German Writers Stand Up to Amazon

WHETHER opposition to the online octopus is growing and spreading is hard to tell, but some of the anger we’ve seen in the US literary community seems to be driving authors in the German-speaking world as well. A New York Times story reports that more than a thousand German-language authors have written a letter of protest. The whole thing is complex, but it’s similar in some ways to the tussle here between Amazon and the Hachette publishers. From the Times:

The writers, supported by several hundred artists and readers, have signed an open letter to Amazon, the online retailing giant, accusing it of manipulating its recommended reading lists and lying to customers about the availability 85px-Coat_of_arms_of_Germany.svgof books as retaliation in a dispute over e-book prices.

“Amazon’s customers have, until now, had the impression that these lists are not manipulated and they could trust Amazon. Apparently that is not the case,” read the letter, which was to be sent to Amazon and was to appear in leading publications in Austria, Germany and Switzerland on Monday. “Amazon manipulates recommendation lists. Amazon uses authors and their books as a bargaining chip to exact deeper discounts.”

Part of what’s interesting about this — and it comes a bit late in the story for my taste — is that Germany, unlike the States, has a series of laws that help bookstores and small publishers thrive. (Among them are laws that limit the way books can be discounted, which on the surface cost consumers more, but which protect the broader publishing ecology.)

People like me have long hoped the the U.S. would adapt some variation of what Germany has. This story makes clear that even with that, Amazon has expanded inside Germany and in nearby nations like Poland. Those indie bookstores and small publishers may not last much longer.

A sad coda to this is the likely extinction of the last Shakespeare & Co. bookstores from New York City. Publishers Weekly: “After news surfaced last week that the company’s Broadway store is closing, PW learned that the one remaining Shakespeare & Co. outpost, on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, may close as well.”

It’s competition from online as well as high rents — all-too-familiar killers.


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    • says

      My phrase “on the surface” refers to the fact that a consumer may pay less for a book when it’s discounted, but there’s a larger cost if the publisher/bookstore goes out of business because of massive price-cutting. I guess I’m trying to get at what economists call externalities — the mix of costs and prices is more complex than it appears.

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