You may have heard that the Department of Justice decided to launch antitrust litigation against Apple and some major publishers for alleged price fixing and that most of them decided on the same day to settle. The alleged sin was that Apple and the publishers decided to go with the agency pricing model in which the publishers get to set the prices for their books in the iBooks Store, while Apple takes, I believe, a 30% cut.
So late last night I read this:
“How Steve Jobs Got Apple Into Trouble Over Ebooks” by Lance Ulanoff, Editor-in-Chief of +Mashable.
Wow, is this guy clueless.
And if Steve Jobs really thought Amazon screwed up, he was clueless as well. Amazon is WINNING.
Jobs pushed the agency model on the publishers? I don’t think so. They preferred that model but couldn’t get Amazon to go along with it without Apple’s help. It’s the screw-your-customers model and it wouldn’t have been good for the publishers over the long haul. They want high ebook prices so that they can hang onto their outdated IP-dependent business model of selling paperbacks and hardcovers in big box brick & mortar stores for as long as possible.
Issue no. 33 of Reason Papers is now online. Articles listed below:
Issue No. 33 – Fall 2011 (Full Issue)
Symposium: Rand and Hayek on Cognition and Trade
BusinessWeek offers an interesting inside look to the bankruptcy of Borders. The perception that many people had was that this was a blow delivered by Amazon and ebooks, that there is no future to the bookstore. It might be true but the Borders case is not a good case in point, argues this article.
The piece points out that the store it is profiling here was actually very profitable, and increasingly so in the last few years. In fact, more than half the stores were in the black. The reason it closed was entirely due to the overall financial health of the company and a series of bad management decisions. It expanded insanely and wildly during the boom years, gobbling up ever more real estate as prices were soaring. When the bust hit, prices crashed and its investments in physical space suddenly looked stupid. This put massive pressure on the operation. It could no longer sustain its profitability expectations and its belief that the boom would last forever didn’t materialize. There were also a series of too-little-too-late decisions regarding digital media.
I find this account very persuasive. People without knowledge of the way business works always assume that any company that is going belly up was flopping, that people just weren’t buying the product. That is not usually the case. What it means is purely a matter of accounting: costs outran revenue and expected revenue. That can happen very easily with a few, small miscalculations. No matter how much success you are experiencing, it is the cost accounting that ultimately matters. This is true regardless of whether we are talking about a multinational with $5 billion in sales or the lemonade stand down the street. Every firm faces the same cost/revenue matrix.
Cost accounting rules, whether big or small, and this is true for everyone. This is the great egalitarianism of the market that is hardly ever noted or noticed by people who know nothing of business life.
To be sure, the book business must and will change, and dramatically. The old-line publishers will be buried. Laissez-Faire Books will be on the cutting edge. (Unpaid advertisement: please like Laissez-Faire Books FB page!)
Laissez-Faire Books was founded in 1972 when issues of intellectual property hadn’t been worked out in detail in the libertarian world. There was of course the Randian view, which took IP to the most absurd extremes. Then there was the Rothbardian view, which had a very strict view of what is and what is not property and because IP doesn’t pass this test, the Rothbardian perspective tended toward the open model.
LFB itself never questioned the statist conventions on this topic. In fact, it even went through a period in which its owner worked to send take down notices to sites for posting old books to which it claimed the rights. How well I recall my own disgust! LFB uses the state to stop the spread of libertarian ideas! That’s just incredible.
Well, Agora Financial took over the institution this year and it immediately became obvious that they were Kinsellaites on this question. While working at the Mises Institute, I had worked with the new LFB to do some co-publishing in the commons. So when I accepted the position as publisher and executive editor, I made it a condition that, wherever possible, we always publish into the commons.
Management readily agreed, and even wondered why I was making such a big deal out of this. After all, this is a gigantically successful company and they have learned that the most important way to sell a product is to market it as widely and broadly as possible. If by putting something in the commons, you stand to reach more people, isn’t this a great thing? Isn’t this what commerce is all about? And from a mission point of view, isn’t this what libertarian education is all about?
Indeed it is! I immediately felt that we would soon be running an important experiment: a large scale publisher in the world of commerce would soon be publishing with Creative Commons and eschewing copyright in every way. This is a massive step for the libertarian world and even for the world of publishing in general.