If you ask most book publishers what keeps them up at night, “Amazon” is sure to be mentioned. If you talk to the Authors Guild about significant threats to its members’ interests, “Google” will certainly be named. And if you ask a periodical publisher about the platforms that vex them, “Apple”, with its iPads and iPhones, is likely to make the short list.
What binds these three examples? Scale. Amazon, Google and Apple all compete at a scale that dwarfs any given publisher. As they have grown, these platforms have begun to approach the size of publishing as a whole.
I’m not a fan of the idea that publishers can or should try to fight scale with scale, but I do think it makes sense to work toward as level a playing field as possible. As I’ve written before, publishers handed Amazon much of its digital advantage by agreeing (and continuing to support) the use of proprietary DRM.
At this point, platform lock-in is a reality, one that publishers will have to live with for a while, maybe even a good while. But you don’t want to see things develop in ways that could make matters even worse.
That’s why I remain surprised by the silence about yesterday’s appeals court ruling that overturned the FCC’s ability to mandate net neutrality.
Check the web sites for the Association of American Publishers, the Authors Guild or Magazine Publishers of America. Look for statements from any of the biggest book and magazine publishers, the ones most vocal about the impact of platforms on their businesses.
You won’t find anything.
Reasonable arguments can be made on both sides of the court’s decision. While I fear the implications of giving the largest broadband users extra seats at the table, I also understand the hope that doing so could spur investment and innovation.
So, the thing I’m looking for is not a knee-jerk defense of net neutrality. I just wish publishers, ever so concerned with the impact of Amazon, Google and Apple, weren’t gathered to talk about the last battle fought. I wish they understood that access to the internet could soon be determined by the companies they fear most.