In e-tech, publishers look to be an obsolescent cog. They exist(ed?) with books in a legitimate role because someone needs to take on the cost of printing a physical book, shipping it to a store, etc., and your typical author can’t afford to do that. With an e-book, the costs – such as they are – are handled by the retailer (Apple, Amazon, smaller sellers – even the author.)
Speaking as someone somewhat familiar with the industry, publishers, long known for providing only minimal advances and the smallest possible royalty to the actual artist (the author(s) and illustrator(s)), appear to have no role in the e-book ecosphere.
There’s nothing to print; typesetting, such as it is, can be handled by the author(s); there’s almost zero cost to the delivery; the value created is in the work, which is the role of the author(s); and in its presentation to a market, which is the role of the retailer (or again, even the author(s)); and finally in its purchase by the consumer.
It seems to me that it may be just a matter of time before the authors – and the retailers – realize this, and publishers end up on the same sidewalk as manufacturers of buggy whips – and for the same reason. Right now, publishers get (I should say, typically they insist on taking) e-book rights when they print a traditional book. But one has to ask, how long will paper book publishing be the first and most important choice for an author? I don’t think it will be much longer. I haven’t bought a “real” book in a year, and I can’t really see doing it again. E-books simply have too many advantages, and more arrive with every wave of technology.
Unless, of course, the law steps in, as it has with copyrights and software patents, to create an artificial market. Then all bets are off. Publishers might continue to prosper in the authoring space just as lawyers do in the extended copyright and patent spaces.