Amazon Essay

For Real Pants, I’m working on an essay that seeks to resolve the tension in the small press world about working with Amazon to sell and buy books. My experience was awful at first, as I was losing about 30 cents every time someone bought a Publishing Genius book through Amazon. But books just have to be there, because that’s where people buy books.

The conflict there is obvious. If selling books through a retailer is bad for publishers, what will happen to books? It’s the publisher’s perspective that they shouldn’t be strong-armed (the way Amazon bullied competitors like Zappo’s and because books are a unique product that convey our civic identity, our cultural ideas, and not just another consumer good, like shoes or baby wipes.

Along with this question of books as a consumer good, I want to explore, in an ontological way, the question of whether Amazon is bad, good, or an indifferent factor for literature. I’ll explore how their efficiencies (such as their numerous fulfillment centers, their powerful website that hosts reviews, recommendations, 1-click checkout etc, 2-day shipping and so on) promote book buying; I’ll report on their own attempts at being a meaningful traditional publisher and, relatedly, an ardent promoter of self-publishing; I’ll look at what Amazon’s affect on booksellers means for publishers.

Finally, as none of what Amazon does happens in a vacuum, I’ll consider ethical factors, like their treatment of employees and the ramifications of things like the combination of Prime and 1-hour shipping on the environment.