There’s an ongoing dust-up over the selling price of e-books between publishing giant Hachette and retail behemoth Amazon. While Hachette author Stephen Colbert can give Amazon the double finger on his show, the rest of us might not be so bold. Not for the first time in a fight with a member of the Big Five, Amazon has shown it is not to be effed with. It has taken away the pre-order buttons on upcoming Hachette books – including Silkworm by bestseller J.K. Rowling, and current Hachette books are said to be not in stock or new copies are not for sale.
While it would seem that a big, to use the baller term, like Hachette wouldn’t blink and promote its titles on other sources like Barnes and Noble online, iTunes and such, it seems Amazon has it by the short and curlies when it comes to the ebook versions of their cataloge. For reasons that are painfully technical, I reference what sci-fi writer and social commentator Cory Doctrow wrote on this matter in the June 20 Guardian.com:
“Hachette, more than any other publisher in the industry, has had a single minded insistence on DRM [digital rights management] since the earliest days. It’s likely that every Hachette ebook ever sold has been locked with some company’s proprietary DRM, and therein lies the rub. Under US law only the company that put the DRM on a copyrighted work can remove it. Although you can learn how to remove Amazon’s DRM with literally a single, three-word search, it is nevertheless illegal to do so, unless you’re Amazon…It is precisely because Hachette has been so successful in selling its ebooks through Amazon that it can’t afford to walk away from the retailer. By allowing Amazon to put a lock on its products whose key only Amazon possessed, Hachette has allowed Amazon to utterly usurp its relationship with its customers.”
There’s a well-done article by George Packer that ran in the February 27 issue of the New Yorker about the irresistible rise of Amazon. Entitled “Cheap Words,” the piece begins with this portentous statement, “In the era of the Kindle, a book costs the same price as a sandwich.” Packer goes on to further note that its founder Jeff Bezos intended for Amazon to sell books as a way of gathering data on affluent, educated shoppers. That books would be priced close to cost, in order to increase sales volume.
As an example of how Amazon utilizes its prized data, this past week they released the Fire smartphone. The phone comes with an app called Firefly – not to be confused with Joss Whedon’s cult TV sci-fi show of the same name — that can identify a song from a few lyrics or, I guess, if you point it at a particular crystal vase, hipping you want kind of bric-a-brac it is. Of course these items for just a few clicks away can be ordered, paid for by your credit card on file, and delivered (maybe same-day) to your home or office from Amazon. As a sales incentive, any picture you take with the Fire phone will for free be stored on one of the retailers’ mighty computers.
Hmm, I wonder if facial recognition software will ID a Hachette author you might snap a pic of and the phone sends you a note urging you to buy a book from a Holtzbrinck author?
The phone also includes an app they’re calling Dynamic Perspective. One of its practical uses is when your viewing a map, by tilting the phone, you can get different angles on the streets and a better sense of what’s the area you’re heading to looks like I wonder if you point the Fire at one of my books on a bookstore shelf, will my picture of me with my hands pressed together in supplication come up, with a word balloon that reads, “Please buy my book.” All in glorious multi-view.
Look, I’m down for fighting the power. I’ve been many things in my life including a community activist and a union organizer. I still take it to the Man in some of my fiction. In one of my recent short stories “Masai’s Back in Town,” the plot revolves around a former Black Panther long on the run. He returns to the States to retrieve a score he took down, looted COINTELPRO (this was FBI honcho J. Edgar Hoover’s counter-intelligence, agent provocateur effort to destabilize the black power movement) slush fund monies, and to settle old debts. I imagine my politics don’t align with Mr. Bezos’, but Amazon has the anthology, Send My Love and a Molotov Cocktail! it’s in listed and hasn’t removed the buy buttons – yet. Hell, they even allow monster porn available even after threatening to remove such.
For Amazon sees all and knows all.
Not only can the beast that grows make us want four-slot toaster powered by tiny lasers that singe the bread just so, home delivery of our groceries because going to the story takes us away from browsing on Amazon, but the Fire is probably designed to probe our deeper psychological needs and anxieties. It sits there on our nightstand supposedly in off mode while we sleep. The machines internal neuron sensors probe us and plant certain thoughts. In some remote bunker Bezos sends his commands through the device of what to buy, to consume more and more.
And we obey…