Fairy tales have caused more upheaval over time than the fanciful name implies: a cud chewed by feminists, psychologists and psychoanalysts for inculcating stereotypes, supporting violence against women by subverting awareness, and a myriad of other accusations. However, fairy tales are undeniably powerful and require translation deeper than language to language or symbolic object to meaning. Whether we are reading Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung or Grimm’s Fairy tales, or watching a Disney movie, fairy tales have anthropological significance.
Little Red Riding Hood is a fairytale I especially loved as a child–the glossed-over version featuring her skipping in a new red cloak and images of the kindly woodsman. I still prefer this version, even though I enjoyed discussing the darker aspects of this story in college (from violent sexuality to cannibalism and the loss of innocence). I’ll still take skipping any day.
“Red” is a fitting opener for continuing our discussion of Amazon and the future of books, because I have heard Amazon jestingly referred to as the “Big Bad Wolf” many times over the last couple of years, and more frequently recently, as the agency price model and the control of ebook sales (which also means control over the larger book market) hang in the balance.
Novelist and screen writer Richard Russo (whose writing I admire greatly) wrote in the New York Times last December that Amazon “may not use its power benignly or in the benefit of literary culture.” Further, Russo quoted author Andre Dubus II (another gifted writer), who pointed out that an Amazon monopoly would further degrade books as a “cultural and human necessity.”
This was in response to a publicity move Amazon pulled last winter, encouraging shoppers to use stores as showrooms for the products they will buy online, through Amazon. However, his comments are still pertinent today, as Amazon continues grabbing for as much control as possible over mass consumption.
Is Amazon the big bad-wolf, luring innocent “Red” from the bookstore into the dark forest with the glimmer of a penny saved? If “Red” follows, and the agency price model dissolves, will the bookstore still be waiting for the flutter of her red cloak, or will the wolf blow the brick and mortar, straw bale and twig stores down? (I know, I’m combining two big bad wolves here, but maybe they are one and the same anyway.)
If Apple, Penguin and Macmillan lose their suit against the Department of Justice (see previous entry), and are proven guilty of conspiring to control ebook prices, they will have committed crimes against the literary community along the same scale of Amazon. However, if the business end of the literary world reverts to the wholesale price model for ebooks (see previous entry), Amazon will easily dominate the ebook, and as a result the book, industry again.
Reading is bigger than one company, or even one company combined with five publishers, could possibly cover. The literary community should consist of as many contributions as possible, because each brings a vision that is wonderful and unique.
My main concern in an Amazon-controlled-book-world, with one corporation in charge of publishing and distributing books, is that reading material will come from one or a mere handful of sources. In terms of literature, publishers do more than print, bind and distribute books; they are editors, sometimes working with an author from the first, freshly-hatched draft. They are sounding-boards and help present the book in a readable way. They are support systems, critics and friends. The more visionaries in this field the better, for authors and readers alike.
I am not saying publishers do, or should, have total control over what is published, I am saying they are an important part of the process; everyone needs a good editor.
Just as there is more to the world of publishing than the physical creation of a book, small and independent bookstores do more than sell them as well. We share relationships with people in ways that Amazon does not.
On one level my job is enjoyable simply because I get to fill a need; someone needs a book so they come to Bloomsbury. But even the simplest needs have deeper meanings, and frequently my exchanges with people go so much beyond the physical act of selecting and purchasing a book.
I share my life with people through the books I recommend, and I like to think that others feel inclined to share pieces of themselves with me as well. We build relationships with a foundation in reading, and unless Amazon is planning to team with Siri (and even if that did happen, an algorithm is only the mimic of human relationships), we need bookstores as a conduit of conversation.
I love humankind, our beautiful and flawed selves, and I am touched by the stories people share in the store. As humans, we all came into existence the same way, and we spend our lives discussing the how and why. Books and reading are part of an almost universal conversation of culture, life, and death, and I feel blessed to be a part of that conversation on an almost daily basis.
I’m also concerned that people, as consumers, are giving our social control to Amazon. Consumerism is not a bad thing (like dark chocolate or red wine, a small amount each day is good for you), creating local jobs and a local tax base that helps support national and international economies.
Money is symbolic of a symbiotic exchange, but in times of financial hardship, the physical aspect of money seems to take on more meaning than the symbolic. We want to save money and still have our needs met, but we are forgetting that our need is only part of the cycle.
I’m not saying that consumers don’t have a right to sales, deals or two-for-one coupons, I am only pointing out that the exchange is an important part of keeping an economy alive. The exchange of money is driven by need, but also want, because the concept of needing something is sent through a social filter that can distort.
Right now, Amazon is a social filter that is blocking us from seeing the real purpose of consuming as a cycle of exchange. Amazon touts low prices, cultivating a “me” mentality, during times when families are already struggling financially and becoming more insular in order to survive.
We are distracted from where our money goes (not into the local economy, local jobs or the community) because we are not focusing on the experience, but on an end goal, namely ‘stuff’ that will help us survive (or distract us from the struggle) and Amazon encourages and takes advantage of that distraction.
In Russo’s article, Ann Patchett, as both and author and independent bookstore owner, said that trying to convince Amazon that bookstores and internet vendors could co-exist peacefully was pointless.
“I don’t think they care,” she said. “I think it’s worthwhile explaining to customers that the lowest price does not always represent the best deal. If you like going to a bookstore it is up to you to support it.”
She explained that local jobs, a community tax base and buying books from a fellow reader are all good reasons to shop at a independent bookstore versus on-line.
Russo continued Patchett’s line of thinking by quoting author Tom Perrotta (whose darkly comic novels are also unbelievably compassionate) as saying, “People have to understand that their short-term decision to save a couple bucks undermines their long-term interest in the community and vital, real-life literary culture.”
That is why I say we are giving up our social control by consuming through Amazon; because we are choosing their filter, despite the long-term effects being negative.
If Amazon is the “Big Bad Wolf” of the literary world, then “Red” (or book buyers) need to be smarter than the Grimm’s brother’s, Chinese folklore, or Disney give her credit for. She needs to be a kick-boxing-champion with ninja-reflexes, toting mace in her basket. We have to be our own woodsman, strew our own breadcrumbs, spin our straw into gold.
For Russo’s fill article in the NYT visit: