Amazon needs a new media-relations department

Yeah, I'm on a blogging tear today. Mostly because 1. I am feeling better, and 2. an out-of-town relative has decided to execute one of her trademark no-warning week-long visits starting tomorrow, so I'm screwed as far as doing anything except looking after Her Highness for the next several days.

Anyway, the Seattle Times is doing an entire series on how Amazon is the Antichrist. Amazon doesn't pay taxes. Amazon doesn't give back. Amazon abuses workers. Amazon is destroying publishing.

The last one caught my eye, of course, and it was very interesting. I'm the first to acknowledge that Amazon (or really, e-book technology) is destroying publishing, or at least the traditional publishing industry. The question boils down to, is that a bad thing?

Now, if you're the New York Times, and you're based in New York City, where the traditional publishing industry is headquartered and where it employs many, many people, the answer is: Of course! On the face of it, it is clearly a very bad thing!

But the Seattle Times is based in (you guessed it!) Seattle, where Amazon is headquartered and where it employs many, many people. If Amazon eats traditional publishing, that's probably going to be a significant net benefit for the Seattle area--more jobs, more construction, more money.

And the Seattle Times article on publishing doesn't follow the talking points: There's no mention of Amazon destroying indie bookstores or literary culture. There's some talk of Amazon's potential to have a monopoly on e-books, but it's much more balanced than what the New York Times has been offering.

Yet the article is very negative. The focus is on Amazon's disputes with publishers and IPG. At least the article focuses on players who are in fact losing out as a result of the changes in publishing, which is more than one can say about the New York Times articles, but (and this is very strange) these losers aren't local. One company is in North Carolina, one is in Chicago, one is in Massachusetts, and the experts are all from NYC or New Jersey. No one is from Seattle. Seriously, when I was reading the article, I kept looking for the Associated Press byline, it was that non-specific as to locality.

And Amazon refused to comment for the article.

Sigh. OK, as a former reporter, I'm going to explain something to Amazon:

Dear Amazon,

When you don't talk to the local newspaper, the editors get mad. They get mad because they feel like you don't appreciate them--you could be pals (or as palsy as you can get with newspaper people), they could help you, but you treat them like dirt instead! It pisses them off! When they get mad enough, they decide to do things like run an entire series on how you are the worst thing ever. (Seriously, have they gotten your attention yet? The next step is mooning.)

And when you don't talk to the reporters on the local paper, you lose your chance to tell your side of the story.

Yes, Amazon, you are destroying publishing. The key to getting a positive spin in stories is to explain how you are replacing it with something much better!

There is one author and no consumers in that story--and the one author is, of course, enormously positive, because that's someone who is benefiting from the new order. You need to feed the Seattle Times more people who are benefiting from these changes--ideally people located in or near Seattle. If the members of your media-relations department weren't all too busy buffing their nails and drinking their lunches, they could have hooked that reporter up with quite a few more authors. Local authors. Local authors who have created self-supporting writing careers almost instantly because of e-publishing--I can think of one right off the bat, and I'm sure there are more.

I know your media-relations staff are right now telling you that they didn't have a chance, the Seattle Times is so mean and biased, boo-hoo-hoo. Seriously, fire those idiots. When I was a reporter, I covered a company that was convinced that the publication I worked for was out to get it (they had a very elaborate conspiracy theory going on--seriously, I was concerned). I covered a company that deliberately concealed good news about itself, and then they pitched a fit because my psychic powers did not enable me to see through their lies and write stories about it.

This was never constructive. It never resulted in positive coverage. What results in positive (or at least more balanced) coverage is talking to the fricking reporter. Make her life easier. Help the nice lady out. Give her access, and tell her your side of the story. She can't pass your story on if you don't tell it to her! (All those complaints in the story about how Amazon doesn't communicate? She found those plausible for a reason!)

Just can the whole department and start afresh. Let's put it this way: You can't possibly have worse media relations than you do now.

(You know, I was thinking when Amazon swanned Joe Konrath & Co. around like kings that they were very savvy public-relations players. But I guess they were just very savvy author-relations players.)