Moneyball, Amazon and the end of publishing as we know it

In this week’s death watch, the publishing business is going the way of the Edsel.  E-books have won.  Traditional publishers don’t know what to do with themselves or their lists.  Agents are unnecessary.  Anarchy reigns among authors.   And, oh, yeah, Amazon is getting closer to world domination (tricky bastards).  There is no leadership.  The darkness is encroaching.  The center cannot hold!

Let’s see, that about covers it, I think.  Except, does it?

The afore-linked-to New York Times article contains a quote from Russ Grandinetti (whom we’ve met a few times at Amazon seminars we’ve attended and whom the Times refers to as “one of Amazon’s top executives,” leading me to believe they don’t know exactly what he does) which I actually loved: “It’s always the end of the world. You could set your watch on it arriving.”  It also mentions some other shady (unnamed) Amazon characters twirling their mustaches while claiming that “publishers [are] in love with their own demise.”  As wary as  my colleagues and I are about Amazon and their plans to expand into publishing, I tend to agree with their assessment that traditional publishers can come across as a self-indulgent, hand wringing bunch who’d rather blame the big bad corporate entity for poaching their authors and re-drawing the battle lines than take effective steps to compete and prosper.

Enough, already.  If the model is broken or the times have changed and there’s a new model out there, then learn it, adapt your systems, and make it work for you.  Publishers are sitting on gold mines of backlists.  They seem to be unable or unwilling to competitively price and promote the e-books  they are putting out.  They’re still paying too much for that “sure thing” Jane was talking about earlier this week.  Most of all, they are loath to innovate at the speed the new paradigm requires.

Gerry Howard writes movingly in this week’s PW about how you really can’t apply the principles of Moneyball to publishing because you’d be ripping out its heart and doing away with all that wonderful serendipity that made The Bridges of Madison County, Tuesdays with Morrie, The DaVinci Code and countless other “small” buys into huge bestsellers.  I agree.  But, the thing I take away from Moneyball (the book and the film) is that you’ve got to look at your game differently if you are up against a rich behemoth who outpitches, outhits, and outfields you because they can buy all the talent out there.  Whether you’re talking about the Yankees or Amazon, I think the lesson is the same:  you can win playing smart small ball too.

Thoughts?  Comments?  Angry rebuttals?

9 Responses to Moneyball, Amazon and the end of publishing as we know it

  1. Ha! I just wrote a blog post on the same subject. There was also an article published in The New Republic today, touting much the same nonsense. I read the articles and see a lot of hyperbole and a lot of red flags that leave me with serious questions.

  2. Well said! I particularly liked, “Enough, already. If the model is broken or the times have changed and there’s a new model out there, then learn it, adapt your systems, and make it work for you.”

    And loved the quotes you cited from the NYT article. I also loved one where someone was quoted saying something to the effect of: anyone in between authors and readers is facing new risks and new opportunities right now. So true. You can whine about the new risks, or get excited about the new opportunities and make them work for you…

    At least I think that was from the same article. Too lazy (busy?) right now to re-read the article. :)

  3. Hyperbole reigns in the news “business” these days. Hope they are still teaching critical thinking skills in schools.

  4. Maria Powers says:

    @Jane, sadly, I don’t think that they are because they are too busy teaching kids to pass standardized testing instead. Nice post in regards to all of this.

  5. Emily says:

    Nice post! Too cute: Amazon officials are, “…twirling their mustaches while claiming that publishers [are] in love with their own demise.’”

    I agree with all of you that the hyperbole is running amok – but even if Jeffrey Bezos has a bozo who screams “hell-fire in publishing” to a NYT reporter, that doesn’t mean that Satin himself has arrived?

    Although quotes on the order of a ‘gorilla-beating-his-chest” do seem to have arrived in abundance!

  6. Eric Christopherson says:

    Howard’s piece was clever, skillful, funny, but ultimately facile. For example, in regard to the last paragraph, the reason the Oakland A’s had a losing record this year is because moneyball won. All the major league teams are crunching the numbers now, and so the A’s lost their competitive edge.

  7. Hyperbole aside, I do worry that one of these days, Chicken Little will be right. I also worry that publishing is reacting to the changes in its industry in much the same way as the music industry did when MP3s came along — slowly and ineffectively, only waking up after the irreparable harm had been done. I’m getting a real sense of deja vu, watching bookstores close just like music stores and chains started disappearing while the iPod ate everybody’s lunch.

    Regarding the observation that anyone between the author and readers is going to be in trouble, well, I’m not so sure about that. In the early 80’s I edited the literary journal permafrost while I was living in Alaska. I read everything that came in, and I can tell you that we really don’t want anybody who wants to being able to publish at will, because then the average reader gets demoted to the role of the slush pile sifter, having to plow through tons of drek to find precious few gems. The gatekeeper role will be necessary, particularly when it comes to new voices without an established track record or platform to help get them noticed. The Stephen Kings and Grishams may be able to sell directly to their fans, but the midlist and newcomers will need the help of editors, publicists, and agents, if not necessarily publishers who are too big to notice their tails are on fire (a problem shared by certain dinosaurs, as I recall).

  8. As I was reading your blog and other associated articles, my first thought also was that this looked eerily like the music industry’s response (or lack thereof) to the introduction of downloadable music. It was obvious to everyone but the record labels that a whole new approach was necessary.
    In publishing, it may be that Amazon’s foray into publishing is one of these new approaches. There are probably others, but putting our hands on our heads and crying “woe is me” is not one of them.

  9. Pingback: Who Tells You What To Read? « Notes from An Alien

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