From today’s Publisher’s Lunch, a ringing and literate condemnation of Amazon and its monopoly. I’ve bolded an important point that Franklin Foer makes:
Franklin Foer writes a cover story for the New Republic online now about that marvelous modern monopoly: “Amazon is the shining representative of a new golden age of monopoly that also includes Google and Walmart. Unlike U.S. Steel, the new behemoths don’t use their barely challenged power to hike up prices. They are, in fact, self-styled servants of the consumer and have ushered in an era of low prices for everything from flat-screen TVs to paper napkins to smart phones.In other words, we’re all enjoying the benefits of these corporations far too much to think hard about distant dangers.”
Foer features Amazon’s publishing standoff: “in its confrontation with the publisher Hachette, it has entered a phase of heightened aggression unseen even when it tried to crush Zappos by offering a $5 rebate on all its shoes or when it gave employees phony business cards to avoid paying sales taxes in various states. In effect, we’ve been thrust back 100 years to a time when the law was not up to the task of protecting the threats to democracy posed by monopoly; a time when the new nature of the corporation demanded a significant revision of government.” And he does not see the long-term battle between Amazon and publishers ending well: “Amazon might decide that it can only generate enough revenue by further transforming the e-book market—and it might try to drive sales by deflating Salman Rushdie and Jennifer Egan novels to the price of a Diet Coke. Or it can continue to prod the publishing houses to change their models, until they submit. Either way, the culture will suffer the inevitable consequences of monopoly—less variety of products and lower quality of the remaining ones.”
In the end Foer does not see any quick answers: “Unfortunately, a robust regulatory state is one item that can’t be delivered overnight.” But, he argues, “if we don’t engage the new reality of monopoly with the spirit of argumentation and experimentation that carried Brandeis, we’ll drift toward an unsustainable future, where one company holds intolerable economic and cultural sway.”
UPDATE 10/15/2014. Rob Spillman, in Salon, (Amazon’s selfish defender: Hugh Howey’s short-sighted, Ayn Rand-ian argument harms book culture – Salon.com.) supports the New Republic’s criticism of Amazon, and also takes on the New York Times which has used one particular self-published writer as the “go-to” writer who supports Amazon:
If you are an author, how can you possibly defend Amazon? In their ongoing contract dispute, Amazon is punishing Hachette by disappearing their author’s books, delaying shipping, and directing customers away from titles by recommending others instead.
In response, hundreds of prominent writers joined together to send an open letter to Amazon protesting their thuggish tactics.
However, not all writers are on the same page. A few have come forward to say that they have Amazon’s back. The most vocal is Hugh C. Howey, whose self-published sci-fi novel “Wool” has sold a half-million copies on Amazon. In an article in today’s New York Times, Howey defended Amazon and characterized Ursula Le Guin’s statement that Hachette’s tactics amount to censorship as “mostly lying.”
Mostly lying? That’s the equivalent of “a little pregnant.”
Howey, like most writers who are Amazon defenders, is a self-published genre writer. (And he has become the Times’ go-to author to predictably take Amazon’s side; yesterday’s piece was at least the fifth he has been quoted in since the end of May 2014.)