Origin 712014 71734 PMWell, the New York Public Library panel discussion on Amazon was a big disappointment. I suppose I should have expected it, given how the panel was stacked with some of Amazon’s harshest critics and others from the old-guard publishing industry, but I had harbored some hope they might be willing to listen to an opposing viewpoint. Unfortunately, it was even worse than I’d feared.

The 90-minute video is available at the livestream page if you want to watch the carnage.

First of all, the meeting was clearly put together with an anti-Amazon agenda, as the selection of participants shows. The really interesting thing was that David “Passive Guy” Vandagriff was not only added at the last minute, but he was added only because Amazon wasn’t going to send anyone and actually suggested him (and paid for his plane ticket) instead. Probably wise of Amazon not to send anyone, given that it was clear from the beginning this was going to be a “Have you stopped beating your wife?” session.

What strange place have I found myself in?The biggest problem with the way the session was run was that the so-called “moderator,” Tina Bennett, thought she was one of the participants instead—she kept talking at length, and she kept interrupting Vandagriff whenever he tried to make a point. (They even thanked her, at the end, for “not being a moderator.” What? If she wasn’t supposed to be a moderator, why make her one?) Given that she’s a literary agent, deeply entrenched in the traditional publishing old guard herself, it was clear she had an agenda—she didn’t interrupt anyone else, but she interrupted Vandagriff three or four times!

So in the end, the panel turned into a preach-to-the-converted session, with almost everyone just reiterating the same tired old talking points to each other. Amazon is big and bad; it sees books as a “commodity” like mouthwash or toilet paper, when books are actually a special snowflake; it’s going to turn around and beat up on self-publishing authors after it finishes with traditional publishers, just you wait and see; traditional publishers are the guardians of literature and we’ll miss them when they’re gone; self-publishing authors “hate” the traditional publishing establishment; and so on. Vandagriff did the best he could with the time he had, but he just didn’t have time to refute six other people—especially since one of them kept interrupting him when he tried.

If they really wanted a meaningful discussion panel, they should have gone with a more balanced membership. Keep James Patterson, Bob Kohn, and Tim Wu for the old guard side, and add to Vandagriff a couple of folks like Hugh Howey, J.A. Konrath, Barry Eisler, or David Gaughran for the indie publisher side. Then we’d get to see some sparks fly! But what’s the point in an “Amazon: Threat or Menace?” session?

Oh well. On the bright side, at least I got to find out what Passive Guy looks and sounds like, and that’s something.

(The panel is also under discussion at The Digital Reader and on The Passive Voice site itself.)

Update: Passive Guy has written another post discussing his experience.


  1. Thanks, Chris, for taking the time out of your life to watch this and report on it. I intended to watch but finally decided it would be too painful. Looks like I was right. Anything that makes Dean Wesley Smith “sick” would have done the same for me.

    However, I did read the warp-up on Passive Voice and, seriously, did Patterson really refer to himself as a “wounded gazelle”? And no one called him on it?

  2. I ended up emailing LIVE@nypl.org with a complaint about the way the panel was run, and encourage anyone else upset about it to do the same.

    The “wounded gazelle” thing was actually understandable; it’s a reference to The Everything Store. Quoting The New York Times review of the book:

    The company’s relationship with those publishers was called the Gazelle Project after Mr. Bezos said Amazon “should approach these small publishers the way a cheetah would pursue a sickly gazelle.” A joke, perhaps, but such an aggressive one that Amazon’s lawyers demanded the Gazelle Project be renamed the Small Publishers Negotiation Program.

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