The Nominalism Of Publishing
Joe Nocera at the NYT has a good column up this morning about the Amazon-Hachette dispute. He concedes that Amazon is behaving like a bully, and recognizes that Amazon has a staggering degree of power over the book business. But:
No matter what you think of Amazon’s tactics, they surely don’t violate any laws. It is acting the way hardheaded companies usually act — inflicting some pain on the party in a dispute to move it toward resolution. On some level, the book industry has never fit comfortably in the contours of big business. But over the years, as one house after another was bought by conglomerates, as they merged with each other, as they tried to increase profits with the kind of regularity that pleases Wall Street, they began the process of commoditizing books.
Jeff Bezos? He’s only taking that process to its logical extreme.
Interesting. Writers don’t think of books as widgets. A core of readers don’t think of books as widgets. But Amazon thinks of books as widgets, and, if Nocera is correct, so do publishers. Perhaps the painful truth, the truth that people like me don’t want to confront, is that as far as the public is concerned, books are widgets. This is what journalists are having to confront about their (our) business. Most of us went into this profession thinking of it as a calling. But it’s just widget-selling, and the widget we sell is information.
The nominalism of publishing. We writers, editors, and publishers, both in journalism and in book-writing, are like the last of the Scholastics.