Because I’m a capitalist, I love markets. There is something satisfying about having a mechanism that allows entry to anyone who wishes and the cream rises to the top.
However, there are some important things in life that don’t work as well as markets. Education, which we believe should provide the opportunity to develop potential for all rather than merely serving to pick winners and losers, operates less efficiently as a market rather than a public good. All the extra bureaucracy and for-profit healthcare added to our commercial insurance industry seems like another area where the market is not well suited to our desires.
There is another area where the market is perhaps not functioning as well as it should: books.
Possible reason? Amazon.
The Federal Trade Commission may soon move to investigate Amazon for possible violations of antitrust laws, violations that book industry groups such as the Authors Guild and the American Booksellers Association believe give Amazon a monopoly as a seller of books to the public.
The government is dealing with a wider range of issues, but count me in as one who hopes it turns its attention to Amazon’s outsize role in the book ecosystem. Amazon itself is responsible 40% of all printed books and 80% of all e-books sold in the United States. It also dominated audiobooks with its acquisition of Audible 15 years ago.
In theory this shouldn’t be a problem. After all, Amazon is a retailer like any other, a huge retailer that accounts for a large part of the book market, but we have set up a mechanism for ourselves as long as everyone is allowed to enter the market and sell their products. For efficient capitalist operations.
But in reality, Amazon is not a neutral space where anyone can operate. As Dennis Johnson, co-founder of independent publisher Melville House, told me in an interview last yearAmazon’s ability to dictate terms to publishers is making it increasingly difficult to stay in business and influencing the types of books others publish.
The Authors Guild and ABA also argue that Amazon’s size and role in highlighting and promoting books is decisive when it comes to what books readers encounter. If you are allowed to set up a stall for your products but at the same time no one knows about your stall’s existence, is it really a marketplace?
As Alexandra Alter reported in the New York Times, some antitrust experts “skeptical” He said Amazon will be scrutinized for its role in the book industry because Amazon’s presence allows more books to be sold.
Maybe that’s why. But perhaps we are in a new era of greater scrutiny on the fairness of the author’s competitive landscape, as evidenced by the Justice Department’s earlier victory in challenging the merger of Simon & Schuster and Penguin Random House on antitrust grounds. bookstores and publishers are expected to be competitive.
Capitalism is not a system open to everyone. To work, it needs rules and referees, two things we have in our current legal and judicial system. It seems they only need to step off the sideline and onto the field of play to make sure what happens is fair.
As someone who isn’t a committed expert in antitrust law, I won’t predict an outcome, but I also know that it wouldn’t hurt to get a deeper understanding of how Amazon’s megafauna affects — or perhaps controls — the overall book ecosystem.
John Warner is the author of “Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Requirements.”
Book recommendations from Biblioracle
John Warner tells you what you should read, based on the last five books you’ve read.
1. “Evil Copperhead” by Barbara Kingsolver
2. “Summer Sisters” By Judy Blume
3. “Cold Mountain” By Charles Frazier
4. “Circle” By Madeline Miller
5. “The Love Songs of WEB Du Bois” By Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
—Elizabeth P., Chicago
I just had the chance to read James McBride’s book “The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store”, it is a wonderful book and I think it would suit Elizabeth very well.
1. “Look Home, Angel” by Thomas Wolfe
2. “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting” By Milan Kundera
3. “Go Set a Watchman” by Harper Lee
4. “Tin Drum” By Günter Grass
5. “Parade” Dave Eggers
— Nick P., Gurnee
Nick seems to enjoy a bit of intellectual/metaphysical puzzling along with his narrative. I’m going with Heinrich Boll, one of Gunter Grass’ contemporaries, and his classic novel “The Clown.”
1. “Emma” by Jane Austen
2. “City and City” by China Miéville
3. “The Man Who Died Twice” By Richard Osman
4. “The Well of Lost Lands” By Jasper Fforde
5. “We were liars” by E. Lockhart
—Grace M., Indianapolis
It sounds like Grace is interested in some mystery but doesn’t want the mystery to overshadow other things going on in the story. Rebecca Makkai’s “I Have Some Questions for You” achieves this kind of balance.
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