In fact, the Amazon CEO loves them so much that he has just bought Goodreads, a social media site for readers and writers with 16 millions followers. I’m feeling a tad confused about it but this is an age of complexity. I sense a certain religious subtext in my own response but our times require special spirit and books, after all, are items of a quasi-religious reverie to many of us…
The purchase, warmly described by Goodreads as “joining the Amazon family” and greeted with “Nooooooo!” by the Washington Post, is quite impressive on the open-ended monopoly scale. It follows taking a 40% stake in LibraryThing (2006) and the purchase of Abebooks (2008). LibraryThing is a service much like Goodreads that looks more like a librarian’s day dream. Abebooks is an online book store with a 1995 web design (a nostalgy trip for Bezos?).
But customers LOVE amazon and they LOVE Kindle. Authors who care about being LOVED by MANY readers ought to get in bed with Amazon if only because all traditional publishing is going to wither. It’s not going to be like pillaging, or if it is, it’s going to be a very slow pillaging that in the end will feel like true LOVE. Because the CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, has publicly said that he LOVES books. And one has to admit he has done a lot for the book as a commodity. Almost as much as Hitler did for progressive literature by singling out all those books he LOVED and burning the rest. I know this is not a fair comparison, how could it be: Bezos is not Hitler, pillaging is not proposing and book is not nook, nor is LOVE love. Or is it?
Every term I show my students the interview Charlie Rose did with Jeff Bezos in 2007 when the Kindle came out and every year more students have a Kindle or read on their smartphones while thinking Bezos weird and making fun of his tic which is visible in the interview (you gotta check it out: he says there that he LOVES books while twitching uncontrollably. The students ask: is he for real?). Of course every writer has the choice to withdraw from the market and focus on the writing. We can all cancel our accounts, stop writing reviews and so on. We can seek alternatives to nuclear energy. Under a Hitler, we can leave our families and skip the country and our language. All I’m saying: it’s not as easy as it sounds to separate from the system. But the very least we can do is talk about it openly while we still can.
Myself, I ordered a book from Amazon yesterday and wrote a review for goodreads and posted on Facebook, later I’ll lie down and I’ll let my Kindle read something to me with its metallic voice that one can get used to, you can choose between a male or a female robot, just as one can get used to getting one’s money from a machine, paying with an e-mail or tweeting one’s significant other, or asking a box with a voice how to get anywhere in the city. And of course, I’ve not typed any of this, I’ve spoken it using software that turned my mumbling into readable, hard prose for what it’s worth. Amen.
Note: The author of this article is an Amazon author and a Goodreads Librarian. He believes in spreading himself thinly, so thinly in fact that no single social media location can claim to own him wholly. He is in fact split about Amazon and indie book stores, about big time publishing and indie presses, and about almost everything in existence. Like: psychotherapy. Climate change. Writing. This behavior is almost a theme which shows up in many of his stories: commitment, ambivalence, existential angst are issues of his central characters. To find out more, buy his book when it comes out in May.