Best-Selling Author Richard Russo Has Harsh Words for Amazon at PaidContent Conference
By Jeremy Greenfield, Editorial Director, Digital Book World, @JDGsaid
Richard Russo thinks Amazon’s business practices are “unfair.”
The best-selling author of Empire Falls and other titles called Amazon’s business practices “predatory” and “unfair” at the PaidContent 2012 conference in New York City today.
Russo spoke of his daughter, Emily, who owns an independent book shop that is under pressure because of Amazon, according to Russo. He described a scenario in which readers would spend time enjoying the tactile experiences of a physical bookstore and his daughter’s literary expertise and then go home and buy the book online at Amazon.com. And Emily will tell shoppers about new readers they’ve never heard of, to boot.
“These young writers that you’ve never heard of you’re not going to find out about because of Amazon’s algorithm,” said Russo. “Independent booksellers have never faced anything like Amazon.”
Russo was interviewed at the PaidContent conference, usually dedicated to high-level media strategy and investment discourse, because of the recent rise in interest in the future of book publishing, the Department of Justice investigation into Apple and the so-called agency five and Amazon.
Russo didn’t mince words.
“Right now, the government seems to have Amazon’s back,” said Russo. “They seem to want to referee the match but only call fouls on one side.”
Despite Amazon’s non-involvement in the lawsuit the Justice Department filed against Apple and five of the largest U.S. publishers, some in the publishing industry see Amazon as connected. Letters to the Department of Justice from literary agent Simon Lipskar and industry consultant (and DBW partner) Mike Shatzkin about the lawsuit and settlement both discussed Amazon’s place in the marketplace and effect on the system. With a reported 67% of e-book market share in the U.S., Amazon plays a significant role in the marketplace.
It hasn’t been reported whether Amazon is in any way involved. The day the lawsuit was filed, Amazon released a statement praising the Justice Department’s action. Being the largest U.S. bookseller, Amazon will certainly be affected by the outcome, as will many others.
According to Russo, the danger of the current direction of the book publishing industry is that if Amazon continues to gain market share and put other booksellers out of business, the industry will be “centralized,” which would be bad for authors, publishers and readers who depend on a vibrant bookselling ecosystem to foster content creation and consumption.
When presented by the interviewer, PaidContent reporter Jeff John Roberts, and audience members the fairness of Amazon’s actions considering the rise of digital reading, online retailing and other changes in the business landscape, Russo softened slightly.
“I am not anti-Amazon. I am in favor of Amazon playing nice in the marketplace,” he said. “Amazon is a wonderfully well-run company; they just need to stop some of their predatory practices.”
Write to Jeremy Greenfield