Yesterday’s New York Times had a good article yesterday about Amazon, Hachette, and publishers’ growing concerns about the power that Amazon wields.
I have to tell you I’m feeling very mixed about the whole thing. For one, it’s a little hard to feel outraged that Amazon wants writers to see more of the profit from their books than publishers. On the other hand, Amazon is wielding a very big stick and threatens to do a lot of damage to publishers, and what happens then? I don’t want Amazon to be a monopoly, but they are pretty close.
Still, Amazon has created my favorite product ever in the Kindle. It has improved reading in every way for me. Last week I took a hardback book with me to work so I could finish it up (I do still buy paper from used book stores and my public library). Reading a paper book on the metro was kind of a nightmare. Impossible to turn pages while standing up, clutching a pole, while the train sways to and fro or jerks suddenly to a stop. That, and I couldn’t look words up, highlight quotes I liked, or search for key parts of the book I wanted to remember better.
I’ve said this before, but the Kindle gives me all that, plus an easy, cheap, and fast way to pick up books without filling up my bookshelves at home.
Have I yoked myself to this giant machine in terms of purchasing? Yes, and more than you think, since I buy most of my drugstore items, kitchen items, and pet food on Amazon as well. But if Amazon went away tomorrow I could get those items somewhere else. Not so much for my books. Even the Nook doesn’t seem like it will be around for long.
In light of the Hachette dispute, I told myself I wouldn’t buy Rowling/Galbraith’s The Silkworm from Amazon. I went into a favorite local bookstore (one of very few), and picked up the ten-pound-or-so hardback book, then looked at the cover price of $28. I couldn’t do it, not even on principle. I didn’t want to carry this heavy hardback book, much less read it.
In case you’re wondering, I had an aversion to reading hardback books long before the Kindle came out, but then I was more patient and used to waiting a year for the paperback to come out. Now I get books the day they are released.
So I didn’t buy The Silkworm, even though it’s about $9 on Amazon ($19 on Powells.com and $28 in the stores). I have plenty to read right now, so maybe I’ll wait for the paperback version. Still, I wonder who I’m helping with this little silent protest. I’m not helping Hachette any by NOT buying their book. Amazon certainly isn’t going to notice. And J.K. Rowling won’t either.
I want fairness. I want Amazon not to have all the power and I want publishers to find and support good writing. But as this article points out, publishers aren’t necessarily the good guys either. Amazon has actually made it easier for a lot of people to publish books. Do they see themselves as taking on publishing empires? Or are they just trying to turn a profit, now that they’ve undercut prices for other booksellers.
I admit I’m confused. And I love reading, and my Kindle, too much to do much about it. What do you think?