Unresolved conflicts among publishers, sellers, libraries, and the U.S. Justice Department cloud the future of the publishing industry.
Unless you are embedded somewhere in the publishing industry spectrum as an author, editor, bookseller, or librarian, the odds are that you will find it very hard to keep up with the pace of sweeping changes underway connected to the impact of the enormous expansion of digital reading. The latest authoritative survey came from Pew Research, reporting that 21 percent of American adults say they have read an eBook in the past year, with the average number of books at 24, compared to 15 for those who said they purchased only printed books -- confirmation that digital readers represent, generally speaking, very good news for literacy.
But there are three ongoing issues that greatly complicate the evolving book culture and the publishing business. In the summaries that follow, my goal is to provide as nearly as possible an unbiased consumer's guide to what is happening in these complex and contentious clashes in the industry.
PUBLISHERS AND THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE
After months of investigation, the Department of Justice last week filed antitrust cases against Apple and five of the country's largest publishers -- Penguin Group USA, Hachette Books Group, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, and Macmillan -- accusing them in a civil action of colluding to raise the price of newly released and bestselling eBooks. Three of the publishers -- Hachette, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster -- settled with the DOJ and accepted limitations on how they can sell eBooks going forward, but all insisted that they had done nothing wrong. They said the settlement was intended to cut short a protracted and expensive litigation. Apple, Macmillan, and Penguin refused to settle, and will confront the consequences of DOJ's copious evidence of meetings among the publishers and e-mails quoted in the lawsuit that support the allegations that publishers "took steps to conceal their communications with one another."