I’m not a journalist, and this is an opinion piece. You’ll find some non-journalistic wording and non-absolutely-accurate stuff in here. Like I used “collusion” below and that may not be the same as “anti-trust.” I may have to correct stuff as I go. Mea culpa in advance.
Watching the media report on the DoJ investigation into price collusion between publishers is fascinating stuff. The hue and cry over where people get their books from, and the government intervention over what is basically a form of entertainment is so far removed from what happens between businesses who deal in something we all need — clothing.
Why is the DoJ interested in protecting book prices? Why do they care? Why, during a fierce election year, do the biggest papers in the nation feel the need to dedicate so much space to this issue? Is it possible the publishers are whispering in their ears? But why, when they have the world at their fingertips?
Publishers are lucky ducks.
1) Bob-mart squeezes clothing manufacturers on price after the garments are on the boat with a Bob-mart tag on them. In my opinion, this feels a lot like extortion, and though I imagine it is possible with physical books, it is impossible with e-books. There is no boat. Discounts may and will happen (as is the issue with Amazon) but if the publisher doesn’t like the price, they can pull the product. Try doing that with ten thousand dresses on a slow boat.
2) Federated (now Macy’s) releases a calendar that forces designers to create a line 12 monts ahead of delivery. Because they’re so huge, everyone makes it happen and cries success. Every other department store falls into line and every year the calendar becomes more onerous, while the customer is looking at old crap designed a year ago. With e-books, you can write and release in half the time as a physical book. The customer is happy, and discounts and chargebacks are reduced. Isn’t that the point? Isn’t that was fashion manufacturers are dying for? I’ve attended dozens of meetings with the urgent goal of shortening the production calendar, and here’s big publishing trying to defend a two-year calendar. Did they miss a meeting or something?
3) The trend right now is to avoid the wholesale calendar entirely and open your own clothing store, a costly endeavor, but with an easier calendar and no chargebacks. But publishers have an even easier option. Their own web stores. I know authors who do it in an evening. What’s stopping St. Martins from doing it? Sure, it’s not as convenient as Amazon, but if every big publisher sold e-books direct in all formats, my guess is that software that netted all participating publisher purchases into one cart would not be far behind.
4) Target and H&M have reduced garment prices to a nub by taking advantage of the first law of production, which states, the more you make of something, the cheaper it is. Mom and pop boutiques can’t buy ten thousand dresses, so the same dress costs more. If you want to be a big player, you have to move huge units. And if you want to move huge units you have to be a big player. Big publishing makes 30 dollar physical books and wonders why they’re not selling Target/H&M volumes (no pun intended). You simply can’t move millions of units at that price. This is not rocket science.
5) Every day I deal with factories that can’t sew an armhole right five times in a row, and publishers don’t want to commit to e-books, which have zero wasteage? I don’t know what I’d give to have a product that only has to be made right one time and then sold repeatedly.
Guys, wake up!
The world is your freaking oyster.