10980020-devil-heart-danger-love-symbol-total-red-with-horns-and-a-tail-demon-passion-abstract-lover-cheater-Evil stalks the land. Evil. Badness. Wrong. Sin. Naughtiness. And its (their?) name is (are?) not legion, but Amazon. Thus the opening keynote speech by Anthony Horowitz at the London Book Fair’s Publishing for Digital Minds event, as relayed by Digital Book World and a hail of Tweets.

What Horowitz actually said, apparently, was “Amazon are evil bastards – I loathe them, I fear them … but I use them all the time because they’re wonderful and that’s part of the problem.” Specifically, he highlighted the demise of physical bookstores, Amazon’s corporate tax policies, and the woes of publishers, especially smaller ones, faced by digital disruption.

Interesting, that. Apparently, Penguin Random House’s use of Author Solutions to gouge would-be writers for criminal amounts of money doesn’t earn them the evil monicker. Nor did the Apple price-fixing conspiracy which saw the Big Six (now Five) try to hold up ebook prices artificially, count as culpable badness. But no, Amazon doesn’t have a cuddly penguin (albeit appropriated from somewhere else) to hide behind.

I’m not exonerating Amazon – Horowitz could even be completely right about how unprincipled and unscrupulous they are. And judging by his book jackets, he knows all about evil. But I do know they have made good things happen for a lot of writers. And publishers have made a lot of bad things happen. Can we please move away from this infantile Goodies versus Baddies debate?



  1. Quote: “Nor did the Apple price-fixing conspiracy which saw the Big Six (now Five) try to hold up ebook prices artificially, count as culpable badness.”

    Your faith in the wisdom of a district court judge with a “awful” ranking in objectivity from the Second Circuit legal community is touching but ill-placed.

    I’ll say it until the cows come home. How could Apple, which at the time of this alleged conspiracy had a 0% market share do anything to fix prices? And why wasn’t any DOJ attention directed at Amazon, which at that time not only owned 90% of the ebook market but was making a classic monopolist move–selling below cost to destroy competitors–at least investigated? That not only fails the smell test, it’d fail that test 100 miles upwind in a Category 5 hurricane.

    Why would Apple, eager to sell their pricey new iPads, want ebooks to cost more from their iBookstore than from Amazon? That isn’t going to sell iPads. And what sense does it make to price ebooks more in the iBooks apps when that same iPad has a Kindle app for which they’ll be selling at Amazon’s often-below-cost price? There’s no business logic there even without taking note that Steve Jobs, one of the best marketeers on the planet, was involved.

    Why is agency pricing a great and hideous evil to be punished with huge fines when applied to ebooks but virtually the universal method of selling music, videos and apps? And keep in mind that the technology and business in all is identical. Credit card transactions are processed, then files are downloaded and run on mobile devices. The business models are not just as alike as in how Chevy and Ford sell cars. They’re as alike how Ford sells blue cars and green cars.

    I know courts, particularly federal district courts quite well. I fought and won a copyright dispute in Seattle through just such a court. My legal arguments led the other side to bail out just before concurrent motions for summary judgment. The judge’s decision put fini to their lawsuit by dismissing it ‘with prejudice’–which is judge-speak for “you never had a case.”

    But I was fortunate. I had a quite smart judge, one so smart she was in the process of transitioning to directorship of the Federal Judicial Center, the think tank for our federal court system. She’s now on the DC court.

    Throughout my dispute, I was quite aware that in the hands of a dull-witted judge, one with a reputation for deciding cases in advance, I’d have had a much rougher fight. The rather stupid arguments the opposing counsel would have gotten more of a hearing.

    And throughout, I had the impression that my opponents knew their case wasn’t strong, that they’d assumed they could win by bullying. That’s much the same attitude I suspect the DOJ had toward the publishers. Even a large publisher has trouble taking on the federal government. Fortunately in this case Apple has enough money to fight them to the crack of doom–or more likely until the case goes up for appeal.

    Most of the discussion about Amazon centers on issues that matter little. But from the perspective of authors and publishers, the company’s great evil–and it clearly is evil–is that they’re using their 70% market share to get away with paying royalties that are substantially less than the market rates, in some case half the market rates. And every penny of that is extracted from the pockets of author and publishers.

    Quite frankly, an author who believes Amazon has “made good things happen for a lot of writers” deserves his undersized royalty checks. If those same sales were going through Apple, Smashwords or a number of other ebook retailers, they’d be getting from 50-100% more each month. The numbers are publicly available and easily calculated.

    Comparisons to what a print publisher did decades ago isn’t relevant. Whatever they did, most never got rich doing it and all did an incredible amount of work getting a book ready for publication. It’s today ebook market that’s the standard and in that market Amazon stands almost alone in its miserliness toward authors.

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