Oz Borders goes bust ergo publishing must be doomed?

It seems that the Australian arm of Borders has gone into administration with some pundits wondering what this says about the future of the printed word.  Hm.  I think some people need to go back and do their stats again and realise that correlation does not equal causation.  The reasoning goes like this:  people can buy ebooks, ebooks are cheaper than printed books,  printed books are expensive in Oz – therefore the demise of the Borders chain in Oz must be because people want ebooks.

Maybe not.

The problem with the demise of Borders (Oz tentacle) is that their business model, which includes cartel pricing,  was seriously flawed.  Additionally, if you chuck the bizarre copyright laws in Oz which denies Australians books widely available in the US, easily  shipped across border lines to arrive cheaper than buying at the shop down the street, is it any wonder that Borders fell over.

More can be read at this article:  The Internet Ate Our Homework

People also seem surprised that Borders in the UK has fallen over – that this somehow presages the collapse of publishing generally – and I would disagree.  Again, if you look around, there seems plenty of evidence of a poorly run business collapsing when a bit of financial pressure was applied.

The obvious comparison is with the music industry –  after all many of these places are actually owned by the same large conglomerates – so you would expect to see a similar approach to sales and marketing.  When music started going digital, the monolithic music industry attempted to squash trade in these files rather than see the opportunities.  The consequence was that they became synonymous with evil in the minds of many consumers who, rightly, didn’t enjoy being relentlessly pursued for doing what they wanted – listen to music at a reasonable price (or free).

These days it seems that the music industry has finally recognised that it needs to change.  If you look behind the big players in music streaming you normally find the same conglomerates funding and lending libraries.  The deals these services supply are convenient to users and the price is invariably right.

I wouldn’t write off the publishing industry.  As the same influences that changed the music industry percolate throughout the major media companies you will start see differences in the way that books are supplied. Plus there’s a lot of small press activity out there – and it certainly seems that a lot of the interesting stuff in literature is being produced in these small businesses.

What does this have to do with ebooks?  Not much.  The convenience of ebooks make them attractive to consumers but because people want digital books does not mean that the publishing industry will fail.


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