Five Digital Publishing Questions for Ken Auletta

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

The Digital Book World Conference + Expo, kicking off on January 13, 2015 is packed with an incredible amount of information and ideas about the digital publishing landscape at a time of remarkable transformations. To help attendees make the most out of those three days, Digital Book World is sitting down with conference speakers to help lay the groundwork for conversations that will take place at the conference and continue for many weeks and months afterward.

This is the sixth installment in our “Digital Publishing Questions” blog series, featuring Ken Auletta, contributor to The New Yorker and author of Googled: The End of the World as We Know It.

What do you think has been the most newsworthy event for authors in the past year around publishing and digital change?

It’s hard to top the negotiations between publishers and Amazon. Yes, Hachette and Simon & Schuster have now come to terms with Amazon. But there was collateral damage to Hachette’s authors and its bottom line, and to Amazon’s “brand” name, which was tarnished by the perception that the digital giant was thuggish.

What are you anticipating as the big change we will see in 2015?

A big question will be whether Penguin Random House’s immense size will compel Amazon to treat them differently than the other publishers. And if size does confer more leverage, it might spur more consolidation among the publishing companies.

What is the most important thing publishers need to accomplish in 2015?

At a time when Amazon sells nearly half of all their books, book publishers come to negotiations with less leverage. So the question becomes how to gain more leverage. Consolidation might be one way. Creating rival ways to sell books is another. More risky is to copy what Amazon did a few years ago–helping persuade the Justice Department that the publishers and Apple were colluding to raise book prices–and press Justice to treat Amazon as a monopoly.

Related: Of Menace and Metaphor in Amazon-Publishers Debate

Will Amazon’s ebook market share grow in 2015, or will this be the year that Apple, Kobo, Google and Nook (or someone else) push them back?

I suspect Kindle will grow, in part because it’s an easy-to-use product and its competitors today don’t offer a product as good.

Are there any companies (start-up or otherwise) now flying below the radar that you think may break out in 2015?

In a 1998 interview, I asked Bill Gates, What competitor does Microsoft most worry about? I expected he would say Netscape, Oracle, Apple, Sun Microsystems. Instead, he said he worried most about some guy in a garage who was inventing a product that would one day assault Microsoft. In 1998, there were two guys in a garage: Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and their company did one day do harm to Microsoft. But they were operating below the radar, as I suspect the next disruptive company to publishing–or Amazon–is doing today.

Ken Auletta is a contributor to The New Yorker and the author of Googled: The End of the World as We Know It. He’ll be delivering a talk on the main stage at Digital Book World 2015 called “Publishing and Other Media in a World of Engineers” and moderating a panel discussion called “Can Amazon Be Contained, and Should They Be?” featuring top media writers and thinkers Barry Lynn, Annie Lowrey and Barry Eisler.


One thought on “Five Digital Publishing Questions for Ken Auletta

  1. Bill Gleason

    Amazon’s share will continue to grow, albeit modestly, as eblockbluster pricing continues to flatten ebook sales. Simply, why buy an ereader to save $ 4.00 over David Baldacci’s latest book in hard cover?

    Consumers do the math. They may not connect all the dots properly (writers still getting screwed, publishers desperately seeking outsize profit margins on a few ebooks to offset decades of inefficient business practices) but they get the bottom lines:

    1. If you can’t save a significant amount of money using an ereader – just what is the point? And the payoff has to be within the technological life-cycle of the product (maybe 18 months for tablet types). You have to read a lot of books.

    2. If the most popular hard-cover new releases are so expensive in eformat – then it’s probably true of the rest of ebooks. (wrong, but that’s the perception)

    If we could wish, and pigs could fly, the real solution is a standardized eproduct that is sold by a variety of channels.

    Never discount the value of 10,000 stores selling your product, or having 2,000 websites selling it, or both.



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