Thursday, January 28, 2010

It's Book Publishing Businesses, not Business

This morning, NPR did a news story about Apple's new iPad. I was half-awake when I heard the story, so I went to the NPR site to get the transcription. Near the top of the story, the reporter, Lynn Neary, said "At the iPad's unveiling Wednesday, Steve Jobs announced that five publishers — Simon & Schuster, Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins Publishers, Penguin, and Macmillan — had signed on to provide books to Apple's venture, with more to come." No problem there, but near the end of the story, she said the following: "Random House, the only major publisher that did not make a deal with Apple, issued a statement saying it is continuing conversations with the company about how they might best work together."

Put those two sentences together, and she's saying that the six publishers mentioned are the only "major" publishers. To be sure, they're the biggest trade publishers in the U.S. and European markets; they print the most popular fiction, biography, self-help and similar consumer-oriented titles. However, there are many other "major" publishers. The definition of a "major" publisher is determined largely by market segment. In technical and computer books, Pearson, Wiley and O'Reilly are among the dominant publishers. In textbooks, Cengage, Pearson, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, McGraw-Hill and Wiley are powerhouses. In children's books, Scholastic and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt are among the biggest players, along with several of the big trade publishers. Heck, Pearson actually owns Penguin.

My point is that there is no single book publishing business and no single group of "major" publishers. Apple reproduced the strategy with eBooks that it followed when it launched iTunes, signing up the top five recording companies: Warner, Universal, EMI, Sony and BMG (Sony has since acquired BMG). Once it secured rights to the market leaders' catalogs, it went after smaller recording companies. It did the same thing with the iBookstore, going after the trade (consumer) publishing leaders first. But unlike the music business, where a handful of companies dominate every major category, each book category has its own group of dominant publishers. Getting the five publishers that Apple signed up gets them all but nothing in many of the major categories. They have a lot of negotiations ahead of them to get a range of eBooks comparable to what they already have in music.
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