Amazon, Books, And Publishing, Read All About It

If you love books, please do not read “CHEAP WORDS: Amazon is good for customers. But is it good for books?”

books headerDon’t read it, because it will break your heart. If you love economic competition or American culture, the article about Amazon.com will also break your heart. If you’re an aspiring author, writing your e-book to sell via Kindle, Nook, or Apple, you probably have a conflicted love-hate relationship with Amazon.

For the fearless reader, the scary, in-depth report by George Packer about Amazon.com may be found in the Feb. 17, 2014, issue of The New Yorker, filed under “Reporter At Large.” Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

On the positive side, if you own stock in Amazon, Mr. Packer’s comprehensive report might make you fall in love all over again:

“The combination of ceaseless innovation and low-wage drudgery makes Amazon the epitome of a successful New Economy company.”

You could credit Amazon with creating jobs. But in the not-too-distant future, most of those warehouse picking and shipping workers will likely be replaced by robots. And whether we believe it or not, in the long run Amazon just might deliver books, and other merchandise, by drone. (Books are now a small part of the company’s business. Amazon is a digital general store, selling nearly everything under the sun.)

Wikicommons photo

Wikicommons photo

I’m not going to give away the whole Amazon love-hate story, which is too long for most of us to read on a computer screen. I printed it out, and it came to 25 letter-sized pages. It’s a must-read for everyone who’s interested in books and/or the publishing industry, so long as you can handle the heartbreak. I’ll give you a taste of Mr. Packer’s judgement:

“Lately, digital titles have leveled off at about thirty per cent of book sales. Whatever the temporary fluctuations in publishers’ profits, the long-term outlook is discouraging. This is partly because Americans don’t read as many books as they used to — they are too busy doing other things with their devices — but also because of the relentless downward pressure on prices that Amazon enforces. The digital market is awash with millions of barely edited titles, most of it dreck, while readers are being conditioned to think that books are worth as little as a sandwich.”

And now I’ll localize the story a bit, which is an editor’s oldest trick on a slow news day. Here in the metro Washington, D.C. area, the newspaper many of us rely on for our news, The Washington Post, has been purchased by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. Will the sale lead to the newspaper’s salvation or its continued demise?

— John Hayden

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