I have mixed reactions to this article suggesting Amazon is going to destroy traditional publishing. I love to read, and I believe in paying for quality content, but I've always had a nagging feeling that books are over priced. Yet I have no rational basis to believe this is true as I have not once looked at the P&L for any publishing or related industry company.
So on one hand when I read "What they're actually targeting is the publishers' margin." I'm thinking "sweet, prices will come down". But on the other hand, a monopoly situation where Amazon is the sole remaining publisher is also undesirable. Without competition do we believe Amazon would continue to keep prices (i.e. it's own margins) low simply because it wants to? I like how Amazon has operated so far but it's naive to think they wouldn't raise prices if the (low risk) opportunity arose.
The article also made me ponder what the role of a publisher is. Do they need to exist? What functions do they perform? What value do those functions have?
One of the problems I observe across the Internet is the proliferation of garbage. Quantity over quality. I find it hard to read any newsy site with any regularity because the majority focus on regular updates to keep themselves "fresh" in order to drive page views since their business model relies on advertising revenue dependent on traffic. What I want is interesting, relevant news, not gobs and gobs of drivel.
I'm not sure that crowd sourcing works -- if you have millions of people voting on anything all you end up with is an impressive pile of mediocrity. So I thought maybe the opposite would work -- could I find individuals whose interests reflected mine, and pay them to send me interesting news.
About 2 years ago I started paying a guy I discovered in the US who compiles tech news. He intrigued me because he didn't run an advertising based business model and didn't have a website, preferring to send his updates exclusively via email. The service is $600-800/year which includes a daily tech news summary (no more than 4-5 articles) and a weekly column. It felt about right in terms of quality vs quantity but I ended up unsubscribing as he got too politically biased in his columns. But from that I learnt that I am happy to pay for quality, and there are others like me, as this particular service has run for over 15 years and from what I can gather is a very profitable business. The hard part is finding such services.
Coming back to the role of publishers there's at least three things I recognise as valuable. The first is the role of moderation -- in a world without any publishers all I can foresee is the literary equivalent of the app store: petabytes of crap from which it is hard to find things worth reading, i.e. subject quality. The second is someone to proof-read and edit to ensure production quality. zomg how painful would it be to like read gramattical errors and spelling mistakes everywear. And finally, publicity. Good authors aren't necessarily good marketers but that shouldn't result in them not being widely read.
So now I know what functions of a publisher are valuable to me, one question remains: how much are these services worth? That I don't know.