When you're one of the big n smaller than 10 in an industry, and you are shrinking while your other big competitors are growing, it is scary. You are at least not able to take advantage of an overall expanding market and you are also losing market share. When there isn't more coming in the door, it is tempting to try to stop the bleeding on costs.
So more recently we've seen some other choices over at Hachette: a highly publicized disagreement with Amazon which has led to Amazon listings of Hachette showing 1+ weeks delivery time -- and in which new releases are not available other than as excerpts in ebook form. The thinking is clear: we can't let Amazon force our margins down or destroy our other channels (B&N, bricks and mortar book stores). It's the thinking of shrinking -- not the optimism and exuberance of growth.
They also decided to include excerpts only in the voter package for the Hugos, arguing that they couldn't forgo the revenue on 7K copies each. They must have decided that the potential for bad publicity and resentment was negligible by comparison, just like they made similar tradeoffs in the public debate about Amazon and Hachette's business disagreement.
I was musing about all this while over at Nate's excellent blog, The Digital Reader. He had done a roundup of publishers press releases associated with the most recent quarter.
That was great to see and confirmed my sense that Hachette was still coming off the massive, Meyer-induced high of a few years ago, but I wouldn't have blogged about that at all, except commenter Edward Bear added:
"Scalzi and Bujold, IMO, were the only authors who were really left in the race, once the other publishers decided to make it difficult to stuff the stories into your phone or pad and still keep them readable. (FYI, my eyes are no longer even middle-aged, and PDFs don’t reflow or scale the text sizes worth a damn.)"
Bear says two things here that I think are really, really worth drawing attention to. The first -- his main point -- is that people in the business of getting people to pay for and read their books ought to make that as easy and versatile as possible. The second, and the reason I'm blogging about this, is even more important: sometimes, the desire for aesthetic control, branding, Making It Pretty, Knowing Where the Page Numbers Are, etc. are incompatible with an aging readership. (Sorry, Bear, if I've imputed to you more than you meant to say.)
Incompatible. That book may _display_ on my device, but that's not the same as saying I can actually read it on my device. Kindle still has the problem with tables, pictures, and so forth, but as Bear notes, being able to reflow and scale solves virtually all problems associated with aging eyes.
I have seen font-obsessed book designers age to the point where they have to contort themselves in order to produce and consume That With Which They Are Obsessed. That's fine. I Get Having a Special Interest. But the next time you find yourself in an argument about How Reflow Is Horrible with a book design person, take a deep breath and think about demographics. We're gonna win.