I never knew exactly what the Hachette-Amazon tiff was all about. I read a number of MSM articles about it and none of them seemed to tell me what even happened. Every MSM article I wrote took a pro-Amazon spin. I assume that the entire US media structure is in bed with Jeff Bezos and his dirty company in some way or another. I am also a member of a writer’s group on Linkedin.
This subject was the topic of debate on the list, but I never learned much of anything there either. I never even learned what the debate was all about! The most common complaint was “Amazon sucks, but Hachette sucks too. I hate both of them.”
Quite a few of the posts defended Amazon’s behavior on the basis of, um, capitalism. Yeah, Amazon’s behavior is…just…capitalism. And all of these posters cheered on the wonders of glorious capitalism. Quite a few posts railed angrily warning against the evil specter of “government regulation” of the book-selling market, because, you know, that would interfere with the capitalism thing.
But I am starting to think that government regulation is just what the doctor ordered here.
I never knew so many people in the book biz were reactionaries! I thought we were a pretty liberal progression!
Finally Paul Krugman, in a very short column, explains in simple terms exactly what Amazon was doing. Abusing its market power. In a very similar way to how Standard Oil abused its market power in the days of the robber barons.
Amazon had been demanding a larger cut of the price of Hachette books it sells; when Hachette balked, Amazon began disrupting the publisher’s sales. Hachette books weren’t banned outright from Amazon’s site, but Amazon began delaying their delivery, raising their prices, and/or steering customers to other publishers.
You might be tempted to say that this is just business — no different from Standard Oil, back in the days before it was broken up, refusing to ship oil via railroads that refused to grant it special discounts. But that is, of course, the point: The robber baron era ended when we as a nation decided that some business tactics were out of line. And the question is whether we want to go back on that decision.
Does Amazon really have robber-baron-type market power? When it comes to books, definitely. Amazon overwhelmingly dominates online book sales, with a market share comparable to Standard Oil’s share of the refined oil market when it was broken up in 1911. Even if you look at total book sales, Amazon is by far the largest player.
Isn’t it incredible? It took Krugman one whole sentence to explain to me what several baffling MSM pieces and a silly book biz list discussion could not seem to get around to telling me, probably because they didn’t want to tell me what was really going on.
And it is exactly like what Standard Oil was doing. Precisely.
One more thing. Jeff Bezos is a reactionary. Oh excuse me. A “Libertarian.” That is so much more hip-sounding. He treats his workers like garbage. He is called to task over and over in the alternative press for abuse of employees. Well, that’s the Libertarian thing. Libertarianism is all about a big race to see who can abuse their employees best and hardest. The winner dominates the market, and their stock goes up.
Bezos is pushing his politics on his dirty website.
Last month the Times’ Bits blog documented the case of two Hachette books receiving very different treatment. One is Daniel Schulman’s “Sons of Wichita,” a profile of the Koch brothers; the other is “The Way Forward,” by Paul Ryan, who was Mitt Romney’s running mate and is chairman of the House Budget Committee. Both are listed as eligible for Amazon Prime, and for Mr. Ryan’s book, Amazon offers the usual free two-day delivery. What about “Sons of Wichita”? As of Sunday, it “usually ships in 2 to 3 weeks.”
What to do about this slimy little capitalist turd? I have no idea. I would say something should be done about the infectious pustule called Amazon, but for the life of me, I can’t think of what to do outside of villagers with torches marching into Amazon headquarters and walking out with Bezos’ head on a pike.