As André Schiffrin pointed out in a short article in the December 17 issue The Nation magazine, the absorption of Penguin into the Bertelsmann publishing empire will create a single company that will publish about a fourth of all books appearing in English.
Meanwhile, independent bookstores are harder to find, and even the major chain bookstore Borders, which also sold music and video, is no more. A single on-line retailer, Amazon, controls a vast amount of all book sales and has used its monopoly power to refuse to sell books from publishers that don’t obey its dictates (weirdly enough, with the U.S. Department of Justice intervening on behalf of Amazon).
Some of this is inevitable. More and more of us are reading on screens rather than paper. But it’s still disturbing. I buy almost all my books from a local independent bookstore (The Regulator Bookshop here in Durham), where I can not only browse for books but order pretty much anything in print and either have it shipped to me or just pick it up at the front desk next time I’m there. The place is noticeably less well-stocked than a few years ago, but usually there are a lot of other customers, so I have hopes that it will hang on. When I download a book to my e-reader that’s not some public-domain classic I generally buy it from the publisher if I can. For that matter, independent bookstores have started offering downloads on their websites.
In fairness to Amazon, it does permit tiny publishers, and even individual authors, to sell via its store, both electronic books and paper versions, and its terms, while non-negotiable, are reasonable, and for individual authors even favorable, at least in terms of royalty rates or the equivalent.
The consolidation still bothers me, though.