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Home / Tim Worstall /We’re wondering how this argument can be made

We’re wondering how this argument can be made

Summary:
A strange thought:Amazon is the enemy of literature – but one writer is taking a standSelling books by the shipload seems a strange way of being an enemy of literature. One explanation for the story being that one novelist has decided to run his PR campaign by claiming to be David against the Goliath. Well, it’s work for someone, once, as this very article shows. As an actual thing, rather than a form of chutzpah inspired shilling, it’s a little more difficult to recognise.The main problem is that Amazon has devalued the book, altering the collective sense among the public of how much books are worth. It sells paperbacks and (in particular) hardbacks at a heavy discount; and it reduces the demand for these by selling e-books at an even lower price. Anyone who goes into a bookshop and sees

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A strange thought:

Amazon is the enemy of literature – but one writer is taking a stand

Selling books by the shipload seems a strange way of being an enemy of literature. One explanation for the story being that one novelist has decided to run his PR campaign by claiming to be David against the Goliath. Well, it’s work for someone, once, as this very article shows. As an actual thing, rather than a form of chutzpah inspired shilling, it’s a little more difficult to recognise.

The main problem is that Amazon has devalued the book, altering the collective sense among the public of how much books are worth. It sells paperbacks and (in particular) hardbacks at a heavy discount; and it reduces the demand for these by selling e-books at an even lower price. Anyone who goes into a bookshop and sees a new hardback novel retailing at £20 will know that even brand-new novels hardly ever cost more than £9.99 if you get the Kindle version. Amazon would still undercut the opposition if it made new novels available at, say, £15 for an e-book, but it prefers instead to condition its customers into thinking that hardbacks are grotesquely expensive.

Once a book has been out for a while, the Amazon e-book versions tend to become cheaper and cheaper. Some books are marketed as part of a special deal for 99p or less. One author tells me that a novel of his sold half a million copies after Amazon chose it to be included in one such deal – and although the terms of the contract were favourable to Amazon, that book made him and his publisher more money than any of his other books have done.

That really is the complaint. Amazon makes books cheap and that’s bad. Even though readers get more, publishers get more, authors get more, it’s still bad. Because, well, something.

Books really are not Veblen Goods and they’re most certainly not Giffen Goods. The normal supply and demand stuff does work. But, something, apparently.

The arts world does always seem to have this problem with basic economics, doesn’t it?

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Tim Worstall
Tim Worstall is a British-born writer and Senior Fellow of the Adam Smith Institute. Worstall is a regular contributor to Forbes and the Register. He has also written for the Guardian, the New York Times, PandoDaily, the Daily Telegraph blogs, the Times, and The Wall Street Journal. In 2010 his blog was listed as one of the top 100 UK political blogs by Total Politics.

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