A pretty piece of propaganda

Like many people who work or have worked in journalism, I don't read the opinion page. Why not? Well, I've seen how these things get written, and my feeling is that if I'm looking for an uneducated, knee-jerk reaction from someone who has done absolutely no research in the subject, I can provide that on my own.

But I have friends who do, and one of them saw this piece on how Amazon is evil and got very upset. Of course it's in The New York Times, which lately appears to have decided that large corporations need more love--maybe the Occupy Wall Street protesters have been really getting on their nerves (or maybe they're based in New York City, and they all know people who are getting laid off from traditional publishers, which does in fact suck).

Anyway, the article has two points.

Point #1: Amazon is undercutting indie bookstores on price. This is presented in the article as a terrible thing.

It may be terrible, but it's something that has been going on for a long, long, loooooooong time. Barnes & Noble undercut indie bookstores on price. Borders undercut indie bookstores on price. Amazon has been around, undercutting indie bookstores on price, since 1994. If you were opening an independent bookstore any time in the past 30-odd years, and your business strategy was "I'll undercut 'em on price!" you went under right away.

Instead, you offered something else. Knowledgeable staff. A specialized selection. Delicious muffins. Comfy chairs. You made the experience worth paying a little extra for. You still can.

Point #2: Amazon was in a conflict over pricing with the big publishers, which it lost. The whole bit where Amazon lost this fight is kind of glossed over. The whole bit where Macmillan is a large corporation, not some poor little indie, is kind of glossed over. The whole bit where Macmillan is currently under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice and the European Union for price-fixing, undertaken in collusion with Apple and some other large publishing corporations, is not mentioned at all--even though that was the result of their winning this very conflict. Nor is there any mention of the fact that, hey, if Macmillan can fix prices, even legally, then that means it has monopoly pricing power, which makes it a bit harder to swallow that they are some poor helpless victim being steamrolled by big, mean Amazon.

I also have some points.

My Point #1: Independent bookstores face completely different challenges than large publishing corporations. Trying to muddle the two together is beyond silly. These are two completely different businesses. And large publishers don't exactly have a storied history of helping out small bookstores.

My Point #2: Where are the writers in this story? Oh, there are plenty of writers, if by writers you mean people who became best-sellers a few decades ago, long before Amazon took the lead in making self-publishing economically viable for writers.

But where are the mid-listers whose careers have undergone a massive renaissance? Where are the writers who suddenly have been able to make a good living, even though they're not really selling any better than they did back in their traditional publishing days? Where are the complete unknowns who have been launched into best-sellerdom after being rejected by countless publishers?

My Point #3: Where are the readers? Oh, you mean the consumers, who want a large and varied selection of goods at low prices. Well, fuck 'em.

And for fun, here are some laughably ironic lines!

"Movie studios have been subsumed by media empires. And when you try to have a conversation with the new Hollywood, it quickly becomes clear that you’re talking about movies and they’re talking about refrigerators." SO HAVE PUBLISHING COMPANIES, YOU IGNORANT FOOL!

"Maybe Amazon doesn’t care about the larger bookselling universe because it’s simply too big to care." Maybe Amazon is a bookseller itself. Maybe it doesn't "care" about its business rivals because THEY ARE ITS BUSINESS RIVALS!

Maybe a not-too-bright guy who has obviously done zero research and has no idea how capitalism actually works can be published in The New York Times, as long as he keeps it on the Op-Ed page.