Amazon Is Celebrating 20 Years of Discounts (But Authors Are Not)on July 15, 2015 at 6:38 pm
Amazon is a more-than-familiar face on the digital sales scene nowadays, to the extent that it’s hard to recall life without the e-commerce giant. Nonetheless, the company celebrates only its 20th anniversary today, with characteristic deep discounts and an attempt to lure even more members into its subscription model with Prime Day.
Yes, the company that started out as a digital bookstore two decades ago has today morphed into a monolith that caters to our every online shopping whim. From books to baby gear to bulk grocery shopping, there’s little you can’t get within a couple of days – or, in some metropolitan areas, a couple of hours – from the Seattle-based business.
While its customers have no problem accepting constant price cuts, though, the creators whose work helped to launch Amazon.com are not so happy to celebrate.
We’ve seen in the past that the company has a tense relationship with authors, mostly because of its constant efforts to drive down the price of books to the point where making a profit is almost impossible. Impossible, that is, unless you dominate the market so much that those pennies of profit add up to a volume of sales that makes sense.
That level of dominance is exactly what authors are banding together to curb.
Specifically, The Authors Guild, backed by a variety of organizations pledged to support writers and creativity, is believed to have asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate Amazon’s position in the publishing industry for signs of antitrust status. In the long-term, a monopoly of this kind proves seriously destructive, as the dominant power can dictate every aspect of pricing and availability to authors and consumers alike.
Make point that to Amazon it doesn’t matter that books are cheap… like TV, it keeps customers coming in the door and subscribing to its Prime service. But that mark up is all authors have, and if it’s driven down too far there ceases to be a reason for them to make those books available for purchase outside their own distribution channels. Perhaps even ceases to be a reason to write in the first place.
It isn’t just Amazon in the crosshairs of The Authors Guild, either. The organization is also lobbying hard to have Congress require that ISPs implement improved technology to monitor the web for pirated goods, especially the e-books of authors they represent.
It’s easy to accuse groups that represent creators of being overzealous in their desire to monitor and pull down content from around the web. On the face of it, lower prices for consumers in the Amazon case and more widely available reading materials shared online in the case of piracy may seem like a victimless scenario.
It’s even more important to remember, however, that no-one else is going to stand up for the interests of authors. Or musicians. Or any independent creators who rely on the limited income that sales of their work generate.
This is not the same multi-million dollar lobbying that the tech sector leverages whenever authorities even consider — or tech populism, as others have called it. This is simply a case of those who create banding together to make sure that their voice is heard. Europe has decided to hear that request in the case of antitrust claims against Amazon.
It is to be hoped that the U.S. offers authors the same fair hearing when it comes to those who want to distribute their work and profit from it, whether distributed legally on platforms like Amazon, or illegally on file-sharing sites and other channels that pass no compensation back to the original creator.