Amazon’s legendary supply chain needs no introduction especially to students and readers of all kinds. A little known fact however is that Amazon actually started out as a book retailer trying to lower costs for the buyer. They were pioneers in the ebook industry where they have now grown exponentially and even introduced their own line of Kindle readers. Recently they have decided to go a step further and give buyers of physical books the ebook copy for free. This isn’t making the book cheaper for the reader but it does add value and convenience for their dollar. As a frequent buyer off of both physical and ebook copies I could not be more excited.
True to Amazon form this proposal has incited criticism from authors, publishers and a of other book retailers. Among those leading the charge is Emily Gould who asserted that when ebooks and physical copies are bundled that everyone but Amazon loses. She also states that ebooks are not just ‘digital objects made by elves’ and that they cost money to make as well. She laments that this is just another loss for the providers of content.
While her argument is not technically wrong, it doesn’t take into account the bigger picture. Matt Yglesias paints a very clear picture of how this argument should be looked at through a different lens. His most salient points are centered on the fact that technological and business trends have always rendered certain businesses obsolete. For example you may have noticed that your local Kinko’s has disappeared. This isn’t due to the fact that their customer service is poor as Dave Chappelle may have you believing. Rather they were put out of business because all of their services could be done more efficiently by competitors or by the consumers themselves.
The two popular responses to this issue are to either suck it up (the ol’ Randian way) or to create laws which protect the industry. Enter the first amendment, the reason why the latter response cannot work for writers. Writers, Yglesias beckons, should find innovative and more constructive ways to make their craft work. The proliferation and consumption of cheap books is great for all readers but the same has yet to be said for all those who help create it.
In any case, are should Amazon’s approach to the book/ebook industry be amended to create a more level playing field for writers, publishers, and brick and mortar retailors?
Or should writers really take a more Randian approach and just evolve with the times and seek out more lucrative opportunities?