Amazon has been racking up a reputation as “the enemy” in publishing circles. That has led to a sort of “with us or against us” mentality in which any formerly respected person who is seen to work with Amazon in any capacity whatsoever suddenly gets tarred with that brush.

It happened with Larry Kirshbaum, the long-time publishing-industry exec and agent who Amazon tapped to run its publishing subsidiary, who Mike Shatzkin says “has gone from one of the most well-liked people in publishing to the one of the most reviled.” And PaidContent’s Laura Hazard Owen reports it seems to be happening to respected librarian Nancy Pearl, who has partnered with Amazon to republish some of her favorite out-of-print books.

“By aligning herself with Amazon, she’s turning her back on independents,” Seattle Mystery Bookshop owner J.B. Dickey told the Seattle Times. “Amazon is absolutely antithetical to independent bookselling, and, to many of us, truth, justice and the American way.”

But before approaching Amazon, Pearl’s agent shopped the reprints to the 20 top publishers in New York, and not one of them was interested. She says she stands to earn only “a couple of hundred” dollars per book. David Streitfield writes in The New York Times:

Ms. Pearl still seems a little shaken by the intensity of the response. “I knew the minute I signed the contract that there would be people who would not be happy, but the vehemence surprised me,” she said. To protect herself, she did not read Facebook or Twitter or any of the social media sites.

Pearl says that she is not sure at this point whether she would do it again, but she “would still want those books back in print.”

Perhaps the interesting thing is how polarizing the issue is. The PaidContent piece seems to me to be a little unnecessarily snide, harping on some (admittedly silly) comments Pearl or the Times made and suggesting that six books per year is few enough to clear rights on that Pearl should just have self-published them instead. (Of course, even if she had self-published them, guess what on-line bookstore would still be selling the majority of them?)

Meanwhile, the New York Times piece calls out the Nazi iconography in the burning-book Bloomberg Business Week cover of the issue that profiled Larry Kirshbaum, and suggests the most remarkable thing about it is not that it used that iconography, but rather that nobody complained about it. “In the struggle over the future of intellectual commerce in the United States, apparently even evocations of Joseph Goebbels and the Brown Shirts are considered fair game.”


  1. I agree with one of the commenters on the original article:

    “This is all wrong – Amazon is not against books – it built is business on selling books. The real problem is an inward looking publishing industry – one that is myopic, short sighted and greedy.

    I have always read a lot, spent most of my $$ on books, was a librarian and subscribe to NYT online. I am familiar with the book and journals industry.

    In my opinion, the publishing industry needs to look in the mirror, stop demonizing Amazon and manage with a smaller profit margin. ”

    Publishers and bookstores need to step away from Amazon envy and figure out what they can do to serve their customers so that they can compete with Amazon.

    Amazon wins because they provide what their customers want at a price their customers are willing to pay – the basics of an economic transaction.

  2. Amazon built its business not on books but on traditional tactics of destroying competition and creating dependency. However, many people here in Amherst, MA are saving money (and increasing quality of life) by buying locally, whether it’s books, e-books, or self-publishing services. It’s not just about small companies competing with heavily funded big businesses; it’s also about consumers, all of us, including you, caring less about a fleeting bargain and more about our long-term quality of life.

  3. This demonizing of Amazon and especially authors and people who choose to work for them is disturbing. Maybe if they concentrated more on how to please their customers, they wouldn’t have to worry about Amazon. I feel like the big six isn’t really trying to grow ebooks, they’re still trying to discourage the business by forcing DRM, raising prices, and refusing to sell to libraries.

    As a show of support, I just bought one of Nancy Pearl’s books. The only time I buy print books is when the ebook price seems unreasonable and the book is a book club selection. Then I buy it used. I feel good about denying the profit to the publisher.

  4. @Kitty Axelson-Berry:
    I am not quite sure how amazon is destroying my quality of life. When it comes to entertainment and enjoying life, if I can get more with less money, then I can enjoy more and have a higher quality of life. Amazon also provides me with things I can’t get locally: increased time that I can spend having a higher quality of life instead of driving long distances to the closest local stores; better customer service not dealing with rude retailers; and a vast level of inventory that local retailers either don’t carry or take months to get in after ordering.

    I get the whole buy and support locally stuff, but unless you live in a large urban or sub-urban area with a large supply of local things that are made locally, you are SOL when it comes to that philosophy. It’s also really hard to follow that philosophy in the current economic times when income hasn’t grown and the local supply charges up to 3x or 4x the cost of online.

  5. Along the lines of what MarkChan was saying–I live in a small bedroom community. I don’t have a car, and I don’t have the energy to take two or more buses to get to major shopping centers, or the strength to bring much back with me. The internet is a big factor in my quality of life, and Amazon is a big part of that. Yes, I abhor some of its practices, and I will shop elsewhere online when I can, but I wouldn’t want to have to do without it.

  6. Diane – very well said. All amazon have ever done is provide a fantastic range, offered quality, and at good prices, fast. Publishers on the other hand have falsely inflated the prices of our books for decades, have published a load of absolute crap much of the time, have kept authors on tiny royalties while they pocketed the profits and have exploited and expanded copyright to the detriment of the ordinary person.

    Thank you Amazon. Something suitably insulting to the Publishers.

  7. Amazon is a business. It doesn’t do things out of altruism. It does things that make it money and enhance shareholder value. It just so happens that customer service is good for the bottom line.

    Getting angry with Amazon for doing what’s in its own self interest, like any other business, is pointless.

  8. Don’t people have better things to demonize? Of course Ms. Pearl wants her books back in print! The point is to get people reading — the more, the better. I love independent local bookstores as well and I think the best discussion focuses on other profit models that can bring people what they can’t get on the I-net. Would love to discuss this further – my brand-new twitter acct @fleurfreelance; site: Good thoughts, all!

  9. Kerri Bonasch says:
    Just make Amazon charge sales tax like any site which is ethical. Level the playing field and then let competition go at it.

    So your “solution” to “level the playing field” is to force Amazon to pay sales tax “like any site which is ethical” ?

    The reality is that under current law a vendor is only required to pay sales tax when they have a physical presence (brick and mortar businesses) in a location.

  10. @Richard Bradley: The sales tax thing is just a smokescreen from retailers who conveniently ignore the uncomfortable reality that even *with* sales tax, Amazon prices would still be cheaper.
    All the focus on prices and profits ignores the plain hard fact that Amazon *costs* are simply lower.

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