Michael Wolff, USA TODAY:
"Books, perhaps not
surprisingly, are the business of second-class businessmen, who twice in the
last generation have lost control of their fate to retailers, allowing them to
pretty much dictate pricing terms and product specifications.
first go-round, the power passed to Barnes & Noble, the mall outlet that
morphed into a chain of stand-alone book superstores, devastating independent
sellers and, effectively, turning books into tenants in expensive real estate
(instantly evicted if they failed to pay the rent). In the second — subsuming,
for all practical purposes, Barnes & Noble and the rest of the book retail
trade — power passed to Amazon, which changed not only how books are bought,
but also, using its Kindle as further leverage, the form of the book itself.
These changes, and this power
grab, have been of such magnitude and relentless progression that it seems
somehow churlish, and hapless, to object now. But suddenly, there is an inkling
of an uprising against Amazon as it, without public relations regard, tries to enforce its pricing mandates on
Hachette, smallest of the big publishing houses — and as Hachette resists.
date, the various efforts on the part of the business geniuses in books to deal
with the challenge first from B&N and then Amazon have been a bust. This
has included, most notably, the book industry's efforts to align with Apple
against Amazon, which resulted in antitrust prosecution by the Justice
Department and a victory for Amazon.
ever-more heavy-handed in its tactics, yet remains popular, if not beloved,
among consumers — at least those who do not work in the book business — for its
one-click efficiency and loss-leader prices.
book business, on the other hand, is steeped in inefficiencies and illogic,
with few fans among writers, whose books it generally fails to promote and
sell, or readers, who, amid endless consolidation, long ago lost any sense of
the meaning of once-vaunted publishing brands and imprints (it's hard to rally
behind — say again? — Hachette books).
Amazon, evident to anyone paying the slightest attention, is a creeping
totalitarian state. Its effort is to build a marketplace that will give it the
most power to shape the behavior of its customers and suppliers. That is pretty
much the definition of "platform," that new word that denotes
ultimate commercial and personal control. The stock market gives a platform
vast funds to buy consumers and to integrate them into it — you become part of
Amazon can be abusive in its tactics (it is openly making it difficult to buy
Hachette books) and reckless about its PR because its central proposition is to
lower prices, whereas Hachette seeks to raise them — or at least maintain them.
the cognoscenti, Amazon commands great awe as a "disrupter," that is,
an enterprise that harnesses technological efficiency and outsider ambition to
undermine established businesses, cultural assumptions and traditional ways of
life. In the up-to-the-minute view, all disruption is good because it comes at
the expense of established power — even though it makes Amazon itself ever-more
powerful, more powerful, arguably, than the
power it disrupted."
for the full article in USA Today.