astroturfAre many of the complaints we hear about the rise of e-books and Amazon the result of astroturfing—fake “grass roots” campaigns orchestrated by publishing entities? If they aren’t now, they might be soon. That’s the upshot of a blog entry by David Gaughran calling attention to a recent remark by YS Chi, the chairman of Elsevier and president of the International Publishers Association.

Referring to attempting to correct publishers’ “image problem” due to various consumer “misperceptions” about the realities of publishing, such as how expensive e-books are to produce versus print books, Chi said (with emphasis added by Gaughran):

We gathered all the communications people [from various publishers associations] together to discuss the issues and create an action plan. We have a multi-faceted audience to address, and in the next 12 months you will see key messages delivered, compelling stories of our impact on society for culture and education. We’ll ask you to personalize that message. I’m very excited that there is a meeting of minds on this.”

In other words, we’ll tell you what to say, and you make it sound like you came up with it yourself. Yeah, that’ll convince people.

In the rest of his blog post, Gaughran brings up and demolishes various myths the publishing industry tries to perpetuate: that self-publishing is a bubble, that the publishers and Apple didn’t fix prices, that the e-book market has flattened, that Amazon is the only company “cheating” its way out of taxes, and so on. There really are a lot of them.

One he forgot to cover is the myth that, because Amazon’s market share went down over the course of agency pricing, agency pricing was actually “pro-competitive.” A number of publishing execs still seem to believe this, including Mike Shatzkin. But as Judge Cote points out in her decision, nothing in the evidence presented in court suggests that this drop actually had anything to do with agency pricing. All the other players except Apple had already entered the market, and Apple entering the market with its iPad would have had a big effect on the marketplace whether it was selling books at $10 or $15. In fact, from consumers’ point of view it served to eliminate competition, notably retail price competition, because no one was able to run sales or discount programs any longer. So why shop around for the best bargain anymore?

In any event, if publishers have an “image problem” it’s one they brought on themselves. They’ve never understood e-books, and at times it’s seemed like they were happy sticking their fingers in their ears and going, “La la la, we can’t hear you!” rather than deal with them—if not wanting to kill them outright. Things like this still show how out of touch they are with consumers, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better.

(Found via The Passive Voice.)


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