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A question in need of an answer

I was talking to a friend about publishing today, and once again I found myself proclaiming my fondness for the ancient but still highly effective technology known as a book.  I have nothing against e-books and know many happy Kindle owners, but for me, I would rather not carry a device that I would need to worry about getting wet, damaged or stolen.  For me, the book, made from pulp and ink, works exceptionally well.

And honestly, I don’t need a thousand books at my fingertips, just a click or two away.  One at a time is fine by me.  And while being able to download a book and begin reading it in seconds sounds great, my reading doesn’t work this way.  I read a book, and if I’m close to finishing, I have another with me, ready to go. 

Many of the benefits of the e-book just seem more style than substance to me.  

My friend scoffed.  “The industry is changing, Matt.  You’re going to have to accept it.”

I hate statements like this.  “How profoundly obvious of you,” I should have said. Of course the industry is changing.  What industry isn’t?  In fact, what industry in the history of industry has remained stagnant?  Publishing is no different than computers, cars or turkey basters.  There’s always change.

But I’m also reminded of the Buggles’ song Video Killed the Radio Star and the certainty in the early 1980’s that music videos would be the primary source of music consumption in the future.  Twenty years later, MTV barely shows videos and it’s the song that drives the industry.  More music is consumed on the radio than on television by a wide margin.

The demise of the pulp and ink book seems greatly exaggerated to me. 

But I have no doubt that e-books are here to stay, and this leads me to an important question:

Why have the Big Six publishers not designed their own electronic book reader?  Why are they allowing Amazon, Apple, and Sony to dominate a market that they should control?  Couldn’t these corporate behemoths get together, invest a pile of money and design a rival device? 

I’m sure there’s a reason why this has not happened, but could someone please tell me?  It would seem to me that investing in the design and development of an e-reader would make much more sense than waiting for someone like Apple to to provide the necessary competition in the market. 

Think about it.  The publishers collaborate on a great reader, sell it online and in independent bookstores, and set up a system by which e-books could be downloaded online for a price that the publisher sets or inside an indie bookstores at a discount, with a portion of the proceeds going to the store where the download takes place.

Why allow a company like Amazon to yank your product from their shelves when you can build and manage your own virtual shelves?

Someone please explain.

For those of you who didn’t hear about this weekend’s kerfuffle between Macmillan and Amazon, this post and this post and this post summarize the incident especially well. 

And Molly Wood of CNET has an especially good rant on the subject.