As a writer, here’s my take on Amazon vs. Macmillan: Nobody wins. What we are seeing is not really the clash of business models. We are seeing runaway economic evolution in action. And it isn’t pretty, folks.
Think about the concept: Macmillan wants to charge more for their books so Amazon really get’s a bigger cut. Huh? And oh yeah, that comes out of the consumers’ pocket. So it was a no-brainer that Amazon would back down. To me it smacks of Demican and Republicrat policy makers trying to shove their brand of politics down our throats. You can have any color car you want, as long as it is red or blue.
Let’s step back a few paces and see what we can see. Amazon is the ultimate middleman. Whatever you want (within reason, as opposed to the REALLY weird stuff you can get on E-Bay) can be ordered and shipped with a few simple keystrokes. Marvelous, right? Maybe. Let’s fire up the Wayback machine and go back about fifty years. I grew up in a little neighborhood in Brooklyn called Bay Ridge. It was safe to walk around by myself at five or six years old. We lived a block and a half from the main shopping street, 3RD Avenue.
At the corner of 74th Street and 3rd Avenue, there was something called Scheirra’s Green Grocer, a little family owned produce market. On the other end of the block was the local grocery store, Packer’s. What you would consider a Safeway or Grand Union back in the day.
They both did a brisk business, for different reasons. Packer’s, along with Bohack and A&P (two other larger grocery stores) offered convenience and a much wider selection of products than Scheirra’s did. But what they didn’t offer was the personal local touch. We would always swipe a green bean from the produce bins outside the store, sometimes he’d toss an apple or two our way (or maybe AT us).
But let’s look at the concept of customer experience. When you walked into Packer’s it was a lot like walking into a Wal-Mart Super Center. Lights, gleaming shelves and cooler cases; a lot of chatter and neighbor’s taking by the deli and butcher counters.
Now, walk into Scheirra’s. It’s quiet, and not quite as bright. He wasn’t trying to hide anything mind you it was just the style of store. But what hit’s you the most is the aroma of fresh vegetables. I mean, the place smelled GREEN in a really nice kind of way. You always knew when the bananas were ripe; the onions smelled of fresh earth. The green beans were as snappy as twigs. The floor board creaked, the scales groaned when weighing produce. And Mr. Scheirra was always changing out the produce to make sure it was fresh. You couldn’t get a better sell by date meter than his nose. Even for a five year old it was heaven. It was a place for a slower pace of life.
Ever been to a green grocer? They still have them around, but they are mostly ethnic specialty stores with high prices. What we have now are huge Wal-Mart and Target stores, incredibly large grocery chains and even huge specialty stores that you almost have to pay a tax just to get into.
And yet a sincere lack of ambiance in the old fashioned sense of the word; all cold and gleaming. Now, back to the future and books.
Amazon and Macmillan are setting the playing field for the next ten years at least. (I figure by then people will have printers sophisticated enough to print and bind their own books at home. Hell, they have printers that you can buy to build 3-D products like teapots right now, for way less than a thousand dollars.) We are being locked in slowly to a mass-market way of life. If a book or magazine doesn’t sell really well, it disappears. Short fiction is going the way of the dinosaur; is Ellery Queen Magazine being printed anymore? I don’t know; I haven’t seen the shelves lately. My own genre is suffering, because there seems to be no way to stop the onslaught of greed and corruption that is threatening the industry that brought us the printing press, the Gutenberg Bible and a general increase in the ease of knowledge transfer.
My own solution is a partial one. When you buy a piece of literature, you then own the rights to it legally in every format; printed page, audio, 3-D Smellorama. You get the idea. Let’s move away from media ownership and into the area of knowledge ownership. Let’s look at what is really going on behind closed doors in the publishing industry.
Support the people that are trying to make the next ten years of publishing work for us, instead of against us. People like Cory Doctorow, Eric Flint and the late Jim Baen.
To quote one of my favorite philosophers (Greg Lake), “…if we make it we can all sit back and laugh…”
What’s you’re take on this? Throw me some ideas and let’s see what we can come up with!