If you’re a book lover, or just interested in business, chances are you’ve heard about the recent Hachette v. Amazon “war“. If you haven’t, basically Amazon is upset with a major publishing company about a deal that didn’t go their way. So now they’re restricting sales of books from Hachette Book Group authors.
There have been instances of Amazon not allowing preorders of books by Hachette authors, (Including lots, and I mean lots, of big name authors such as J. K. Rowling!), ridiculously delayed shipping times for those books, and even raised prices and suggestions of (non-Hachette) books they might prefer to the one they specifically clicked on because they were interested in buying it.
Why is this a big deal? Well, ordinarily it wouldn’t be. Companies have disagreements all the time and create alliances and enemies. What makes this case different is that Amazon pretty much has a monopoly on book sales these days, so their tactics have a great impact on Hachette, its authors, and potentially all writers and readers (as well as the publishing industry as a whole).
When I hear the term “monopoly” used to describe Amazon’s book sales, I immediately think of dystopian societies like in Farenheit 451 in which books are perhaps not yet banned, but are a regulated commodity. If Amazon does one day hold a monopoly on books, it will have a monopoly on what is published, and will be able to censor books to its liking or to act as advertising tools rather than function in the many ways we have come to know literature: as art, companionship, beauty, escapism, etc. This is the extreme, but it’s scary that it is a foreseeable future.
So what can we do?
I feel like the eventual answer is for the publishing industry to gang up on Amazon and create a competing virtual book store, but right now all we can do is support our local book stores. Support libraries and attend readings. And if you want to buy books online, buy them from a book store or publisher website. We need to show Amazon that whatever disagreements they may have with publishers, we as consumers, as writers, as readers, — we have a voice — and books are written for us and by us. And they are purchased by us.
If Amazon wants a piece in that, fine, they can treat readers and writers and publishers with respect. And just maybe, one day we’ll learn to trust them again. But until then, read, write, and realize how precious and fragile this freedom is.