There has been a lot of talk in the news lately about the Hachette/Amazon/Warner Brothers controversy. If you’re not up on all of it, this article explains it pretty well: http://recode.net/2014/06/11/codered-amazon-gives-warner-bros-the-hachette-treatment/. I’ve heard all sorts of different opinions, some claiming that Amazon is a huge conglomerate with a monopoly, some claiming that Hachette, as one of the big five publishers, is a huge conglomerate who gyps writers. I’d like to add a middle opinion.
The Amazon controversy reminds me of the grocery strike we had in California several years ago. I don’t think that people need to worry too much about monopolies and access. I mean, information is always good, I’m glad I know that Amazon is going to be a jerk about carrying those brands so I can start planning now where else I’ll buy them. But I think Amazon might be doing itself a disservice. I use Amazon all the time (especially fond of those Kindle daily deals), and it’s really easy to do so. As of right now, they’re my first choice for buying things. I sort of expect that to change in the near future, though, if Amazon isn’t carrying the things I want.
The grocery strike was probably ten years ago now. During the strike, everything that wasn’t a Stater Brothers or a Trader Joe’s was rimmed by an annoying picket line. The counters were staffed with scabs and the stores were poorly run by people who didn’t care. I felt massive guilt every time I needed an emergency something and had to cross that picket line. No matter how nonchalant the people with the signs were, I still felt like I was betraying something fundamental. My experience inside the stores was also substandard. Inside was an entire crew of new employees who didn’t understand, were overwhelmed, and couldn’t help me get what I need. So I took my business to Trader Joe’s and I learned that they carry everything from toothbrushes to milk. It’s years later and I don’t shop much at the regular store anymore – and if I do it’s only because of my addiction to Dove shampoo. Most of the stores that participated in the strike are out of business.
This is where the Amazon situation applies. Hachette has some big names under its umbrella. Warner Brothers has this year’s spring blockbuster with the Lego movie. It’s not like people are going to just not buy J.K. Rowling’s newest book, not read Steven Colbert, or forgo owning their favorite movie. It’s not going to happen. What is going to happen is that people will go elsewhere to buy those things. Like Indiebound. Or Barnes and Noble. Both are great options, and provide excellent service.
I know what you’re going to say. Hachette and Warner Brothers have a big pulpit from which to scream “unfair!” Smaller publishers who don’t have the fame and mouthpiece that the bigger companies do are undoubtedly being forced under Amazon’s thumb. This is only the beginning of a bigger problem. I would tell you that this is only true if people just decide that since Amazon doesn’t offer it, they won’t read it. New avenues of buying books also come with new avenues of discovering books, from small publishers and big.
It feels good to buy books at Indiebound. Like avoiding the stares from a picket line, like allowing a whole group of booklovers (not corporations) to benefit from my business. The bonus of that is that these people care about good books and will recommend based on quality not based on who is conforming to the rules they set out arbitrarily. If people find they’re loving it, Amazon may find that those customers don’t come back.
So what should you do? Get the books you want wherever you can get them. Try out booksellers that you haven’t tried before. Don’t feel too guilty for purchasing that Kindle Daily Deal. Most importantly: continue to read lots.