Reporter at small, yours truly, watched this seven-member panel discussion from start to finish last night. My takeaway? Six trad publishing professionals versus one Amazon mouthpiece. Since Amazon sent “I don’t work for them, they just paid my plane ticket” indie blogger David Vandagriff (The Passive Voice) who had to be shot with verbal tranquilizer darts by the moderator on several occasions, the balance seemed fair. Amazon *was* asked to send actual company spokespeople, but declined. So instead they dissed the whole affair by offering one of the leaders of the pitchfork brigade. It made for an interesting evening, if not particularly useful.
For those of us who know the deep background on the issues, the panel provided little new insight. The two intriguing bones I tucked into my virtual backpack to chew on later? Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu said Amazon appears to be directing customers toward favored (ad-supported) products in lieu of others, which is illegal. For those of us who work with Amazon as vendors, watching the magical sales algorithms perform fascinating gymnastics that do, you know, seem like impossible coincidences, the only surprise in his statement was the word “illegal.”
Secondly, he noted that research on corporate life cycles shows this pattern: The start-up kid is widely perceived as brilliant and innovative and friendly. The growing adult corporation is everyone’s good-natured buddy. The mature corporation is a wise community leader. But then . . . threatened by newcomers, perhaps slowed by its own ponderous size, and grown arrogant with success, the corporation turns cranky and mean. Wu sees signs that Amazon has reached that stage.
So . . . I don’t have a lot in common with the corporate world of big publishing, but do trust that world more than a future in which Amazon could dominate the distribution, pricing and marketing of books not only in this country but worldwide.
I notice today that the nearly 800 comments on the panel’s NY public library site appear to be mostly self-pubs armed with the usual rants. Their take on Tool vs. Tool is, naturally, the opposite of mine.