Saturday, April 21, 2012

David vs. Goliath? How about Goliath vs. Goliath?

In the U.S. Federal, state, and private eBook price-fixing lawsuits against Apple and five of the Big 6 publishers, some observers have equated the battle to David vs. Goliath. The defendants are David and Goliath is Amazon, which, they argue, would have monopolized eBooks and wiped out the publishers if they hadn't imposed agency pricing. The problem with both the analogy and the rationalization is that most of the Davids are actually Goliaths. Here's a rundown:
  • Apple: Until recently, it was the most valuable company in the world, with $100 billion of cash and equivalents on its balance sheet and profit margins that Amazon, and the other defendants, would kill for. 2011 revenues: $108.25 billion.
  • Hachette: The second-largest publisher in the world, and a division of Lagardère Group, which owns magazines including ELLE and Paris Match, a variety of television broadcasters in Europe, a network of duty-free shops, and 7.5% of EADS, which is the parent company of Airbus. Parent company 2011 revenues: $10.02 billion.
  • HarperCollins: A division of News Corporation, which owns Fox, The Wall Street Journal (which has been one of the most vocal critics of the Justice Department's lawsuit,) the New York Post, a bunch of newspapers in the U.K. (which are embroiled in an ever-widening phone hacking scandal,) newspapers and broadcasters in Australia, 39.1% of British Sky Broadcasting, and a lot more. Parent company 2011 revenues: $33.4 billion.
  • Macmillan: A division of Georg von Holtzbrinck Publishing Group, owner of Macmillan Education, Nature, Scientific American, several German publishers and the newspaper Die Zeit. Privately held; parent company 2010 revenues: $2.98 billion.
  • Penguin: A division of Pearson PLC, the world's largest education and trade book publisher; owns Pearson Education, the Financial Times and 50% of The Economist. Parent company 2011 revenues: $9.45 billion.
  • Simon & Schuster: A division of CBS Corporation, which owns the CBS television network, multiple television and radio stations in the U.S., Showtime, CBS Television Distribution (which used to syndicate Oprah and still syndicates Dr. Phil and other shows,) and CBS Interactive (which owns CNET among other Internet properties.) Parent company 2011 revenues: $14.2 billion.
Amazon is certainly no slouch; its 2011 revenues were $48 billion. However, that compares to total revenues of the defendants of $178.3 billion. Even if you leave Apple out of the comparison, the parents of the five publishers had revenues of $70 billion. You can argue that publishing is only a small portion of the revenues of some of the parent companies, but books only represent a small portion of Amazon's revenues as well. In 2011, Amazon's media sales, which include books. music and video, were $6.01 billion--12.5% of the company's total revenues.

In short, the conflicts between the five publishers and Amazon aren't David vs. Goliath--they're actually Goliath vs. Goliath. When Apple is added into the mix, it's Amazon that could justifiably be called David.
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