The book world is once again in a state of high dudgeon over the “thuggish” behavior of Amazon, which has begun slow-walking customer orders for books published by Hachette (James Patterson, Malcolm Gladwell, a.k.a. J.K. Rowling) in an effort to win more favorable terms in its next contract with the publisher.
In a series of breathless commentaries, Amazon has been likened to Vladimir Putin, Tony Soprano and Darth Vader, and accused of pursuing a “scorched-earth capitalism” designed to drive all publishers and competing booksellers out of business. The future of Western culture and democracy are said to hang in the balance.
While the stakes, I suspect, are a good deal less dramatic than that, something interesting is going on here. In business terms, what is about to play out is the next round in a long-running battle between a manufacturing cartel (the publishers) and a monopoly retailer (Amazon) for control of the value chain that links book writers and their readers. In most respects, it is similar to the battles in other parts of the news and entertainment sector where digital technology has also upset the old order but a new order has yet to emerge.