Dear Mr. Bezos
The following is a letter I wrote to Amazon.com’s CEO Jeff Bezos on the Fifth of July, in the hopes of reaching him directly. As I never heard from him, I’ve decided to make it an open letter. My books and many other authors’ books are being artificially delayed this summer, new copies often made unavailable and bargain copies substituted. The careers of new authors are being purposely crushed in the nest as the preorder buttons on their books have been removed. All these are hardball tactics in the retailer’s dispute with my publisher, Little Brown and Co., a division of the Hachette Book Group, over the price of e-books. (Carolyn Kellogg of the LA Times wrote a good capsule summary: Amazon and Hachette: the Dispute in 13 Easy Steps.)
The actual cost of publishing books includes paying author advances, editorial and clerical salaries, publicity, marketing and all the other costs of creating books for us to read. Publishers know their own business. For Amazon, it’s simply an aesthetic decision, how a certain number looks to a consumer. Like saying “all houses should cost $25,000, because people like that number.” But what houses? And who will build them?
As a middle-aged woman who has had some luck as a writer, I’d like this profession of author to remain a possibility for young writers in the future—and not become an arena solely for the hobbyist or the well-heeled. What will be lost when working writers no longer can support themselves pursuing their ideas, their art? What will be lost to this country, if these most talented can no longer make a living? I am making this an open letter, because I believe we are at a crossroads, and decisions are being made now which will affect our country permanently.
July 5, 2014, 10:41 a.m.
To: firstname.lastname@example.org [this is a public address at which he invites correspondence]
Subject: Service, power and responsibility
Dear Mr. Bezos,
As a reader and an author, I find Amazon does a wonderful service, but is in danger of killing the little central nugget from which the rest of your vast online business stems. Amazon is a marvelous conglomeration and delivery system for products of every imaginable function. But the book “business” is really not the same as the sale of lawn rakes or adapters for telephones. It is the intellectual and cultural lifeblood of this nation or any nation.
To have amassed such influence in our culture, and to use it in such a negative way, to give and withhold, to distort, to silence–to silence! is what is usually done in totalitarian countries with a political agenda–but which Amazon is doing for the sake of squeezing out the last drop of profit. As a result it is undercutting the ability of writers to live and create, the ability of publishers to gather and refine and put the best of the best before the public, rather than reinforcing and strengthening the components of our intellectual and cultural life whose future you, at bottom, hold in your hands.
The sheer amount of power you have gained in the literary marketplace negates any disingenuous argument that it’s just “business as usual.” With the amount of wealth and power Amazon has accumulated, you’ve also put yourself into a position of responsibility–wanted or unwanted–for the intellectual life of the country. You have seated yourself at that table. I urge you to consciously accept that responsibility, and respond to it by treating the small amount of your business which is represented by literature with fairness and even–understanding how important to the life of our society books are–preferential treatment.
The difference between a symbiotic and a parasitic relationship is that in symbiosis, the host is not harmed in any way. The two organisms work together for mutual benefit. In a parasitic relationship, the growth of the secondary organism outstrips the ability of the host to sustain itself. Unlike symbiosis, a parasite kills its host, and eventually, itself.
I ask you to please reconsider the effect of your demands upon publishers, authors, readers, and our democratic nation as a whole.