“Cheap Words”



An interesting article came out in the New Yorker ( written by George Packer) about the nature of e-books and Amazon.

“In the era of the Kindle, a book costs the same price as a sandwich. Dennis Johnson, an independent publisher, says that “Amazon has successfully fostered the idea that a book is a thing of minimal value—it’s a widget.”

I didn’t actually know this, but Amazon started as an online bookstore.

From the article:

“Bezos said that Amazon intended to sell books as a way of gathering data on affluent, educated shoppers. The books would be priced close to cost, in order to increase sales volume. After collecting data on millions of customers, Amazon could figure out how to sell everything else dirt cheap on the Internet. (Amazon says that its original business plan “contemplated only books.”)”

This is a prime example of someone capitalizing on the allure of the so-called “primal book”, using the princely status of physical books to gain access to valuable data. Physical books contributed greatly to the inception of Amazon.com, and the consequent global superstore can be traced back to the status that books hold (or held?) in our society. The article really hammers home the ruthless nature Bezos had:

“In the mid-aughts, Bezos,having watched Apple take over the music-selling business with iTunes and the iPod, became determined not to let the same thing happen with books. In 2004, he set up a lab in Silicon Valley that would build Amazon’s first piece of consumer hardware: a device for reading digital books. According to Stone’s book, Bezos told the executive running the project, “Proceed as if your goal is to put everyone selling physical books out of a job.”

And, being ruthless payed off:

“By 2010, Amazon controlled ninety per cent of the market in digital books—a dominance that almost no company, in any industry, could claim.”

The article goes on to address the fact that Amazon has attempted to get into publishing, as to keep it all ‘in-house’, but has failed. Some say that while Amazon is a fast-moving, ever-changing superstore, the publishing industry is something like its opposite: slow, very slow. Super slow. And steady. Publishing a book is usually a process that takes over a year. The nature of an enterprise like Amazon is not very accommodating for long processes. It needs a product, and it needs it immediately.




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