This is part two of a Fuze newsletter article that reflects on a recent New Yorker piece entitled “Paper Trail,” by Ken Auletta. Read the previous Fuze article
If Amazon continues to steer the publishing ship towards lower prices for consumers, you might ask–what’s the big deal? Even the Department of Justice found Amazon faultless for offering lower-priced ebooks to consumers, since they did so at their own expense. The problem is that moving one or two of the cones shifts the whole playing field, and Fuze fears that the ramifications of Amazon’s choices will adversely affect all of publishing, literature, and readership.
The rise in popularity of ebooks brought a decline in bookstore shopping. Borders has closed. Other chains and independent stores remain on shaky ground. Consumers are going online, and to amazon, to buy their (cheaper) books. In The New Yorker, Scott Turow, president of the Authors Guild, points out that “in bookstores, readers are open to trying new genres and new authors….it’s by far the best way for new works to be discovered.” By contrast, on Amazon, readers are faced with almost every book in the world, yet linked by algorithm only to books that resemble those they purchased previously. Consumers no longer pick up a book outside of their genre because of an attractive cover, or an interesting title.
If consumers aren’t discovering new books, according to John Makinson, C.E.O. of
Penguin, it matters a great deal. “Once you lose the ability to display a book and you have to rely on a consumer to discover a book, then publishers are not going to be able to publish anything like the range of books we do today.” For established writers with blockbusters, this isn’t an issue. “But breaking out the new author,” Makinson says, “becomes a virtual impossibility.” Imagine only being able to shop at Walmart for all of your clothing needs? This kind of limited range is what may be the future of publishing, if Amazon’s growth remains unchecked.
Not only does the diversity of authors and stories feasibly accessed by a reader diminish along with Amazon’s growth, but so does the quality. Many of you know that Amazon has become a publisher, some speculate more out of spite for traditional publishers than any real interest in literature. In fact, the Amazon Publishing imprint helps would-be authors self-publish their books. That sounds like a good idea. But when you consider that there is virtually no editing and shaping of those books, books which could, with the input of an editor, tell wonderful stories but instead remain incomplete or not quite there–it’s a sad story of neglect, not progress, which serves neither author nor reader.
How all these parameters will play themselves out in the next five to ten years remains to be seen. Our hope is that hybrid publishers like Fuze, represent a new vision for the future of publishing, where diversity and quality are not sacrificed in the interests of greed and unlimited growth.
The next time you go to amazon to search for the book title you’re interested in, consider going direct to the publisher or author for the book.