David vs. the Goliaths?

Mike Shatzkin wrote “Publishing is living in a world not of its own making” in 2011, at the crest of the ebook wave. The concept of digital publishing is one that Shatzkin is passionate about, having written numerous articles on the subject, and founding a company based on publishing strategies, particularly how they relate to the digital.

The article discusses the oligarchy of e-publishing, specifically the power that Apple has over the apps of competitive ebook companies such as Nook and Kindle and the battle for consumers was between Apple and Amazon. He argues that publishing companies have to adjust their strategies to ensure that their books are reaching the intended audience, and that they are still able to operate among increasing competition. What changed the game at the time of this article, was Apple’s iBook. With this they effectively had a new ebook reader with every purchase of an iOS device. If a consumer wanted to read an ebook, they would turn to the device already in their hand and use an app that is similar to other iOS apps that they use on a daily basis.

Being a published author, Shatzkin sides most comfortably with publishers. This article is written placing Amazon and Apple as two great giants, with little respect for the David-style publishing houses. The biases of this opinion ignores the symbiosis of the publishing industry, it is a two way street. In this chain of publisher, distributor, and customer, the two former are most interested in capital gain, and of course to achieve this, publishers need Amazon and Apple to promote their books. To get bestsellers and make money they need each other. However, on the other side of this, Amazon and Apple do not produce their own books (outside of users self-publishing), they are distributors of content that is published by houses like the Big Five. Shatzkin diminishes the power that the publishers have. More too should be said about the role of the readers in terms of the content they wish to consumer, as opposed to the way in which they do it.

Additionally, Shatzkin constantly refers to shifts brought about by technological changes in publishing, commenting on how publishers must adjust their strategies in order to stop from going under. But is this not what publishers have been doing since the change from wood rubbings to the printing press? Publishers have been rolling with the punches since their formation, while some fail, many survive. There is too much blame put on the giants that stand in their way, when at the end of the day, all are trying to get ahead.

This article shows the beginning evolution of the ebook from an expert on digital publishing. Shatzkin continues to be vocal about his faith in the prevalence of the ebook, commenting in a 2016 BBC article he predicts “printed books just for plain old reading will, in 10 years from now, be unusual…unusual enough that on the train you’ll see one or two people reading something printed, while everyone else is reading off of a device.”


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One Reply to “David vs. the Goliaths?”

  1. This response certainly challenges Shatzkin’s position of the publishers, but it does so without offering a strong argument of why he is mistaken. Zoe calls us to reflect Amazon and Apple also needs the publishers, but says little to convince us that this is true (perhaps he is right, however, that neither does Shatzkin). Similarly, Zoe says more should be said about reader’s role in shaping the future, but again offers little in way of insight here (again, neither does Shatzkin). In the end, I am not convinced that publishers have as much power as they used to, and think that the dominant role that technology-first companies have in today’s publishing landscape is markedly different from the pre-digital era.

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