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Why I keep Asking You Not to Buy Books from Amazon

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This is an article written by sci-fi author by Ursula K. Le Guin. The following quotes are her opening and closing paragraphs.

Amazon and I are not at war. There are vast areas in which my peaceful indifference to what Amazon is and does can only be surpassed by Amazon’s presumably equally placid indifference to what I say and do. If you like to buy household goods or whatever through Amazon, that’s totally fine with me. If you think Amazon is a great place to self-publish your book, I may have a question or two in mind, but still, it’s fine with me, and none of my business anyhow. My only quarrel with Amazon is when it comes to how they market books and how they use their success in marketing to control not only bookselling, but book publication: what we write and what we read.


Its ideal book is a safe commodity, a commercial product written to the specifications of the current market, that will hit the BS list, get to the top, and vanish. Sell it fast, sell it cheap, dump it, sell the next thing. No book has value in itself, only as it makes profit. Quick obsolescence, disposability — the creation of trash — is an essential element of the BS machine. Amazon exploits the cycle of instant satisfaction/endless dissatisfaction. Every book purchase made from Amazon is a vote for a culture without content and without contentment.

I understand Ursula's comments and in some ways agree with her.  The only issue is that she seems to have completely ignored at least two major points which explains Amazon's success.  

  1. Amazon makes it possible for anyone to publish a book
    We can argue over whether the hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions now, of books self-published each year in ebook format, or on demand, are worthy of publication. I'm sure many will argue that most of these books are not very good.  But every single author feels their book is worthy of publication and applaud companies like Amazon for making the production of their "baby" possible.  
  2. Quality literature is incidental
    Authors are motivated by making bestsellers lists, movie deals, popularity, and money. Ursula argues that Amazon is motivated by profit, treating books as commodities; "...the only value of a book is its current salability."   What she fails to realize is that many, if not most, author's motives are perfectly aligned with those of Amazon.

Ursula is a elderly woman who probably wants things to be they way the used to be before Amazon came along. She is, judging by her numerous awards (Hugo, Nebula, National Book Award, PEN-Malamud, and more) a very talented writer. Just as important she has benefited from being part of the dominant culture.  Her path to traditional publishing was relatively smooth, I'm sure.  Besides, despite all the complaining about Amazon, I'm sure Ursula is not returning any of the money she is getting from Amazon.


All that said, I did think massive, dominate corporations like Amazon, provide a tremendous benefit, but only to a relatively small number of people.  Net-net, the vast majority of us do not benefit; I'd argue we are worse off.  Sure we have cheap smart phones, but the manufacturing jobs are in Asia.  We have low cost products in Walmart, but their worker don't make very much. People love Facebook, but that comes at the expense of all the other websites that are dying.

If Ursula is so concerned about Amazon's dominance, she can lead the way by boycotting Amazon, and removing her books from the website. Needless to say that will never happen.

Edited by Troy
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I hate that "You are not allowed to give reputation to this user" when I like your post, lol.

I agree with you on this one. She is right and not right. I know for a fact now that there is a lot of luck and hard work in getting a book to the masses. People read what's popular to fit in. As it becomes harder to browse for books, Amazon becomes more of a factor. The writer will only make a sale if the writer already has some form of celebrity. Outside of that, you are simply selling to those who know you and want to support you. The real test of success is selling to the person who doesn't know you at all. That is when you can breakthrough. 

The unfortunate part of it all is that no one will know you unless you are famous and you can't get famous unless people share, write and talk about you in various forms of media.

I'm working on a video about how the spectacular and sensational is what gains attention. You can have all of the tools to provide people with help for something, but if it's not presented in a sensational way, it more than likely disappears. 

Honestly it's always been this way. Nepotism rules. You have to get in good with someone of influence and maybe you have a chance, maybe. even then you will have to break your neck to keep the attention of the masses when you're a nobody.

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