Emerging Technology

BEST OF THE WEB: Meet the Amazon employee killing the publishing industry

Patrick Stafford /

Amazon has been the online bookselling darling for over a decade now. Although it’s slowly moved into other products and categories, books are the heart of this company – and recently it’s been making strides back to its roots.

 

As this article on BusinessWeek explains, Amazon has had a mostly healthy relationship with large publishing groups for several years. But now, chief executive Jeff Bezos is competing against those very same publishing groups he attempted to woo by creating his own publishing house.

For months now Amazon has been touting its online eBook publishing brand, and with good reason. Several of its authors have achieved great success and riches, and more authors are being signed every month. Although it swears it’s not competing, it’s clear Amazon is targeting flattening book sales.

Who heads up this division? Former Time Warner Book Group head Larry Kirshbaum, who is now moving forward Amazon’s strategy to become the next big publishing house.

And the rest of the industry hates him for it.

“In the middle of this stew of rancor and mistrust sits Kirshbaum. He was once the ultimate book industry insider, widely known and almost universally liked. He has a well-honed instinct for big, mass-culture books and was thinking about eBooks – and losing money on them – long before almost anyone else in the industry,” the piece explains.

More than a dozen executives told BusinessWeek that Kirshbaum has turned to “the dark side”– but he defended himself.

“I have a message I really believe in,” Kirshbaum says. “Which is that we’re trying to innovate in ways that can help everybody. We are trying to create a tide that will lift all boats.” 

The piece goes on to describe how publishing houses are scurrying to find how they can compete against Amazon’s new venture in the face of flat book sales. And as these publishers struggle to survive, Amazon continues to sign new authors and deals.

But it’s come at a cost to Kirshbaum himself.

“Larry Kirshbaum,” says Mike Shatzkin, a publishing consultant who writes a widely followed industry blog, “has gone from one of the most well-liked people in publishing to the one of the most reviled.”

It’s a fascinating piece, and well worth reading.

The day the clean tech died

A few years ago clean tech entrepreneurs in America were encouraged. Legislation passed by Congress in 2005 and 2007 provided major tax credits and loan guarantees for clean technology, prompting more interest from venture capital. All seemed well.

But as this Wired piece shows, it hasn’t lived up to expectations. For one thing, firms have become uncompetitive as solar plants have closed or downsized, with major manufacturing jobs lost to China.

In fact, China now accounts for half of global photovoltaic output, used for solar panels. And wind farms have taken a major hit, and gas-fired plans have become cheaper.

“You had folks who came in with the hubris to say, ‘I know these guys have been working on this for 50 years,’” Suntech chief commercial officer Andrew Beebe said, regarding the lack of critical mass. “‘But I’ve got $50 million and I can blow the doors off this thing.’”

This is a good look at the potential of the clean tech industry – and why it hasn’t been able to gain traction just yet, despite investors’ hopes.

Australia needs more foreign ownership

You may have read this week Woolworths is offloading the Dick Smiths electronics chain. It’s costing the company too much to maintain, delivering too small a profit and sits outside the group’s core business.

What was even more interesting was the reaction of the chain’s founder, Dick Smith, to the concept of foreign ownership. He balked at the suggestion, saying he would harshly speak out against any such move.

However, tech writer and SmartCompany blogger Paul Wallbank has argued exactly why the company needs to be snapped up by an overseas entity.

“Bringing in overseas owners will bring in fresh thinking and new ideas,” he argues. “New blood in the retail sector may even stem the brain drain where many young, innovative future business leaders are forced overseas because of the limited opportunities in the incumbent duopolies.

Wallbank may not have won Dick Smith’s vote, but it’s a point well argued.

Facebook’s paper-trail history

With Facebook set to go public within the next few months, it’s a good time to sit back and reflect on how the company got to where it is today. Over at The Atlantic, a number of papers have been compiled that show the company’s history, including its investment from Accel Partners.

It’s a piece of history well worth reading as the company gears up for one of the biggest tech filings in recent history.

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Patrick Stafford

Patrick Stafford is a freelance journalist and a former deputy editor of SmartCompany.

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