2015/08/21

Slaying the Amazon Monopoly Zombie Meme

Zombie Meme

Author Joe Konrath wants your help in the fight against publishing industry zombie memes--misinformation that keeps rearing its ugly head no matter how many times you bash it with a crowbar.

First on Joe and his brother in arms Barry Eisler's hit list: the "Amazon is a monopoly" zombie meme.

Here's Joe:
This meme is incoherent, mistaken, and perverse.
Incoherent, because the “evidence” of Amazon’s monopoly power is always that Amazon is hard on its suppliers, not on its customers (no one can argue with a remotely straight face that Amazon is anything other than exceptionally customer-centric). If the evidence is that a company is squeezing suppliers, it might be evidence of something called monopsony, not of monopoly.
Mistaken, because Amazon has numerous competitors, including Apple, Google, Walmart, Barnes & Noble, Books A Million, Kobo, Smashwords, Scribd, Oyster, and more than 2000 independent bookstores (with new indies opening all the time). 
It’s important to remember that US antitrust laws were adopted to protect not competitors but competition. Monopolies (and monopsonies) are not themselves illegal -- what is illegal is abuse or unfair acquisition of monopoly power. Ultimately, antitrust laws are intended to protect the consumer, and it’s difficult to argue that low prices, innovation, and an ever-expanding variety of products are bad for consumers (though valiant efforts are constantly made).
Perverse, because it fails to point out there actually is a monopoly in publishing -- or call it a quasi-monopoly, or oligopoly, or cartel. This is the New York Big Five (the cartel is right there in the name). The Big Five actually was prosecuted by the Justice Department for price-fixing under the Sherman Act. The Big Five settled; Apple fought and then lost. For any lawyers out there, note that price fixing is per se illegal under the Sherman Act. Meaning it is the very definition of abuse of monopoly power.
There are perfectly sensible objections to some of Amazon's business practices. What's interesting is that their publishing industry critics keep trotting out the same false accusations. The only reasons to persistently shoot blanks are: 1) you'd rather make noise than do any real damage, or 2) you don't have any real ammo.

It's almost as if legacy publishers feel threatened.

I encourage you to help Joe and Barry get the word out by linking to his article, mentioning it in reply to articles that invoke publishing zombie memes, and informing Joe of such pieces in the comments of his original post.

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