Interesting article from the New Yorker about Amazon, how it got to where it is, and what it may mean for the future. (Though, as seems inevitable for these things, trigger warning for some quotes comparing Amazon to domestic abuse. Can we please stop with that now? Please?)

Anyway. A bunch of quotes and thoughts under the cut. I have A Lot Of Feels on this one, as it turns out…

Few customers realize that the results generated by Amazon’s search engine are partly determined by promotional fees.

Call me naive, but I only found this out recently. It makes a lot more sense once you know what you’re looking for (sort of like knowing how blurbs really work, I guess).

Amazon’s “fulfilment centres” also sound… well, they sound exactly like the scare quotes around the words make them sound:

Accounts from inside the centers describe the work of picking, boxing, and shipping books and dog food and beard trimmers as a high-tech version of the dehumanized factory floor satirized in Chaplin’s “Modern Times.”

But don’t worry, underpaid, over-stressed workers! I’m sure Amazon is already working on replacing you with drones of a more literal nature!

The business term for all this clear-cutting is “disintermediation”: the elimination of the “gatekeepers,” as Bezos calls the professionals who get in the customer’s way. There’s a populist inflection to Amazon’s propaganda, an argument against élitist institutions and for “the democratization of the means of production”—a common line of thought in the West Coast tech world. […] Nevertheless, MacKenzie Bezos published her recent novel, “Traps,” with Knopf.

Good to know the self-pub hostility towards tradpub (not to mention the habit of preaching one thing and cashing cheques from another) comes straight from the top.

Also fun:

Amazon Publishing, which had been releasing mysteries and other genres in bulk, hoped that [former C.E.O. of Time Warner Books Laurence] Kirshbaum would attract big-name authors and publish best-sellers. But top writers proved surprisingly loyal to their gatekeepers

There are probably as many reasons for this as there are authors, of course. But if I had to hazard only one single guess?

Authors might just flat-out like their editors (“gatekeepers”, if you will).

Shocking, I know.

Also, as an aside: One of the things I’m noticing more and more of about the heavy-handed tradpub/selfpub debates is the over-conflation between “self-publishing” and “”, right up to the co-option of the term “indie publishing” to mean the former, rather than, like, publishing via small independent presses.

Sure, Amazon has done a lot to provide access to the tools authors need to self-pub–POD and ebooks–but they’re certainly not the first company to do so, nor even the only. They’re just the most successful.

It would seem to me that one of the freedoms indie authors should have is not tying themselves to one particular distribution platform or format. I know that, in practice, some do and some don’t (and Amazon works hard to try and turn that into a “do” with things like KDP Select)… but it’s sometimes hard to find that reality in amongst the rhetoric.

[B]ook 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.

Somewhat amusing: when I was on submission to editors, my parents were very, very concerned that I might wind up taking money from News Corp. Both of them mentioned it to me. Separately.

I told them not to worry; they were getting their who-owns-who’s mixed up.

Americans don’t read as many books as they used to [partly because] they are too busy doing other things with their devices—but also because of the relentless downward pressure on prices that Amazon enforces. 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. “Amazon has successfully fostered the idea that a book is a thing of minimal value,” Johnson said. “It’s a widget.”

Welcome to the shit volcano. Which is really the hyperbolic way of saying “the death of the authorial middle class”; something both sides of the self-/tradpub divide seem to agree on… even if they can’t agree on whether it’s good or not.

(Hint: maybe they should ask some “fulfilment centre” workers what the New World Economy is like.)