Unlike Tommy Smothers‘ mother, I don’t know which of my children I love best. But if I have to choose, well, I guess it comes down to “Let’s Hear It for Reckless Enthusiasm” and “Platform Wars Come to the Book Business.” The “Reckless Enthusiasm” piece was published on January 1, with the intention of ushering in the new year (and it has been a reckless one!), and perhaps that is reason enough not to choose it to close out the year as well.
“Platform Wars,” on the other hand, has been given renewed currency with the December launch in the U.S. of Google e-books, a blast from the platform wars that may have no rival for years to come, if ever.
The core issue of “Platform Wars” is that books are now caught up in a battle among technology firms, particularly Amazon, Google, and Apple, whose interests are, to say the least, extra-literary. Get more applications to run on your platform (in this case, the apps are books), and more people want your platform. This situation has intensified as the year progressed and is likely to become ferocious in 2011. While a platform war rages, books are priced not for the benefit of authors and publishers, but for the benefit of the platform. Cheaper is better. The long-term interests of publishers are of interest to no one but publishers, who are helpless while the battle rages.
Look for platform wars to lead to the shutting down of more bricks-and-mortar bookstores; for the amount of shelf space in bricks-and-mortar stores given over to used books and nonbook items to grow; for some technical platforms to exit the business (no, I won’t say which ones); for a surge in online discovery services for books; and for publishers to feel for the next several years that they are not in control of their own industry.