Dear Amazon: Um, You’re Joking, Right?

An open letter to Amazon.

Dear Amazon:

Not too long ago, you sent a “white paper” to the Justice Department about potential price-fixing among publishers. The term white paper is in quotes here because, well, it wasn’t really a white paper, it was an accusation intended to cause trouble. And it did. The ability of publishers to stand against your profit-grubbing, market-destroying tactics was prevented by law, which means that folks like me, regular authors who have already been struggling to eek some kind of living out of our passion, this thing called writing, was further degraded all so readers in theory could spend a few pennies less on books. But as any stock trader can tell you, pennies add up and, well, seeing as how margins are often cut by cutting the salaries of content providers, authors, I am now less able to buy food or pay rent. Oh, but you’re commanding an even bigger market share. Excuse me for wanting to buy pasta over Ramen noodles a few times a week. Glad you’re able to afford dead snails and big globs of fish eggs in your shiny corporate suites. So sorry.

But wait. See, there’s something else now. You just sent another “white paper” to the Justice Department, which has stirred officials to approach three of the Big Five publishers and ask about pricing discussions that might have happened recently. Not that I think it has anything to do with the recent blow-up between you and Hachette wherein you are not only taking even more money away from authors by refusing to sell Hachette’s books (so Ramen apparently will now become a luxury leaving writers with, well, let’s see, maybe grass clippings to eat? Would that be cheap enough?), you have also taken away readers’ ability to find and buy books.

Oh, you say it’s for the customer’s own good? Let’s look at that, shall we? Hmmm. A single company that already commands 60% of the retail market for print and electronic books claims that it wants to make books even cheaper. So let’s say that happens, and in the meantime market share for Amazon rises to 70%. (Or, in your dreams, a whopping 85%. Whatever you want, OK? Let’s keep it civil, shall we?)

Then what? What prevents you from raising the price of books again…because of course at that point Barnes & Noble will no longer be viable and their stores will litter the American landscape with echoing, gargantuan empty storefronts that mirror the echoing, gargantuan empty storefronts that used to be Borders’ locations. And don’t forget all the tiny, echoing empty storefronts of indie bookstores. Broken dreams, all.

Oh, sorry. Dreams don’t apply to your algorithms, nor do they make a dent in the yawing hunger that drives these underhanded notes (see “white paper” above) passed like high-school gossip slips under the desk from a snickering Amazon to the Justice Department. So the dreams of authors who only want to pay their rent so they can continue, against all odds, to carve out a few hours a day to put their dreamlike stories down on paper and feed them to readers who, similarly passionate about dreams, engage in the books for a few precious hours of release from their lives, to learn through the process of connecting with characters about who they really are and who they want to become, to expand their minds and their souls in ways that they wouldn’t be able to achieve in life yet who find a pathway through literature high and low. So sorry, I forgot that the only dreams that count are those that involve market domination and future profit.

So, let’s put all that aside and return to this second “white paper.” It’s a joke, right? You’re joking? You don’t really think that what’s happening here is the preservation of American culture and preservation of pathways into the cultures of other nations through literature? You don’t really think that eliminating the cost of two lattes a week in order to buy a book is cheap enough (assuming that you are not an author and therefore only rarely able to afford a single latte a month)?

Are you seriously comparing books to adult diapers and sticky tape? Most diapers, after all, absorb at the same rate. Most sticky tape sticks well enough. They are interchangeable.

Books are not. Neither are the authors who write them. Nor are the readers who engage with them.

Wake up, Amazon. You’ve been snickering into your sleeve for far too long. The publishers, the authors, and the public that is your client base don’t share your sense of humor. Be happy with the dead snails and heaps of fish eggs you already own, and keep your hands off my Ramen. Please.

Thanks for listening.


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