Ars Technica’s John Siracusa, a veteran of early ebook startup Peanut Press, does a fabulous job of cutting through the fuzzy thinking, excuse-making, bad history and missed opportunities of the past decade’s worth of ebook ventures. This is a must-read essay for anyone thinking about the future of books and reading.
You’d think that publishers would have learned from the travails of the music and movie folks, and they did, in a way. Unfortunately, what they learned was fear. Early on, publishers saw what happened to the music business when Napster arrived on the scene, and they were shaken to the core. In fact, some of the very same executives, casualties of the the digital music wars, ended up at publishing houses, arriving with the digital equivalent of PTSD and harrowing tales of a business model’s collapse. And so, the order of the days was “DRM everywhere,” or, just as likely, “no digital distribution at all.”
This position is even more insane once you understand how the traditional, non-digital publishing business works. As in the music and movie industries, there’s the usual, shockingly small cut given to the actual content creators, plus the physical mechanism of manufacturing and distributing the products. In the case of books, there’s an extra dose of nonsense layered on top.
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