CBS BezosA recently aired interview on CBS This Morning with Charlie Rose shows Jeff Bezos “still mad at The New York Times,” as has it. But it also allowed Bezos to share some details about Amazon’s own newspaper ambitions – and some context on any of the anti-Amazon or anti-ebook NYT reporting you might happen to read.

Taxed with the celebrated supposed NYT expose of “brutal” Amazon working practices, Bezos is still insisting that “you can’t have a corporate culture like that’s the one described there and then do the things Amazon does.” Amazon people (Amazonians?), he insists, “have to love what they’re doing. We’re full of inventors and people who like serving customers.”

No matter what you think of that reply, it’s interesting what Bezos brings up regarding newspapers and the NYT in his ensuing responses. Of his new asset, the Washington Post, he says, “we’re working on becoming the new paper of record. We’ve always been a local paper. Just this month, the Washington Post passed The New York Times in terms of numbers of viewers online. This is a gigantic accomplishment for the Post team. We’re just going to keep after that.” And in support of this goal, he adds, “we have a lot of patience for that job.”

Bezos also, it appears, respects traditional journalistic values. He says the Post’s current success is “because we have such a talented team at the Post. It’s all about quality journalism. Even here in the Internet age and the 21st century, people really care about quality journalism.”

So, the Post, in Bezos’s hands, is out to steal the NYT‘s crown. And the NYT just happens to be the venue whose drastically slanted coverage of e-book sales figures led me to coin bookenfreude. And which did the anti-Amazon expose. And which has been sharing critiques of e-books hand over fist. And reporting the Amazon/Hachette spat in highly partisan terms. Well, you know what they say: “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action.” And fourth? And fifth … ?

Not that I’m suggesting, of course, for one moment, that competitive and inter-corporate rivalry might influence NYT‘s reporting or whole posture towards e-books and Amazon …


  1. Bezos Quote: “you can’t have a corporate culture like that’s the one described there and then do the things Amazon does.”

    Not so fast. Coercion and bullying can accomplish a lot in the short-term. Here’s a description of the economy of the South on the eve of the Civil War:

    “In 1860, the South was still predominantly agricultural, highly dependent upon the sale of staples to a world market. By 1815, cotton was the most valuable export in the United States; by 1840, it was worth more than all other exports combined.”

    “Worth more than all other exports combined”—that’s everything else North and South. Impressive. But that was the short-term. The boom depended on a rapidly rising world demand for cotton and the fact that other countries that could grow cotton weren’t yet doing so on any scale. The Civil War would give them a chance to enter the market.

    Long term, cotton is a dreadful crop to grow. It stores easily, so in years when the price is low, it’s easy to warehouse bales for sale when the crops are poor and prices begin to rise. That means high prices are never high enough to make up for the low prices. That’s one reason why the South was so poor for so long.

    The parallel to books is obvious. Short-term, Amazon is enriching itself and gaining market share by squeezing people, both publishers and authors. It bullies publishers, pressuring many to sell exclusively through it. And it often pays authors half what Apple pays per sale.

    The result will be very bad for books in the long-term. Authors will have less incentive to write. Publishers have less money to improve and market books. Bookstores, except for the giant Amazon, will slowly fade away, leaving fewer people in most communities to encourage reading.

    King Cotton, as they called it, was bad for the South. I know. I saw terrible poverty when I was growing up in the 1950s. At about ten, I went to a 4-H camp for boys from poor white families. Even that young, I could tell those boys were severely malnourished. You can read about kids like them in the early chapters of To Kill a Mockingbird. I write about them in Lily’s Ride: Rescuing her Father from the Ku Klux Klan.

    Healthy economies have diversity and variety. One dominant crop is a bad idea. One dominant book retailer is equally bad. Do not be fooled. King Amazon is as bad for authors, publishers and readers as King Cotton was for the South.

The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail