Despite having extensive distribution operations, publishers have long been extremely reluctant to sell books directly to customers. Whether for lack of retail expertise, out of fear of competing with bookstores they need to thrive, or lack of concrete vision, publishers have completely ceded the e-book and e-retailing landscape to Amazon and others.
Even Bookish, a site built by three publishers, is oriented around discovery and not e-bookselling.
Why are publishers so scared of selling e-books? Amazon has shown no such compunctions about creating a book-to-customer vertical, adding publisher operations to go along with their extensive retail and e-bookselling behemoth.
Moreover, publishers have one big advantage over Amazon when it comes to e-bookselling: their authors.
Just about every author out there has a website and/or a blog and/or a Twitter presence. Why not incentivize them with higher royalties if they sell direct via a device-agnostic module they can place on their sites?
Rowling built Pottermore herself, and 99.9% of authors don’t have the resources to do that. But publishers should give these tools to authors, so they can sell e-books directly to their readers.
The e-book landscape right now is built around central vendors, and there will still be appeal in that idea. But there’s no reason publishers can’t turn their authors into a dispersed e-bookselling juggernaut.
Art: Still Life With Books, Attributed to Jacques Bizet