she has released the whole tetralogy (which would have been spread out over at least five years, if a sensible publisher like Extruded had been in charge), and sold over 500,000 individual volumes at the risible price of $2.99 apiece. Now she is featured in Amazon’s latest SEC filing, delivering a gushing testimonial about the power and freedom bestowed upon authors by Kindle Direct Publishing. ‘Even when I was writing bestsellers in the Eighties, I never made this kind of money,’ she says. Over $150,000 a month, to be precise; and Extruded Books, after all it did for her career, doesn’t get a penny.

How can this be? For 36 years, Extruded Books has been making money off its carefully designated and walled-off share of Big Publishing’s monopoly on commercial book distribution. All their business practices were carefully designed to protect that delicate jugular, to keep small presses and vanity publishers out of the bookshops and out of the public eye. They might not be able to create bestsellers, but they certainly had the power to prevent them. And now this raddled old hack does an end run around the entire system! How dare she? How dare Amazon? They’re all in this together! Damn you people, don’t you know that distribution isexpensive?

They’re about to find out that lawyers do, in fact, understand the difference between coincidence and collusion. As a wise man once said, Read The Whole Thing.


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