Somewhere, deep in the Amazon

Boston Review have an interesting piece on the effect Amazon’s large market share and aggressive business politics (they’re almost mafia-like) have had on the publishing business. Here’s a quote:

When Johnson returned from the convention, he discovered that the entire catalogue of Melville House books had disappeared from Amazon.com. “I just didn’t believe they were going to play hardball like that,” he told me. Even a search for ISBNs failed to bring up Melville House’s books. Johnson gave in and agreed to the new plan. Soon after, his books reappeared. In a recent article in The Nation, Johnson says that when he refused to sign onto the new program, Amazon reps told him they were keeping an eye on him and advised him to “get in line.”

As a regular customer of the service and happy owner of a Kindle such articles are sobering stuff. What am I condoning here? Yet, one must not forget that Amazon is not the only business interest in this, and that the days of publishers being humble middlemen between author and readership were long gone before internet retailing. Thankfully, the article is conscious of this, mentioning that large chain bookstores cornered the market in the eighties. But Borders and Barnes & Noble are nothing. Consider this sentence: “Many in the publishing community mock Amazon as the “Wal-Mart of books,” but it’s important to remember that Wal-Mart is also the Wal-Mart of books.”

The question is where distribution of culture will be in ten years’ time. Will we be mourning the loss of small, interesting books to market pitched bestsellers? Or will the low cost of electronic distribution mean even more fringe stuff will get funding? These are interesting times.

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