July 15, 2014 Last Updated 10:54 am

Everyone is been heard from in battle between book publishers and Amazon…

…except the majority of those actually in the publishing business

While Amazon and Hachette Book Group continue to battle it out over fees and prices, it seems everyone has an opinion about who is in the right, and who the bad guys are. For many (most) media reporters, the whole thing seems to boil down between a battle of higher ups, with authors caught in the middle. Missing from the discussion seems to be that group of people who make the majority of people actually working in the industry – those who work at book publishing companies.


Left: Amazon warehouse; Right: old office

Authors are rightly upset that Amazon has pulled their books, and right upset that book publishers are not offering the same level of royalties that Amazon is willing to offer. But authors are the coal that stokes the engine, without that coal there is no motion. But the people stoking the engine are the engineers, the folks that day in and day out do the work of producing and promoting books, doing the collections, etc.

As someone who has worked on the west coast (and considers myself more a west coast person, despite growing up in the Midwest and living in Chicago for many years), and has worked for East Coast media companies including McGraw-Hill and Hearst, I can see that the two sides of this battle will talk past each other – neither understanding the other.

Those who write about the industry are equally divided. The media writer who writes inside a NYC newspaper office is seeing the world far differently than the online writer who often works from home.

That doesn’t make Hachette Book Group in the right in its war with Amazon, any more than it makes Amazon in the wrong. But if Hachette and the other book publishers go away, will there be more jobs in the publishing business or less?

(Note: Crain’s New York once named Hachette Book Group one of the best places to work in NYC.)

I think the hope for the book publishing industry is the same as it is for the magazine and newspaper industries: new companies emerging that marry the best of traditional print publishing with the best new technologies and aspects of the digital media world. If this war between online retailer and traditional print publishers actually has an outright winner than I fear the industry as a whole will be the loser.

I spent more than a decade in the newspaper business and today not a single one of the newspapers I worked at still exists today. Do we really want to see a new book publishing industry (or magazine or newspaper industry) emerge without actually any publishing companies around?

Luckily, that won’t happen. Much of the industry is made up of small to mid-sized publishers who will adapt to the changing landscape. Many of these, like those here in Chicago, are terribly behind the rest of the industry in their embrace of digital publishing. But just as many are not, including those that see themselves as digital publishers first and print publishers second. Many of these companies are growing, hiring new editors and marketing pros.

The future of publishing can not be seen in massive warehouses, but in the small offices of publishers who still love books and magazines, who have great relations with their authors, and who see that war between Amazon and the big publishing houses the war a small country sees the war between two giants: they just hope the battle doesn’t cross the border and effects their world.

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