Amazon scrapes bottom, sells books cheaply to public, talks to Democrats
July 29, 2013 | 5:02 pm
Just when you thought they could sink no lower, Amazon has added fresh offenses to their litany of crimes. So you’d conclude, at any rate, from the scrupulously impartial, limpidly objective coverage of their head-to-head discounting battle with Overstock in The Bookseller and Shelf-Awareness. Indeed, if you believe the latter, all that’s keeping those unscrupulous bad hats out of the courts is their overly chummy dealings with the Democrats.
Yes, fresh from being pilloried for not discounting enough, Amazon is discounting too much again. Of course, Overstock didn’t exactly help the situation by calling Amazon out, specifically advertising its limited-period discount run on selected titles as 10 percent lower than Amazon’s. Amazon duly counter-attacked, discounting the same bundle of titles to below Overstock’s new levels. But that didn’t stop commentators such as John Mutter at Shelf-Awareness painting Amazon’s reactive move as part of its grand strategy “of retail domination.”
Other writers didn’t exactly agree with Mutter’s interpretation. At The Digital Reader, Nate Hoffelder concluded that “it would tend to debunk the commonly held belief that Amazon is willing to lose money with wild abandon. Instead Amazon has chosen a measured response that goes one small step further and hurts their opposition even more.”
Yet Mutter rebukes such action which “hurts traditional bricks-and-mortar stores and feeds consumer perception that a fair book price is lower than its cost.” Fine: What is the cost of a book? Who decides? In practice, it’s what the publisher says it is. Actually, the agency pricing case showed that that is exactly what they think it should be. The Big Six (oops, Five) settled out of court, and Apple was found guilty, for conspiring to fix the price of books at what suited them, rather than at the cheapest level anyone could manage to sell to the public. And remember that, as Hoffelder points out, the anti-trust settlement specifically forbids Amazon from discounting e-books below the cost that it pays to their publishers. Amazon’s only way to beat them on price is to produce better e-books than they do: something that KDP authors already seem to be doing.
But why let the facts stand in the way of a good piece of rabble-rousing? Especially if there’s a political angle to be worked in. ”Another possible reason for Amazon’s boldness is its apparently cozy relationship with the Obama administration—whose Justice Department pursued the agency model case, which mainly benefited Amazon,” writes Mutter in Shelf-Awareness. “This relationship will be highlighted this coming Tuesday, when the president will give another major speech on the economy and aiding the middle class at, of all places, the Amazon warehouse in Chattanooga, Tenn.”
And there you have it. What GOP promise keeper wouldn’t burn their Kindle in protest now? Naturally, the DoJ is going to launch one of its widest-reaching anti-trust investigations purely to benefit Obama’s liberal buddies. I always thought Jeff Bezos had a sneaking resemblance to Dr. Evil. Now I know why…