As I looked back over some of the columns I've written during the past year, I realized that I've focused a lot on book culture. Our worry over the loss of independent bookstores, the lack of funding for libraries, or the transition to digital books isn't driven by a concern that books are going away. It's driven by the loss of the shared cultural experience of reading and loving books.
Threats to that culture do not come from writers or publishers; instead, many of those threats originate in the basic economics of book distribution and retailing. Big stores negotiate better deals with publishers, more efficiently move books from the printer to the shelves, and sell more books at lower prices. And now the best-selling books are being piled high (and priced low) in warehouse shopping clubs like Costco and Sam's Club. So independent bookstores can't even rely on sales of best sellers anymore.
The primary company that placed all those books at Costco was called Advanced Marketing Services, a large book distributor. AMS recently suffered under bad management, had numerous problems with the SEC, and declared bankruptcy a few months ago. Don't worry about those big warehouse club clients: they'll be just fine.
However, AMS also distributed books for a consortium of small, independent publishers, most of whom were placed in serious financial jeopardy. Those publishers have aligned with a new company, but they all lost money as a result of AMS's...