I told you so, but most of you would not listen. Amazon has tossed an entire publishing company off its site (hat tip: H.G.) because that company would not comply with Amazon’s universally imposed Kindle edition pricing strategy. That places Amazon at the decision making table where the publishers and the market (the buyers of books) usually sits, and not just as a stakeholder but as the holder of everyone else’s nuts. (And when I say nuts, I’m talking chestnuts, so don’t get any ideas.) Amazon is not a book store. It is a public utility that delivers a wide range of products (including books) between a wide range of retailers to a wide range of customers.
I hold no truck for the publishers, and there are plenty of things I like about Amazon. But this latest dispute is clearly evidence that something I blogged about in April but that many of my dear readers thought absurd is in fact coming to pass. ( I was right about Amazon.com, just like I’ll be proven right about the super bowl!!! You’ll see soon enough!!!)
So, to set things straight, I’ll repost the original, with minor revisions:
It is a ground breaking company, it is a bookstore that is mega mega like few other companies are. It is a bookstore that is a huge corporation. Think about that for a second. Think about bookstores in the old days then think about this thing, Amazon Dot Com. A bookstore that is leading the way in mega cloud computing. It has one of the most effective ways ever of interfacing with its customers. It has become the go to place for many people for the purchase of almost anything one can imagine being delivered by mail. Amazon Dot Com is a thing the likes of which we have not seen before.
An increasingly small percentage of what they sell is books. An increasingly small percentage of what people buy off the Amazon.com site is sold by Amazon.com. Amazon dot com is not a bookstore. Google them. Read up a bit. Yes, they sell books and your local bank will open a savings account for you too, but that is a small part of what they do. If everyone stopped buying books at amazon it would not shut them down, and if they did shut down you might be quite surprised as to what else shuts down.
You all know about the #AmazonFail maneno1. I suspect that most of what you know is slightly incorrect. I have read three or four blog posts about it, and not long ago I listened to a current NPR report. They neither jibe nor jive. I suspect as more details come out this will be a two part story: A serious socio-political screwup followed by a “glitch” of very significant proportions. I could be wrong about that, but we shall see.
What is important here is this: Whatever rules you were thinking may apply to the conduct of a large corporation and how they must interface with the rest of society do not apply here. Amazon is not a private corporation that can do whatever it wants. It is actually a utility, a public good, part of our economic commons. It is like Google in this respect.
I know, I know, Amazon and Google are private corporations yada yada yada. You can think that if you want, but you’d be ignoring the important reality that all of our public goods and utilities, including the police, the fire companies, the energy suppliers, even the road building agencies of city, county, state and federal governments (in the US) have transited between private and public and sometimes back (or to some combination). What our society needs to get it’s pin-headed collective brain around is the nature of this thing, this Amazon and Google (and whatever) thing. And to recognize that it is very real and not just a dot com that will go away when everyone realizes they don’t need it or the loans come due. Which will bring us, ultimately, to the question of OpenAccess and OpenSource. And who owns The Internet. And a few other issues.
1 = big problem.