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The Last Decade Has Been Tumultuous For The Publishing Industry


The decade now coming to a close was a tumultuous one for the publishing industry. NPR's Lynn Neary has been digging into her old reporting, and she found that as the decade opened, publishers and booksellers faced a digital revolution with trepidation.

LYNN NEARY, BYLINE: To understand how the publishing world was upended over the last decade, you have to go back to November 19, 2007, the day that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos introduced the world to a brand-new device called the Kindle.


JEFF BEZOS: Kindle is going to be one of those things that causes people to read more.

NEARY: It wasn't the first electronic reading device, and it wouldn't be the last. But the Kindle had the technological know-how and the marketing clout of Amazon behind it. It was a game changer that would catapult publishing into the digital age. Of course, it raised a host of questions - like, could you snuggle up with an e-book?


LARRY BOWEN: I curl up with my Kindle all the time.

NEARY: But if readers like Larry Bowen were warming up to the idea of the e-book, publishers were worried.

LEN VLAHOS: Worry is a nice way of putting it. There was near hysteria in the publishing industry.

NEARY: That was Len Vlahos of the Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver. Booksellers worried that the popularity of e-books, led by the Kindle, would make things even harder in a business that was already under siege from Amazon's online book sales. In fact, it wouldn't be long before Borders, one of the country's biggest chains, would succumb to the digital competition. Meanwhile, publishers thought they might become obsolete. Longtime editor and publisher Jason Epstein summed up their fears.


JASON EPSTEIN: There will be no inventory. There will simply be digital files, and they'll be available worldwide at the click of a mouse. This makes much of what publishers now do irrelevant.

NEARY: Beyond that, publishers were horrified that Amazon had set the price of an e-book at 9.99, a price point they thought would kill their business.


DAVID YOUNG: There was no future, as I saw it, at 9.99 other than ruin.

NEARY: That's David Young, who was the CEO of Hachette Publishing (ph) on January 27, 2010, when Steve Jobs introduced the iPad and boasted of its potential as an e-reader.


STEVE JOBS: We've got five of the largest publishers in the world that are supporting us in this and are going to have all their books on the store.

NEARY: Those five publishers saw the iPad as their chance to get out from under the thumb of Amazon. With the help of Apple, a tech giant who they figured could stand up to Amazon, they came up with a new way of doing business which allowed the publishers to raise the price of e-books. That seemed like a good idea - until the Justice Department decided to sue Apple and the publishers for price fixing. Eric Holder was attorney general at the time.


ERIC HOLDER: As a result of this alleged conspiracy, we believe that consumers paid millions of dollars more for some of the most popular titles.

NEARY: Eventually, the publishers decided to settle. But Apple took the case all the way to the Supreme Court, which declined to hear it. It was time, said industry analyst James McQuivey, to move on.


JAMES MCQUIVEY: One of the things that publishers had to learn from this whole experience was that $2 or $3 up or down does not dramatically change the fact that your business is being altered by digital and you need to alter with it.

NEARY: Publishers and booksellers remained skittish about e-books, which for a while were selling better than print on Amazon. But toward the end of the decade, things evened out. Booksellers like Len Vlahos discovered that a lot of people still like old-fashioned print books.

VLAHOS: The most voracious readers are now really reading in multi format. And I think now that it's settling down, it's becoming a slightly more predictable market.

NEARY: But there are still growing pains. Most recently, libraries challenged publishers over pricing and access to e-books. But by decade's end, publishing, like many other businesses, had settled into life in the digital age.

Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington.


Lynn Neary is an NPR arts correspondent covering books and publishing.
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