Friday, September 5, 2014

Amazon's Power Is a 'Position of Responsibility'

Amazon continues to make it difficult for people to buy books from the publisher Hachette (a.k.a. Little Brown) as Amazon pressures Hachette to make the publisher sell their books to Amazon at lower prices. 

Author Douglas Preston wrote yesterday that  “Amazon is continuing to sanction books: 2,500 Hachette authors and over 7,000 titles have now apparently been affected. Hachette authors have seen their sales at Amazon decline at least 50% and in many cases as much as 90%. This has been going on for six months.” (Preston spearheaded an ad in the New York Times, on August 10th, signed by more than 900 authors, that took Amazon to task for its behavior).

Amazon has been heedless of the effects that its tactics are having on books, authors, and the culture of the written word. It clearly sees books as just another "product" that it sells, and treats them just like office products or appliances. Some of us feel that books are a lot more valuable to our culture than even the latest smartphone. We find it frightening that a company with Amazon's mindset--that financial gain should trump the free expression of ideas-- already dominates more than 60% of the market for books in the U.S. In the long run, the flowering of free expression requires a diversity of authors, publishers and retailers. Yet Amazon's stated goal is to dominate both the publishing and selling of books.

The author Janet Finch eloquently pointed out some of these feelings in an open letter to Amazon's Jeff Bazos:

Amazon's Power Is a 'Position of Responsibility'

"The sheer amount of power you have gained in the literary marketplace negates any disingenuous argument that it's just 'business as usual.' With the amount of wealth and power Amazon has accumulated, you've also put yourself into a position of responsibility--wanted or unwanted--for the intellectual life of the country. You have seated yourself at that table. I urge you to consciously accept that responsibility, and respond to it by treating the small amount of your business which is represented by literature with fairness and even--understanding how important to the life of our society books are--preferential treatment.

"The difference between a symbiotic and a parasitic relationship is that in symbiosis, the host is not harmed in any way. The two organisms work together for mutual benefit. In a parasitic relationship, the growth of the secondary organism outstrips the ability of the host to sustain itself. Unlike symbiosis, a parasite kills its host, and eventually, itself."

--Author Janet Fitch, from a letter she wrote to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos July 5 "in the hopes of reaching him directly. As I never heard from him, I've decided to make it an open letter."

No comments: