If you haven’t already heard about the knock-down, drag-out fight between Amazon.com and the Hachette Book Group, perhaps you’ve heard of comedian and author Stephen Colbert, who on Wednesday night threw his hat into the ring. Specifically, he gave Amazon the double deuce. His may be the funniest, but Colbert’s is not the only voice rising up against Amazon’s punitive measures against Hachette, whose authors include J.K. Rowling, J.D. Salinger, Donna Tartt and David Foster Wallace. But no one has entered the fray quite like blockbuster novelist James Patterson, also a Hachette author.
At last week’s BookExpo America convention, Patterson pledged $1 million to independent booksellers. When he took the podium, Patterson did not mince words about where his loyalties lay: “Right now bookstores, libraries, authors, publishers and books themselves are caught in the crossfire of an economic war between publishers and online providers. To be a teeny, tiny bit more specific, Amazon seems out to control shopping in this country. This will ultimately have an effect on every grocery- and department-store chain, on every big-box store, and ultimately it will put thousands of Mom-and-Pop stores out of business. It just will, and I don’t see anybody writing about it, but that certainly sounds like the beginning of a monopoly to me. Amazon also, as you know, wants to control bookselling, book buying and even book publishing, and that is a national tragedy. If this is to be the new American way, then maybe it has to be changed, by law if necessary, immediately, if not sooner.”
At the root of Patterson’s call to action is a desire to protect the future of literacy—and in fact literature. Even though Amazon is the largest bookseller in the world, their comparisons of books to other products they sell reveals a lack of understanding about how books come to be. Making books is a risky and speculative business: It takes considerable resources, capital and care to package and market a book in a way that honors the author’s original intent. Not only that, publishers nurture relationships with authors like Sherman Alexie and Malcolm Gladwell in order to keep their books in print on behalf of readers everywhere.
If Amazon is allowed to dominate the industry, publishers will take fewer and fewer risks, dumbing down their offerings to resemble last year’s best-seller. Such a lack of diversity will not only compromise the culture of the book industry, it will compromise culture at large.
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