But its brand of creative destruction might be killing more jobs than it makes. According to a recent study of U. Census data by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, in Washington, brick-and-mortar retailers employ forty-seven people for every ten million dollars in revenue earned; Amazon employs fourteen. In the book industry, many of those formerly employed people staffed independent stores. Two decades ago, there were some four thousand in America, and many of them functioned as cultural centers where people browsed and exchanged ideas. Vivien Jennings, of Rainy Day Books, has been in business for thirty-eight years.
Postal Service announced a special partnership to deliver Amazon—and only Amazon—packages on Sundays, with the terms kept under official seal. Since the arrival of the Kindle, the tension between Amazon and the publishers has become an open battle. The senior editor, like most people in publishing, rarely deals directly with Amazon, but in the fall of he attended a meeting with Russ Grandinetti, the Kindle vice-president, who was visiting the big New York houses.
He joined Amazon in , as treasurer, then moved on to apparel, before taking the Kindle job. An Amazon colleague described Grandinetti as the smartest guy in the room at a company where everyone believes himself to be just that. Many publishing types consider him a bully. Grandinetti took questions, and an editor raised his hand. It showed contempt for his audience.
When I spoke with Grandinetti, he expressed sympathy for publishers faced with upheaval. The future is happening to bookselling.
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The old print world of scarcity—with a limited number of publishers and editors selecting which manuscripts to publish, and a limited number of bookstores selecting which titles to carry—is yielding to a world of digital abundance. After the Kindle came out, the company established Amazon Publishing, which is now a profitable empire of digital works: in addition to Kindle Singles, it has mystery, thriller, romance, and Christian lines; it publishes translations and reprints; it has a self-service fan-fiction platform; and it offers an extremely popular self-publishing platform.
Authors become Amazon partners, earning up to seventy per cent in royalties, as opposed to the fifteen per cent that authors typically make on hardcovers. Bezos touts the biggest successes, such as Theresa Ragan, whose self-published thrillers and romances have been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times. But one survey found that half of all self-published authors make less than five hundred dollars a year. Amazon has made it possible for hundreds of thousands of writers frustrated with the limits of traditional publishing to have their work read.
David Blum, who edits Kindle Singles, cited a twenty-eight-thousand-word memoir, by a journalist named Oliver Broudy, about travelling with a collector of Gandhi memorabilia. It had been turned down by several magazines, but since Blum accepted it, in March, , it has sold forty-five thousand units. More than five hundred Kindle Singles have appeared in less than three years—three or four a week, making it hard for even an experienced editor like Blum to do much more than read and publish them.
In May, , Amazon announced that Laurence Kirshbaum, a longtime publisher of mass-market books and the former C. The next day, they ran into each other at BookExpo, in the Javits Center. Amazon Publishing, which had been releasing mysteries and other genres in bulk, hoped that Kirshbaum would attract big-name authors and publish best-sellers.
Amazon claims to have sold many more copies of these titles as e-books. In the past year, Amazon Publishing has barely been a presence at auctions, and several editors have departed; last month, Kirshbaum left the company, having failed at the task Amazon gave him.
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The new publisher, Daphne Durham, has spent her entire career at Amazon, and will remain in Seattle. There was a practical reason for the failure. I have no sense of the character of their house. We care more than they do. Anastas found the reaction hypocritical. There is nothing more demoralizing for a writer than to go into one of these huge towers to talk about your book amid all this product.
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You feel like a sperm-oil salesman at the Petroleum Club. In March, , Slate criticized Amazon for its miserly philanthropy, especially in the Seattle arts world, saying that certain lemonade stands were more generous. Amazon denies this. Every year, Fine distributes grants of twenty-five thousand dollars, on average, to dozens of hard-up literary organizations. When the Best Translated Book Award received money from Amazon, Dennis Johnson, of Melville House, which had received the prize that year, announced that his firm would no longer compete for it.
Serious publishing is in such a dire state that thoughtful people are defecting to Amazon. By producing its own original work, Amazon can sell more devices and sign up more Prime members—a major source of revenue.
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While the company was building the Kindle, it started a digital store for streaming music and videos, and, around the same time it launched Amazon Publishing, it created Amazon Studios. The division pursued an unusual way of producing television series, using its strength in data collection. Five thousand scripts poured in, and Amazon chose to develop fourteen into pilots. Last spring, Amazon put the pilots on its site, where customers could review them and answer a detailed questionnaire. I thought it would be a very public humiliation, as opposed to the usual way pilots get shot down—in private with executives.
Trudeau went ahead with Amazon, anyway, with Alter as an executive producer. After the pilot, starring John Goodman, appeared on Amazon, last April, almost four thousand customer reviews came in. Bezos attended, with his parents seated next to Trudeau. For all the emphasis on crowdsourcing, Trudeau said, almost all the shows that Amazon approved were created by professionals.
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Last August, Bezos bought the Washington Post from the Graham family, for a quarter of a billion dollars. Nor has Bezos shown much interest in politics, except as it involves his business. Perhaps buying the Post was meant to be a good civic deed. Bezos has a family foundation, but he has hardly involved himself in philanthropy. Instead, he launched into a monologue on the virtue of markets in solving social problems, and somehow ended up touting the Kindle.
Bezos bought a newspaper for much the same reason that he has invested money in a project for commercial space travel: the intellectual challenge. With the Post , the challenge is to turn around a money-losing enterprise in a damaged industry, and perhaps to show a way for newspapers to thrive again.
When Bezos visited the paper in September, he told several hundred staffers what they hoped to hear: that their primary customers were readers not advertisers , that news should drive business decisions, and that cutting the news budget was suicidal. On January 16th, Bezos visited the paper again.
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It was kept secret from everyone at the Post except a few top editors and executives. When one Amazon employee attended an orientation meeting several years ago, and another new hire declared that she had just come from the National Security Agency, he wondered how she would fit in. He also summoned Henry Blodget, the former securities analyst who, in , was charged with civil fraud and barred from the industry; in , he became the C.
Blodget spoke to senior staff at the Post about the challenges of publishing news on the Internet. As I recover from being punched in the face by Amazon, I also worry: What if they are a bubble? Publishers are less like abused minors and more like financially insecure adults who rely on the support of a bullying uncle.
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Their dependence breeds bad faith. The Big Six recently became the Big Five, with the merger of Random House and Penguin, which created the largest publishing house in the world. Several industry people told me that it was intended to provide Penguin Random House, as the new company is called, with more bargaining power against Amazon.
But book publishers have been consolidating for several decades, under the ownership of media conglomerates like News Corporation, which squeeze them for profits, or holding companies such as Rivergroup, which strip them to service debt. The effect of all this corporatization, as with the replacement of independent booksellers by superstores, has been to privilege the blockbuster. Lately, digital titles have levelled off at about thirty per cent of book sales. The digital market is awash with millions of barely edited titles, most of it dreck, while readers are being conditioned to think that books are worth as little as a sandwich.
There are two ways to think about this. Amazon believes that its approach encourages ever more people to tell their stories to ever more people, and turns writers into entrepreneurs; the price per unit might be cheap, but the higher number of units sold, and the accompanying royalties, will make authors wealthier. Even though my company lost very few, I remember each of those deaths vividly. They were all good men, in a war very few understood.
They were good light infantry; I had respect for their determination and abilities. But they were the enemy; our job was to kill or capture them. He was prepared and determined to keep fighting as long as he had the manpower to send south. Yet until May , both of those countries were off limits to U. We never invaded North Vietnam. Would the U. Also unlikely. Did we learn anything from that experience, which left such an indelible mark on our national psyche?
History is a harsh teacher; there are still no easy answers. He left the military in and later was mayor in Corte Madera, Calif. He lives in Marin County, Calif.
When I deployed to Vietnam in August , I was a young Army doctor, married five years, with a 3-year-old daughter, just potty trained, and another child due the following April. When I returned from Vietnam in late March , I saw my 5-year-old son for the first time, and my daughter was in the fifth grade. We prisoners endured unspeakable horror, brutality and deprivation, and we saw and experienced things no human should ever witness. I cradled 10 dying men in my arms as they breathed their last and spoke of home and family; then we buried them in crude graves, marked with stones and bamboo, and eulogized them with words of sunshine and hope, country and family.
The eulogies were for the survivors, of course; they always are.
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