I consider myself to be pretty observant about media issues both locally and nationally. That is why I was surprised to read in the New Yorker (June 25, 2012, issue) about a development that could be a game changer in the way the publishing industry works. It is one of those times when there is something so big happening that you don’t even see it coming. At least that is the way it seems to me.
The story was about Amazon and the development of electronic readers, such as the Kindle, iPads, and Nooks. With those devices, you can read books, magazines and newspapers completely bypassing the traditional world of paper and ink. In many ways, this is incredibly more efficient—publishers no longer have to print thousands of copies of books, ship them to book stores all over the country and take back returns.
Amazon liked the idea so much that they started selling electronic books below their costs. They would pay the publishers more than it cost them to sell the book, which is a pretty good deal for both consumers and book publishers, right? Maybe not.
Many of the big book publishers and Apple didn’t like the trajectory of what they perceived to be the “takeover” of the book business, and they made a counterproposal that would restructure the way books were sold. The proposal would end up giving the book publishers less money, costing consumers more, but taking some of the control away from Amazon. The reason they did this was to stop Amazon from completely eating their lunch.
Amazon has also been building a publishing division where it works with a writer, publishes his/her book and distributes it to the Kindle. This was a pretty sweet deal for Amazon that looked like a monopoly to other book publishers. Kindle also uses proprietary software that encodes the information sent to the Kindle, so Amazon has control of the information it sells. Full disclosure: I read this article on my Kindle.
When the big publishers moved to restructure the way electronic books are sold, the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division got involved and filed a lawsuit alleging collusion and price fixing. In the end, five of the publishers settled the case, effectively losing the ability to control book costs and allowing Amazon to continue to offer deep discounts.
If you see electronic publishing as the wave of the future (a clue might be how few bookstores are left in Fresno) and if Amazon is able to control what is published and how it is distributed, then the ramifications of this development can’t be overstated. As the New Yorker article concluded, the book industry may simply be road kill in the much larger war over who controls what information we have access to.
Before reading that article, I thought media consolidation, where fewer and fewer corporations owned large numbers of newspapers, magazines and other traditional media outlets, was the primary threat to us having access to a diversity of opinion. But if Amazon is able to control the media landscape, then it will be even more challenging for small alternative/independent publications like the Community Alliance to survive.
Even without these ominous and dark changes fully in effect, this newspaper is already struggling to survive. I have stopped taking my modest ($1,000 a month) salary, we have cut back on everything else possible and we are barely able to keep the wolves from the door. Yes, the economy is affecting us just like everyone else in this community.
I want you to think for a moment what this city would be like without a voice to speak up for environmental justice, the homeless, workers earning a living wage and police accountability. What if all anybody read was controlled by corporations that have an interest in keeping you uninformed, disorganized and vulnerable to their exploitation?
If you don’t want to live in a world without hope, a community where the rich 1% determine what information you have access to, then you need to support this newspaper now, before it is too late.
I know people think the Community Alliance is an institution in this area and it is great that you have faith in us. On the other hand, I’m telling you that it is possible that you will look for us next month and we will be gone. If you don’t want that to happen, then please get your checkbook right now and subscribe, donate and/or pledge to be a monthly sustainer.