For example, GalleyCat earlier this week asked for predictions from the always provocative Richard Nash, one of which I would like to point and laugh at:
3. Most predictions for 2020 based on models derived from controlling the supply side, that is, from the monopoly on the means of producing and distributing books, will be wrong. By which I mean, the supply chain book publishing and retail model is ending. The book retail chains will disappear, just like Circuit City, Sharper Image, Tower Records disappeared. And the corporate publishers will likely all but disappear just as Atari, Digital, Wang disappeared though the backlists will be spun off to private equity companies looking for semi-predictable IP-based cash flow, and a couple of front list publishing enterprises will likely be operating trying to emulate the Hollywood blockbuster model with just about enough success to be able to stay in business.Breathtaking in its audacity, isn't it? I particularly like how he throws in Circuit City, Sharper Image, Atari, and Wang as examples of failed businesses and allows the reader to assume that their failures mean that electronics retail, status-signifying tchotchkes, videogames, and computer manufacture are all industries that have already landed on the dungheap of history, quietly ignoring the existence of Dell and HP and Nintendo and a dozen others.
He may not be wrong about the fate of Big Trade Publishing, but his comparison is so radically flawed that it completely collapses under the weight of his argument. No, the supply chain model of retail has not yet collapsed -- we don't have nanotech compilers in all of our homes, or 3-D printers -- and the companies that manufacture things are doing about as well as anyone in the current economy. Publishers may well, as a class, be slower and dumber and less adaptable than Apple and Google and Target and Lenovo, but he hasn't actually given an argument along those lines.
I'll also note that the major New York houses are already "trying to emulate the Hollywood blockbuster model with just about enough success to be able to stay in business," and that's their problem. (And that they've been doing so for at least a decade now.) Consumer publishing needs to take a hard look at what it spends -- on advances, most of all, but other cost centers as well -- and reduce expenditure to a level so that most books are break-even or slightly profitable. It can be done, but it can't be done by paying advances that will never earn out, and you know will never earn out.
And, most importantly, for as long as copyright has real force, a publisher will always have a monopoly on the supply side of a particular book (I'll leave format questions -- audio, digital, etc. -- mostly out of the picture for clarity). The point, as always, is in making sure there's consumer demand for that particular book, thus making that monopoly a profitable one. The fact that there are other books, with their own demands or lack thereof, can affect the overall marketplace, but Book X must have a demand, or nothing else matters.