This is not censorship (updated, again)

this is censoredThe New York Times reports on authors forming a group to back publisher Hachette in its quest to have Amazon.com charge consumers higher prices for books. A literary agent is quoted:

“It’s very clear to me, and to those I represent, that what Amazon is doing is very detrimental to the publishing industry and the interests of authors,” the agent said. “If Amazon is not stopped, we are facing the end of literary culture in America.”

And author Ursula Le Guin:

“We’re talking about censorship: deliberately making a book hard or impossible to get, ‘disappearing’ an author,” Ms. Le Guin wrote in an email. “Governments use censorship for moral and political ends, justifiable or not. Amazon is using censorship to gain total market control so they can dictate to publishers what they can publish, to authors what they can write, to readers what they can buy. This is more than unjustifiable, it is intolerable.”

Oh come on. Censorship is a real thing in this world, with governments making books unavailable to their citizens to read. I have quite a few such books on my shelf. I bought them through Amazon. And I can easily buy books by Ms Le Guin in this country, and nobody, including Amazon, is telling her publishers what they can publish, or her what she can write. And it trivializes the plight of authors who actually are censored. We are not facing the end of literary culture in America. I wish Amazon and Hachette would resolve this, and I do not support some tactics that Amazon has used. But the rhetoric is getting just a bit ridiculous.

UPDATE: Regal Cinemas and Cinemark are engaged in censorship?

UPDATE (October 5): New York Times Public Editor: ‘Publishing Battle Should Be Covered, Not Joined.’

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  1. The terms censor and censorship are a bit vague.

    Miriam-Webster: to examine in order to suppress or delete anything considered objectionable ; also : to suppress or delete as objectionable

    By definition, in its broadest sense, censorship is the suppression of thought regardless of the motive or the institution involved. Some people narrow the term by saying it is only censorship if it is done by a government. Others might add religious groups. Private schools might censor material. Publishers might censor racist comments. The borders keep expanding to the point that they become blurry.

    John Adams opera “Klinghofer” was to be presented in 2000 cinemas, but the broadcasts were cancelled after the ADL relentlessly pressured the Met. They didn’t like its moral and political messages. Was that censorship? Many are insisting it isn’t. The term censorship becomes politicized. Censors like to think of themselves as not censoring — just deleting or eliminating.

    Amazon finds books objectionable that are written by authors who oppose their pricing policies and refuses to publish them. If censorship is defined as suppression regardless of motive or agency, then Amazon is censoring. Or is it just boycotting certain authors it disagrees with? Moral, political, social, and economic issues have been raised in the struggle. In defining censorship, lines are drawn based on political persuasion.

  2. Arguing over a definition of censorship is avoiding the actual issue. Amazon IS making it difficult to get certain books (that’s their announced strategy) and they are poised to become the single biggest (if not the only) source for books in the U.S. If Amazon becomes the primary supplier of books as well as the conduit through which we get books (and hence the ability to prevent us from getting books), that gives them an inordinate amount of power. The important point of the protest is the call for the government to investigate Amazon as a monopoly.

    Prof. Rushton: Please tell us your thoughts about Amazon and monopoly! That I think will be very very interesting.

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