It's a dark and stormy night for the book industry, at least in the Justice Department's version of The E-book Publishing Monopoly: Why We Went After Everybody but Amazon. But rather than tell Jeff Bezos to assume the position, the feds are chasing down Apple and five of the six biggest publishers for allegedly colluding on book prices. As David Carr puts it, "That's the modern equivalent of taking on Standard Oil but breaking up Ed's Gas 'N' Groceries on Route 19 instead."
Amazon says that peddling best-sellers as $9.99 Kindle books is the new business model. It eliminates the middlemen and passes savings to consumers. What's not to like, especially if you're the buyer? Well:
The retailer's growing list of critics, however, argue that Amazon has $48 billion in revenue but hardly any profit, proof that its approach is opportunistic and unsustainable. When traditional publishers, booksellers and wholesalers are destroyed, these opponents say, Amazon will be left with a monopoly that will be detrimental to the larger health of the culture.
From the very beginning, as Carr writes, "and with increasingly regularity, Amazon has used its market power to bully and dictate." Apparently such tactics so inspired Apple's black corporate heart, its leaders imagined a world in which the two e-giants would some day divvy up the market. As the U.S. indictment notes, Apple "contemplated illegally dividing the digital content world with Amazon, allowing each to 'own the category' of its choice -- audio/video to Apple and e-books to Amazon."
Author Scott Turow, president of the Authors Guild, says "It is breathtaking to stand back and look at this and believe that this is in the public interest.The only rationale is e-book prices will go down, for how long? What happens when there is no one left to compete with them?"
Carr probably speaks for a lot of us when he says we tend not to look past the bargain prices and see the real cost of what Amazon has wrought.
"I'd be lying if I said I didn't get a little thrill when I found out on Amazon that I could get an e-book version of "Fifty Shades of Grey," the No. 1 book on the New York Times best-seller list, for just $9.99. But after a week of watching the Justice Department and Amazon team up, I've learned that low prices come with a big cost. Maybe I'll order it at my local bookstore instead."