Amazon’s war with publishing giant Hachette over e-book pricing has earned it a black eye in the media, with the likes of Philip Roth, James Patterson, and Stephen Colbert demanding that the online mega-store stand down. How did Amazon—which was once seen as the book industry’s savior—end up as Literary Enemy Number One? And how much of this fight is even about money? Keith Gessen reports.
Otis Chandler is a tall, serious, bespectacled man in his mid-30s whose grandfather, also named Otis Chandler, used to own the Los Angeles Times. Chandler grew up in Los Angeles, attended boarding school near Pomona, and then, like his father and grandfather, went to Stanford. Upon graduation he entered the computer field. Because it was the turn of the millennium, that meant working at a start-up: Chandler found a job at Tickle.com, which was an early venture in social networking. At Tickle, Chandler eventually became a project manager, starting a dating site called LoveHappens.com. It did O.K. In 2004, Tickle was acquired by Monster Worldwide, parent company of Monster.com, the huge job-posting site, and about a year and a half later, Chandler left.
He started to think about what he should do with himself. One day, while visiting a bookish friend, he had what he calls an epiphany. “He had one of those bookshelves in his apartment,” Chandler told me when I met him in San Francisco. “You know what I mean, the bookshelf when you walk into someone’s house, the one where they keep all their favorite books. I walked into his living room and started checking out his shelf and just grilling him, like, ‘That looks cool. What’d you think of it? What’d you think of that?’ ” He left his friend’s place with 10 good books. “I was like, if I could go to all my friends’ living rooms and grill them about what books they like, I would never lack for a good book again. But instead of doing that, why don’t I just build a site where everybody puts their shelves in their profiles?”