Writers Feel an Amazon-Hachette Spat | NYTimes.com

This David Streitfeld article in the New York Times has been the subject of lots of chatter in the literary corners of the Web. People who are already wary of the immense power granted to Amazon by virtue of the fact that it sells roughly one-third of all books sold. The idea of a bookseller sabotaging one publisher’s books to force that publisher to agree to more favorable wholesale terms is disturbing on several levels:

  • Nobody like a bully, and Amazon appears to be taking advantage of its massive popularity to hold authors and readers hostage in a money grab.
  • Shoppers expect that if a product is available, they will be able to buy it. The idea that a seller would choose not to sell an available product to customers who want it seems nonsensical and could erode trust in online shopping (of course, there are people who would see that as a plus, not a negative).
  • Most readers have little idea of who published the book they are seeking. The average book shopper will likely not realize that the same book listed as out of stock at Amazon is probably available immediately at another site.
  • The people who are being most hurt are the authors, whose books are no longer readily available at the world’s largest bookseller. Fewer sales equals fewer royalties and fewer chances for emerging authors to build the elusive word-of-mouth that can spell the difference between a book’s success and its failure.

Among Amazon’s tactics against Hachette, some of which it has been employing for months, are charging more for its books and suggesting that readers might enjoy instead a book from another author. If customers for some reason persist and buy a Hachette book anyway, Amazon is saying it will take weeks to deliver it.

Ultimately, Streitfeld says, the tactic may backfire on Amazon:

If Amazon needs to improve its bottom line, it is a dangerous game to make things harder for its customers.

(via New York Times)


I’ve become a mooch — BookMooch, that is

A couple of months ago, I joined BookMooch, a Web site whose motto is “Give books away. Get books you want.” Members of the free service list their unwanted books for others to “mooch” for free. Mailing out claimed books from your inventory earns you points that you can use to “mooch” free books from other users. The only costs are for postage.

BookMooch logoAt the time I joined BookMooch, my intention was to pare down my library of approximately 1,200 books. (When I moved/downsized into my current 1-bedroom apartment in 2002, I had to choose whether to get rid of the books or the bed. Now my “bedroom” walls are lined with 7 bookcases and I sleep on the (very comfy) couch.) I have happily sent off 19 books to mooching readers all over the world (Germany, England, Scotland, Finland, Australia, Korea) and the U.S.

Unfortunately, all those BookMooch points were burning a hole in my Web browser, and I have mooched back 16 books (you can see a mosaic of covers of my recent Mooches over there on the left). To say that this defeats my original purpose is to belabor the obvious, so let’s just agree between ourselves never to mention it, OK? Thanks!

On the plus side, all those new books (new to me, that is) give me a fresh source for material for this here web log. So if you’re looking for ideas for what to read next, stay tuned for some fresh looks at books. See? I’m doing it for you! First up: Firehouse by David Halberstam.

Thanks, Janet!

I had dinner with Janet last Wednesday at Saigon To Bangkok, a Thai/Vietnamese restaurant that has the hands-down best fried rice I have ever tasted — never greasy and with a fantastic hint of spiciness that raises it from “better than nothing” to “better than anything”. But I digress …

We compared our current reading lists, and I lamented that I have fallen behind this summer. Usually, summers and semester breaks are the times into which I cram as much “just for fun” reading as I can, but due to a little overdue fines issue I have not been able to avail myself of the public library lately. (This, however, is due to change, because I have discovered that the West Branch Public Library accepts canned or nonperishable food items for the food pantry in exchange for fines. It’s 1 food item = $1 in fines, which means I am just 4 jars of salsa, 4 cans of potato cheddar soup and a box of mac&cheese away from having a clean slate.)

Anyway, Janet invited me back to her house to peruse her bookshelves in search of reading material. This is roughly analogous to waving a crack pipe in front of an addict, frankly, but like the junkie I have no shame. I came away with a grocery sack full of books, which I will be writing mini-reviews on as I work my way through the bag. Stay tuned …