In Amazon-Publishers Debate, Weighing Menace With Metaphors

Amazon questionLast year, at Digital Book World 2014, The Everything Store author Brad Stone reminded publishers that Amazon viewed them as sickly “gazelles” and itself as a “cheetah” intent on going after them.

That was in January, months before the Hachette-Amazon battle became public in May and went on to steal headlines clear through the end of the dispute last month, with the publisher and e-tailer signing a new distribution contract.

For publishers, the standoff–in which Amazon disabled pre-orders and delayed shipments of certain Hachette titles–did little to alleviate that predatory image of hunter and hunted.

But author and New Yorker contributor Ken Auletta recently proposed another zoological metaphor to describe Amazon, calling it the “great whale” of publishing.

That title, Auletta says, once belonged to Barnes & Noble, which today announced it’s buying Microsoft out of its partnership with Nook, an arrangement struck in 2012 in a failed effort to take on Amazon and Apple on ebooks.

Next month, Auletta will take the Digital Book World 2015 stage to moderate a panel dealing specifically with Amazon, to address whether, as Auletta puts it, “the whale aims to devour or to assist publishing. And what role, if any, the bigger whale, government, should play.”

The shift in animal metaphors over the past year points up, among other things, how the digital publishing landscape (not to say food chain) is transforming, and also raises the question of who wins and loses as it does.

Both Simon & Schuster and Hachette profess they are satisfied with having got agency ebook pricing back in their respective deals with Amazon. It’s probably too soon since those contracts were inked to expect a more anodyne metaphor than that of a hungry cheetah or a devouring whale to emerge on the Digital Book World stage this coming January, but who’s to say what creatures we’ll be conjuring in 2016?

In the meantime, join Ken Auletta, Barry Lynn, Annie Lowrey and Barry Eisler as they debate, “Can Amazon Be Constrained, and Should They Be?” at Digital Book World 2015.

[Press Release]

‘Can Amazon Be Constrained, and Should They Be?’ Asks Panel Session at the Digital Book World Conference + Expo, Jan. 13 – 15, 2015

Moderator Ken Auletta Says Amazon Is Considered the ‘Great Whale’ of the Publishing World

NEW YORK (Dec. 4, 2014) — Sure to be one of the most well-attended and intensely watched sessions at the upcoming Digital Book World Conference + Expo (DBW), “Can Amazon Be Constrained, and Should They Be?” deliberates on the world’s leading book retailer and its impact on the book-selling trade. DBW is the largest event worldwide dedicated solely to the business of digital publishing. The event, which gathers more than 100 speakers and 1,500 professionals, takes place Jan. 13-15, 2015, New York (@DigiBookWorld – #DBW15). See (early-bird rates are available).

“In the publishing world, once Barnes & Noble was considered the Great Whale. Now Amazon is,” says DBW panel moderator Ken Auletta (@kenauletta), the Annals of Communications writer for the New Yorker magazine, and author of Googled: The End of the World As We Know It. “My hope is that this panel will address whether the whale aims to devour or to assist publishing. And what role, if any, the bigger whale, government, should play.”

“Can Amazon Be Constrained, and Should They Be?” panelists include:

Mike Shatzkin (@MikeShatzkin), DBW conference chair and founder of The Idea Logical Company, says, “From the time that Barry Lynn, a respected scholar at a respected foundation, raised the question of constraining Amazon, I felt it was a topic that needed airing at DBW. I’m delighted that we’ve put together such a balanced and distinguished group of panelists and that Ken Auletta, who brings real gravitas, knowledge and objectivity to the role, has agreed to moderate it.”

According to Shatzkin, this DBW panel session is “a wide-ranging conversation of the elephant in every room where publishing’s digital transition is discussed: the power of Amazon.”

Shatzkin – who’s also with Publishers Launch Conferences, DBW’s partner – notes there are two constituencies related to this topic. One side says Amazon has engaged in abusive monopolistic (or monopsonistic) behavior and should be regulated in some way; the other side believes Amazon constitutes an inevitable and possibly desirable disruption in book publishing’s historic ways of doing business.

“The recent public tussle between Amazon, the world’s leading book retailer, and Hachette Book Group, one of the top publishers, demonstrated the disruptive power of a bookseller that sells around half of all books,” says Shatzkin. “In the process of the dispute – ultimately settled by agreement after Amazon had negotiated an apparently similar deal with Hachette rival Simon & Schuster – there was a spate of advocacy both for and against the retail giant.”

Shatzkin concludes, “Regardless of its impact on publishing’s incumbents, the question arises: Is Amazon too big for the good for democracy and the free flow of information?”

More About Digital Book World Conference + Expo
Additional Digital Book World Conference + Expo speakers include: CEOs and C-level executives responsible for developing their organizations’ digital strategies, innovators who are bringing new ideas and new technologies to market, and path-making authors, agents, marketers and editors. These leaders will share best practices and wisdom from their personal experiences – what has worked and what hasn’t – so attendees can avoid pitfalls and make wise strategic decisions.

Attendees of DBW include large and small book and eBook publishing businesses, book marketers, directors of international book sales and rights, editors of publishing houses and literary agents, digital strategists and content professionals, and managers of operations, finance, sales/marketing and technology within industry and allied organizations.

Visit to sign-up (early-bird registration rates are available), or e-mail to enquire about attending, sponsoring or exhibiting.

About F+W, A Content + eCommerce Company
F+W is an enthusiast-focused Content and eCommerce company, serving 20 Million consumers annually via the Company’s print portfolio, ecommerce stores, extensive online education programs, trade and consumer events, popular consumer catalog brands, nationally-broadcast TV programs and more, all in service of passionate niche communities of professionals. (

About Publishers Launch Conferences
Publishers Launch Conferences is a comprehensive conference/education business that addresses the urgent needs of book publishing professionals around the world. The organization was founded by two highly-respected trade publishing veterans, Michael Cader of Publishers Lunch and and Mike Shatzkin of The Idea Logical Company. Publishers Launch works closely with established players and institutions throughout the publishing world, to transition to prosperity in the era of new technology, players and paradigms. (


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