July 4th, 2014

Really Excellent Analysis by Other Bloggers: PG on the Big 5.

Recently, NYPL held a short-notice debate on Amazon. While Amazon did not send an employee (hardly surprising, given the amount of legal constraints an official representative would be under, what with NDAs and whatever agreements have been made with regulators and so forth), they apparently paid air fare so Passive Guy could go. If you are not familiar with him, you should be; his blog is fantastic in every way, altho I could wish that he included more of his own commentary on more of his posts. He posted several things about his experience at the debate, including this one:

http://www.thepassivevoice.com/07/2014/two-different-worlds/

The post as a whole is really excellent and you should read it, but I'm going to draw attention to a few paragraphs as an example of someone explaining what _something you already knew_ actually means in practice.

"The top executives of the large New York publishers are essentially middle managers in the business hierarchy of the conglomerates that own them. They take orders from headquarters. ..."

"Some overseas conglomerate executives are not adept at understanding American business, particularly the high tech business. There’s nothing remotely like Amazon in Europe. One of the continuing sources of anxiety among American executives is trying to get Michelle in France or Hans in Germany to understand and accept competitive realities and constraints in the US."

"As followers of The Passive Voice have seen, media tycoons can instigate anti-Amazon laws in various European countries. The bosses of New York publishing executives must wonder if they need different US management in order to generate some robust American anti-Amazon laws and regulations. The stress generated by these expectations is at least part of the reason for the anti-Amazon hysteria."

I spend a lot of time trying to understand why Traditional Publishing in the US does things that are going to get them in trouble with the law, and I am not a lawyer, so I don't necessarily trust that I will be able to understand the law, even when I read stuff like Hovenkamp to help me out. But what PG seems to be saying here is that the seemingly irrational, almost certainly illegal maneuvering that Traditional Publishing has a tendency to get involved in isn't necessarily the result of people in the US being idiots. It is quite possibly the result of decisions being made by people who don't understand the reality on the ground, who are additionally handicapped because they come from a reality that is different in salient ways.

When I went digging around in how Euro antitrust law worked, I was shocked to discover that it basically works the same as US antitrust law. I then had to dig around to understand how things like the German fixed price agreement survived its encounter with Euro antitrust (answer: it got limited to one state and enshrined in that state's law; cross border and contract based versions of it may have been about to be done in by Euro antitrust law when that Germany-specific law was passed).

Here in the 50 United States, we have extremely deep history and understanding of how large corporations, powerful religions and other groups can often completely control state law for decades at a time. I'm from Washington state originally, and while we now think of Washington in terms of Amazon and Microsoft, I grew up under the shadow of Boeing and its influence on Olympia. But here in these 50 United States, we also have deep history and understanding of how a big corporate fish in a single state can be brought down by federal investigation, regulation -- and competitors who grew even larger by succeeding in many states, rather than just shaping one state to fit its needs.

What PG did was take the crazy making bizarro world of TradPub, and make it an instance of something _we all know about_.

What PG did was take the weird corporate decision making of Macmillan and Hachette, and remind me about what happened to the steel industry and Youngstown.

This is what journalism is supposed to do. Thank you, to PG, and to many other excellent bloggers who contemplate a part of the world in which they have relevant expertise and distill it down to something that the rest of us can understand, too. The screechy, ranty stuff is a ton of fun, too, but we really need analysis like this.