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Are Publishers Even Necessary?

PencilsIn the ongoing feud between the major publishing houses and Amazon, Yglesias has no sympathy for the publishers:

Wisdom on this subject begins with the observation that the book publishing industry is not a cuddly craft affair. It’s dominated by a Big Four of publishers, who are themselves subsidiaries of much larger conglomerates. Simon & Schuster is owned by CBS, HarperCollins is owned by NewsCorp, Penguin and RandomHouse are jointly owned by Pearson and Bertelsmann, and Hachette is part of an enormous French company called Lagadère.

These are not tiny, helpless enterprises. Were their owners interested in the future of books and publishing, they could invest the money necessary to make their own e-reading apps and e-book store and render Amazon entirely superfluous. But the managers of these conglomerates don’t really care. If they can get famous authors to lobby the government to stop Amazon from killing them for free, then they’re happy to take the free labor. But they don’t want to invest actual money and energy in competing with Amazon, they’d rather wring whatever remaining profit there is out of book publishing and dedicate the money to dividends or other industries they’re also involved in.

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