Dave Eggers on Amazon as Cataclysm and Data’s Creep Into Storytelling
In Conversation with Maris Kreizman on The Maris Review Podcast
On Amazon vs. indies:
MK: Your main character coins the term “benevolent monopoly,” and I think about that a lot when I try to convince people to shop indie and someone comes back and says “but Amazon has better customer service.”
DE: Amazon has never been a bookseller in any way that they actually care about books. It’s another product, and they sell them under cost, for wholesale basically. They’re undercutting all of the indies that can’t do that because their profit comes from charging the cover price for the book, as they should. Amazon loses money on the sales of books so that they can acquire customers and push out independent booksellers and other competitors. That’s predatory pricing, which is not ethical or legal. It’s subject to antitrust laws, and they should have been regulated 20 years ago. People have to know that if you’re ordering books through Amazon, a lot of people are being hurt. The indies are being hurt, authors are being hurt, publishers are being hurt. Ultimately if they keep gaining market share it’s going to be a cataclysm for the publishing industry. We need people who care about books to be selling books.
On publishing house mergers:
MK: Watching Penguin Random House grow over the past decade is worrisome, the idea that book publishers have to join together against Amazon to create what is effectively another monopoly.
DE: That’s the byproduct of the empowering of one monopoly. You have to create other conglomerates. It’s like King Kong versus Godzilla, and everybody else is running madly in the streets trying not to get stepped on.
On data seeping into storytelling:
DE: I have a whole chapter where a staffer named Alessandro espouses all of the glories of algorithmic thinking to improve books. We see a little bit of it in the film world now, and we’ll see more of it as tech companies buy more film studios. They can’t help themselves but to use data to inform their decision-making about how films are made. More and more our worship and endless faith in data is going to seep into what gets made. I took it to a logical extreme with that chapter where they’re giving more power to AI to write books, and to say everything can and maybe should be a formula. Why don’t we follow a formula and give people what they want? We can “help” authors by saying, according to our research, people are putting your book down on page 123. What’s on page 123 that we could fix?
Dave Eggers is the author of many books, among them The Circle—the companion to The Every—and also The Monk of Mokha, A Hologram for the King, What Is the What, and The Museum of Rain. He is a cofounder of 826 National, a network of youth writing centers, and Voice of Witness, an oral history book series that illuminates the stories of those impacted by human rights crises.