Do you own trees?

Today’s New York Times reports an astonishing fact: Book publishers wholesale their ebooks to Amazon for precisely the same price as their paper books. Amazon loses money on every ebook for the Kindle they sell because publishers don’t discount zero-cost ebooks.

Apparently, the publishers don’t count the paper, storage, inventory, shredding and shipping expenses in their cost calculations.

Either that, or they own a tree plantation or a printing plant.

And of course, they own neither.

Many businesses act as if they have a stake in their suppliers and other vendors. Instead of scaling the part of their business that can move quickly and well, they defend the part they don’t even own.

Jason wrote in to ask why I thought that the newspaper industry was in a Dip. In my book, I point out that with classified ads disappearing and the web thriving, the days of newspapers as we know them are clearly over. That shouldn’t mean the industry is in trouble. In fact, there are more people reading more news every day than ever before–without the cost of printing and distributing a costly piece of newsprint every day. Happy days…

But (many of) the people in the industry have built their lives around the trees. As a result, the industry is over. A new industry is being built in its place, often with new people doing work that might be done far better by the old hands, the ones who are stuck defending the wholesale slaughter of trees.

If you think your job is to keep the printers busy, then you see the world differently. You focus on per issue sales, you worry about people sharing a paper (!), you don’t count online readers as valuable (even though they’re more valuable). You focus on one edition, not a thousand different versions. You focus on having one front page, not dozens based on who is reading.

If you work for a newspaper that feels this way, every day you stay is a day wasted.

I worry about my esteemed friends in the book publishing industry as well. The amazing thing about the Times story today was the report that the mood at BEA was ‘unease’ about ebooks. The fastest-growing, lowest cost segment of the business, the one that offers the most promise, the best possible outcome and has the best results… is causing unease! All because of the trees.

Of course, there are trees in your business too. There are trees in the photography business (chemicals) and in the music business (plastic) and even in the personal computer business (computers). They may not be called trees, but they’re there.