“The central problem is still with us,” said Douglas Preston, referring to the power Amazon yields in the book business, at a Winter Institute 11 talk called Authors, Agents, and Booksellers--United for a Fair Marketplace.
The session, hosted by ABA CEO Oren Teicher and held during this weekend's show in Denver, Colo, examined where things stand six months after Authors United pressed the Department of Justice to investigate Amazon's “deleterious impact” on the book industry.
Joining Preston and Teicher in the discussion was Richard Russo, v-p of the Authors Guild.
Preston, who compared Amazon the old Standard Oil (which was broken up by the government in 1911), said he still believes a case can be made that Amazon is a monopoly and that. Referring to the First Amendment's clause about blocking any single entity from controlling the power over public discourse, Preston reiterated the notion that such a claim could be made against the retail giant.
“Amazon is uploading over 500,000 new titles a year. It now has as many new books for sale as books in Harvard’s Widener Library,” he said. “[It] now controls the vital informational market of books.”
“Many people think we’re just against Amazon,” Russo noted. “That’s not true." Because of Amazon, he claimed, many publishers are less willing to take risks and to spend money on advances, particularly for nonfiction books which require years of research.
Both Russo and Preston said their concerns about Amazon extend beyond the existing pool of authors; they also worry about people who may never write books because of Amazon’s policy "to extinguish” competitors.
Russo, who is preparing to open a bookstore in Portland, Maine, also blasted the notion that Amazon offers a superior bookselling eperience. “We depend on people to tell us, ‘If you liked this, you’ll like that,'" he said. He also added that he doesn't consider it an achievement that Amazon sells so many of his own books. “A monkey could sell my books.”
While Preston said he remains hopeful that the DoJ could still take action against Amazon, he acknowledged that change will come slowly. “I think it’s going to take a long time. It’s like the locavore movement.”
In the meantime, Preston booksellers should write to their representatives voicing their concern about Amazo. “Look at the Time Warner-Comcast merger. All the talk was nothing’s going to stop this merger. Congress got hundreds of thousands of letters. It really was the American people that stopped that merger.”
The session ended with a standing ovation.