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10.15.2010

Amazon's Gosh-Darn Amazing Plan to Take Down Publishing (for good this time!)

Whether they're fighting with publishers about ebook pricing, or censoring the works of queer writers, Amazon has let it be known that they don't like books. This week was a major step for the online retailer as they unveiled several strategies to help take down publishers, writers, and book lovers, and while they're at it, take their money.

1. One of these new initiatives is the updated iPhone app from Amazon, which acts as a barcode scanner. With this, consumers can walk into any bookstore (say a big box bookstore, or an independent), ask the bookseller for help, get the bookseller to get the book into your hand, and then--here's the important part--not buy from them. The scanner not only provides consumers with finding books on Amazon, but also, lets them buy it from Amazon on the spot.

2. This week, Amazon also launches its Kindle Singles program. As Jared Newman from PC World reports: "Just as MP3s changed the way we listen to music, Amazon wants to shake up our reading habits with Kindle Singles." The Kindle Singles act like MP3s, they're small book-like works: short stories, for example. As a short story writer, this should be exciting to me. Another market! But selling is not the point. Newman points out to the possiblity of "lite versions" of literary works:

"Think of smartphone apps. Sometimes, you'll find a paid app, and a free "Lite" version with fewer features. Non-fiction books could work in similar fashion, with Lite Kindle Singles sold as cheaper, less elaborate versions of the full book. That way, you can get the gist of one author's political analysis or scientific theory, and move on to the long version if you're really interested to learn more."

To compete, writers would be forced to write shorter, but also write for shorter attention spans (which is already a problem). Amazon is trying to breed readers who are effective at skimming, not reading, nor enjoying the turn of phrases that writers--nonfiction and fiction writers alike--work so hard to do. Think of War and Peace condensed into a Lite Version.

3. Finally, we see over at MobyLives, Amazon astroturfs: zombie comments made over news outlets in praise of the Kindle, despite the articles not doing much with the Kindle as a product per se.

Truthfully, I should be torn. Amazon is the biggest bookseller. It can put books into people's hands. It's also part of how I got to LLF's Emerging Writers Retreat (they donated money; I received a scholarship). But still, it's very clear that they are not friendly with writers or publishers. This is the case of capitalism getting too much for itself (a Catch-22), or for at least the systems and insitutions within it. For Amazon to be number one, it must destroy the competition and change with the culture: but what if the culture calls for the destruction of the product you're selling? In the case of Amazon, you don't try to change directions, you go along with it.

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