I finally got around to reading George Packer’s article in the New Yorker entitled “Cheap Words: Amazon is good for customers. But is it good for books?” yesterday. Spoiler alert, in case you haven’t read the article: Packer doesn’t answer the question. In fact, he doesn’t even really address the question. Most of the article is taken up with head-shaking reminiscences of Amazon’s ruthless business practices, its treatment of books as “widgets” rather than the lovingly birthed children of the tortured souls of artists, and a few anecdotes about poor working conditions in warehouses (another spoiler: warehouses, by and large, are not fun places to work). Finally, in the concluding paragraphs, Packer gets around to the question at hand:
Several editors, agents, and authors told me that the money for serious fiction and nonfiction has eroded dramatically in recent years…. These are the kinds of book that particularly benefit from the attention of editors and marketers, and that attract gifted people to publishing, despite the pitiful salaries. Without sufficient advances, many writers will not be able to undertake long, difficult, risky projects.When consumers are overwhelmed with choices, some experts argue, they all tend to buy the same well-known thing….
These trends point toward what the literary agent called “the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer.” A few brand names at the top, a mass of unwashed titles down below, the middle hollowed out: the book business in the age of Amazon mirrors the widening inequality of the broader economy….