Writers United, a group of 900 or so members and headed by Douglas Preston (a writer whose work I’ve not read) is calling for the Justice Department to investigate Amazon, essentially for operating a monopoly. I normally wouldn’t comment on this because it’s like saying that the Pope is a Catholic, but as I looked at the authors who make up this group, it’s formidable to say the least, since it includes Stephen King, John Grisham, Nora Roberts, Michael Chabon, Jon Krakauer, George Saunders, and Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket). Scott Turow, who’s long championed writers’ issues and was the president of the Authors Guild for several years, is also on board, and when the final proposal was sent some 600 authors had signed it.
I don’t know the answer to Amazon any more than anyone else I’ve listened to, but I made my decision to sell my book of articles and distribute and ship it myself, not from greed but because of the simple fact that by turning a book over to Amazon’s mechanism I have virtually no control over pricing. I find it ridiculous that Amazon can arbitrarily manipulate a retail price set by an author. For me, the strangest storyline involving Amazon in recent years is the Apple suit, as the latter was (and still is) the firm accused of price-fixing. I’ve always felt this was the most blatant case of the tail wagging the dog imaginable. Amazon ships approximately 70 percent of all books sold in America, not Apple. And while what Apple did was obviously improper, in my lay opinion it’s a drop in the bucket compared to Amazon’s ability to control pricing.
Now Amazon executives are saying that their company will lose money this year–enough to wipe out all profits from the past three years–as a result of using its books as loss leaders. Come on! This is like when Scholastic showed losses during the HARRY POTTER heydays. If a company can’t make money with the single greatest franchise product in the history of contemporary publishing, what is it do when POTTER peters out? And hasn’t that happened, meaning that POTTER’s star on the book side has fallen? Yet, Scholastic—miraculously—has been able to keep its doors open.