Where's that line?

Naturally the Passive Voice blog has been keeping up on the DOJ's antitrust lawsuit (PG is a lawyer). There's been some new stuff coming out, and it's been interesting to me to see all that is being revealed about Barnes & Noble and its very tight relationship with the larger publishers.

Obviously, they've gotten into trouble for that before. They haven't been named as a defendant this time, but...very tight relationship.

For example, according to the new state lawsuit--PV has the whole document here; there's a summary here--during the whole Macmillan/Amazon kerfuffle, the CEO of B&N told Macmillan he would "go to the mat" for them and moved Macmillan books up in the search result on B&N.com. (Because, you know, people typically buy based on publisher.)

And then when Random House wouldn't join in the little price-fixing conspiracy, B&N played enforcer! Yeah, the complaint states that the Penguin CEO went to B&N and asked them to stop featuring Random House books in their advertisements, and B&N eventually complied, thereby forcing Random House to get with the program!

While you could claim that B&N had to go along to keep publishers happy, apparently it's a two-way street. According to the judge's denial of the defendants' request that the class-action lawsuit be dismissed:

Prior to December 2009, the Publisher Defendants’ standard practice was to release eBook and hardcover versions of titles at the same time.  After a key meeting with an important industry executive, however, this practice changed abruptly.  In late November 2009, representatives from a number of publishing companies met with the Chairman of Barnes & Noble, a major chain of brick-and-mortar retail bookstores.  During the meeting, the Chairman of Barnes & Noble complained about the potential for Amazon’s low prices to hurt hardcover sales.   This meeting spurred a sudden and dramatic change in the business practices of most of the Publisher Defendants. 


This is the thing for me: Given how laughably public these guys were with their price-fixing, an activity that is pretty much guaranteed to get you in trouble, I have suspected that there's been a hell of a lot of...shall we say...cooperation going on in the publishing business. You don't cross a line in public unless you've been flirting with it for a long, long time. You see this when shock-jocks like Don Imus finally step in it and genuinely, truly, really, sincerely, deep-down-in-their-hearts do not understand why people are so upset. So Imus insulted African Americans! He does that all the time! He does that and people love it! What's so different about this time? It's baffling!

And again, there's this notion that everybody who deals with books is in the same business. Not the same industry--the same business. Agents are authors and authors are publishing houses and publishing houses are, apparently, retailers. B&N complains about a rival retailer, and publishers jump to fix it! They don't say, Hey, you are in trouble--how can I benefit from that?

I'm guessing that Microsoft is going to bring a very different perspective.

And I'm guessing that there is a lesson here for indie writers. You are not anybody else in this business. Your interests may coincide with, say, Amazon, but they are not identical. Don't make someone else's problems your problems. In fact, if you're really smart, you'll figure out how to make their problems your opportunities.