Organizations representing bookstores, writers, and publishers sent a joint letter to the House Antitrust Subcommittee yesterday asking them to put a stop to Amazon’s “unhealthy degree of control” over the the marketplace for books.
Addressing Congressman David Cicilline (D-RI), the current chair of a subcommittee whose work “has been critical to documenting the alarming dominance of a few tech platforms in the digital marketplace and the extraordinary leverage they wield over their competitors, suppliers, customers, the government, and the public” the American Booksellers Association (ABA), the Author’s Guild, and the American Association of Publishers (AAP) called on Congress to put an end to a whole slew of monopolistic practices that have led to a situation in which
Amazon no longer competes on a level playing field when it comes to book distribution, but, rather, owns and manipulates the playing field, leveraging practices from across its platform that appear to be well outside of fair and transparent competition.
This is decorous way of saying that Amazon has fucked booksellers and publishers alike, and it’s hard to see how they’ll ever recover. (You could say Amazon owns the mall and all the stores in it, and in order to sell anything you have to rent a storefront in the mall, but Amazon is going to put your store way at the back in the spooky part of the mall next to the obviously haunted bathrooms that smell like old fryer grease and despair. And your lease dictates how much you can charge for the stuff you’re trying to sell. Oh, and they also own all the roads leading to the mall.)
More specifically, the letter asks Congress to put an end to the following practices:
Amazon using its unsettlingly deep store of user information to privilege the books they, Amazon, want to sell.
Essentially forcing publishers to purchase advertising if they want their books visible to readers.
Imposing contractual stipulations on publishers that make it nearly impossible for any other distributors to vie for business.
Using super-cheap books as loss leaders for the rest of their gargantuan empire.
The letter ends with an appeal to the well being of American democracy:
With great appreciation for your leadership, we note that the American book publishing industry is and always has been uniquely intertwined with our democracy. Many authors, publishers, and booksellers along the way have contributed to the marketplace of ideas*, and we hope that many more will emerge and thrive to the benefit of the public. This will not happen, however, unless government officials step in decisively to exercise appropriate governance of Amazon.
Jeff Bezos has made billions of dollars during this pandemic while Americans suffer loss after incalculable loss, relying on the marketplace he built to funnel untaxed profit into a giant underground lair (I’m assuming). It would be nice to see something, anything(!), happen here, but I am not particularly hopeful: money continues to be the most potent element in American democracy and Amazon has it all.
*I will refrain from making a joke here about corporate publishing’s taste for crashed-out Trump-adjacent memoirs that get bought in bulk by far right think tanks in what is essentially an act of ideological money-laundering. See, no joke!