The dispute between Amazon and book publisher Hachette reached a settlement in November 2014. The Authors United group formed by a number of top selling authors, including Steven King, sent a letter to the Amazon Board of Directors expressing their concern with “sanctions” directed at Hachette authors including “refusing pre-orders, delaying shipping, reducing discounting, and using pop-up windows to cover authors’ pages and redirect buyers to non-Hachette books“. This group has not yet resolved their concerns about the impact of this applied technology and the underlying tech consolidation. There are financial and career implications from the loss of Amazon as a channel for sales, even for the months of this dispute. These include reduced sales for proven best selling authors, and for first-time authors, reduced sales can be the end of their career.
The Bangor Daily News indicates this group is pressuring the Federal government and exploring a law suit to address some of these damages.
Monopoly power with tech consolidation
A key question is the monopolistic potential of having a single major channel for selling a class of products. Amazon is reported in this article as being the source of 41% of new book sales in the U.S. And is reported by some best selling authors as having “disappeared” them — with searches for their names on Amazon yielding no results.
Data Mining makes it possible to associate authors with publishers, and manipulate their visibility via online sales channels. There are legal and ethical issues here that span beyond the immediate “Hatchet”: case. Apple is continuing its e-book anti-trust battle claiming a “David vs Goliath” position where Amazon holds 90%+ of e-book sales.
Both Apple and Amazon hold significant control over critical channels that authors (books, software, etc) need to both sell their products, but also to even become visible to the to potential readers/users/consumers. Both are for-profit companies that apply their market power and technology to maximize their profits (which is what capitalism and stock holders expect.) The creative individuals producing indi or even traditional channel creations who might be expected to benefit from the global access of the Internet can get trampled when these mammoth’s charge towards their goals.
Is the Internet creating new opportunities, or consolidating to create concentrated bastions of power? (Or both?) Oddly this comes around to parallel issues with “net neutrality” and how the entertainment industry is relating to Internet channels — perhaps there is a broader set of principles involved.