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Judging the Latest Bout of E-Book Fisticuffs

PUBLISHED: February 9, 2010

As a writer, even one without any books to his name, I feel some professional investment in the outcome of the recent conflict between Amazon and various publishers, most notably Macmillan. If, like me, you’re ambivalent but hopeful about e-books, hawkishly monitor your Mac rumors RSS feed for iPad news, and delight in the latest stunning but yet-to-be-realized mockup of the next-gen e-magazine; or if you’re unconcerned about any of this, if the phrase “agency model” means nothing to you, you may still wonder what it all means, why you couldn’t order Wolf Hall from Amazon last week, and who’s winning on the judges’ scorecard. Here, then, are some sources that I’ve found helpful in parsing the convoluted and occasionally conflicting reports of Amazon v. Macmillan, Google v. Publishers, and other such rows:

  • Motoko Rich is the New York Times’ books reporter. Her latest piece in the NYT discusses how Macmillan’s putative win against Amazon is allowing publishers to gain strength in their negotiations with Google. (Apple’s use of the agency model for its forthcoming e-book store also helps, she writes.)
  • Rich’s cross-town rival is Jeffrey Trachtenberg at the Wall Street Journal. He’s sometimes cited as the most influential reporter on the publishing beat, but his articles—like this recent piece about Hachette seeking changes in e-book pricing—are often locked behind the WSJ paywall.
  • But if you can’t read Trachtenberg’s articles, you can see them quoted and commented upon on many blogs, including MobyLives. As the blog of the celebrated indie publisher Melville House, MobyLives (and Melville co-founder Dennis Johnson, a regular poster) is an unabashed partisan for the publishing industry. But Johnson’s perspective is always cogent, lively, and passionate, and he’s not afraid to call out Amazon for its skullduggery.
  • The Publishers Lunch daily newsletter, from Publishers Marketplace, is, as the site trumpets, the “industry’s essential daily read.” As a measure of its reach, consider that when Macmillan honcho John Sargent wanted to make a public statement, he did so by buying ad space in PM’s e-newsletter. I get plenty of up-to-the-minute information from the free newsletter, but PM offers more services for paying members.
  • Carolyn Kellogg somehow manages to churn out several posts a day on the LA Times’ Jacket Copy blog (full disclosure: I’ve written for the LAT books section and one post for Jacket Copy) while also contributing to the physical paper and maintaining a robust presence on Twitter. When she’s not referring to the work of VQR editor Ted Genoways, she’s often posting about the latest Amazon dustup, usually moments after it’s passed through the Twittersphere.
  • Chad Post, Open Letter publisher and maestro of the Three Percent blog, mostly writes about literature-in-translation—his love and livelihood. But occasionally he dips into other publishing matters, such as this gloriously crass and perceptive post, in which he rains on the iPad parade.

Surely there are some other great sources out there—especially for the Google Books fiasco, which has ramifications for cultural institutions around the world—so if you think there’s something I missed, please offer your comments and links below.


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