Financial Times

Andrew Hill

Thursday’s doomy Financial Times editorial pointing out that 1914 began with a remarkable lack of foresight about what was later dubbed the Great War sent me back to the FT of January 1, 1914. The lead editorial on that day was about fertiliser: “As regards the prospects of the Chilean nitrate industry … these appear fairly promising” (this was actually, if inadvertently, rather prescient, given the eventual wartime demand for nitrates as an ingredient of high explosives).

Germany, however, was mentioned only in passing, in a Reuters report about heavy snowfalls interrupting communication, and the paper welcomed in the new year with a little light verse. In mitigation, the FT of the time was essentially a thin newsletter for City of London investors, but given what later unfolded, this piece of doggerelby a writer using the pseudonym “Optimist” – could go down as one of the worst bits of blithely business-centric forecasting ever perpetrated 

Every company used to have one. The curmudgeon whose habitual contribution to the strategy discussion was a slow intake of breath, a shake of the head, and a gloomy judgment on the latest plan: “We tried that in 1980: complete disaster.”

John Gapper

Visitors try out various ebook readers at a book fair in Frankfurt. Image by Getty

Visitors try out various ebook readers at a book fair in Frankfurt. Image by Getty

So the US Department of Justice has struck, pushing three of the major book publishers into a settlement that will allow Amazon to resume discounting of electronic books, with three others left outside the settlement.

I’ve argued before against the anti-trust actions in the US and Europe to limit “agency pricing” by  publishers and hand power back to Amazon, so I won’t rehearse that here. Instead, I’ll consider briefly what the effect of the settlement is likely to be.

In short, although it is clearly good news for Amazon and bad news for the big publishers, the outcome may not be as clear-cut as the headlines suggest.