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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

February 1, 2010 at 10:15 AM

Reading behind the Amazon-Macmillan battle:

Top of the News: The Amazon-Macmillan ebook price kerfuffle has one strong partisan for the Seattle giant. Henry Blodget, writing on his Business Insider blog, starts with a headline that a family newspaper blog would find inappropriate. Then:

“First, if Macmillan collapses, so be it. Someone else (Amazon?) will happily publish whatever good books Macmillan would have published. Macmillan’s editors will find other employers, perhaps at Amazon.

“Second, the world is doing just fine, thanks. Good books will always be published. Perhaps not in precisely the same form, but they’ll be published. And, thanks to Amazon’s new low-cost distribution model, more of them will eventually be published than ever. We don’t need someone like Macmillan sitting between us and good books.

“Third, don’t give us that…about how writers won’t write good books unless Amazon is forced to charge $15 for them. If Amazon sells books for $9.99, writers will sell more copies of the books than they would if Amazon charged $15…”

Did I mention that this is the same Henry Blodget who was banned from the securities industry after his notorious role as a Merrill Lynch analyst during the tech bubble? (It was a civil settlement with the SEC “without admitting or denying guilt”). He also made his name correctly predicting Amazon’s stock rise in 1998.

Blodget, an alum of Yale, started out at Harper’s before going to Wall Street, and now he’s all over the place, rehabilitated and often persuasive. So, yeah, people like Blodget will get published and paid for it, pretty much no matter what. The same is true of the James Pattersons and Dan Browns of the world. And sure, anybody with lots of time or money can publish a book or blog today.

As for thousands of other well-regarded professional writers, like independent bookstores, these are dreadful times. It’s precisely because of industry consolidation and supply-chain strangle holds, abetted by weak antitrust enforcement and technological leaps. Many are not getting published. Many are leaving writing, and our civilization and democracy are the worse for it.

Full disclosure: As an author, all of my books are carried by Amazon and some are available for Kindle at $7.99. (Did I tell you my new thriller, Deadline Man, will be out in May?). I can’t live off my royalties, and as a mid-list author life is always book-to-book, no guarantee of a future. Yet my best signings are at independents, with the most loyal following. The big book chains could care less about most authors. And Amazon wants to be Wal-Mart, so I doubt it will be a refuge for unemployed book editors, much less care about most authors.

In an ideal world, I want Seattle’s Amazon to do well. And I want lots of indie bookstores. I want a pony. Battles such as Amazon-Macmillan are often relegated to mere tech curiosities. The larger issues are these: If content is free or nearly so, what will happen to most content producers — this is trenchantly explored by Jaron Lanier in You Are Not a Gadget. We will have less quality content and fewer independent voices outside the hive of the blogosphere. And when any company gains de facto monopoly or control of pricing or the supply chain, it’s bad for a healthy and competitive market.

Today’s Econ Haiku:

Today’s econ news:

No Jobs, no recovery.

The rest is just noise

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