One of the greatest monopolies in history was the medieval Catholic Church. Its religious and temporal power was absolute until confronted by an even more potent rival: the printed book. Today, print is once more at the centre of a cultural revolution. Only this time it is not the challenger to a global monopoly but its most successful weapon.
Amazon, founded and controlled by Jeff Bezos, used the humble book to leverage itself into becoming the world’s largest online retailer. It took 20 years for Amazon to emerge as a monopolistic power. Last week, by creating an effective blacklist of authors for use as a bargaining tool against Hachette Book Group, the company showed us how far it would go in its abuse of that power.
The public has only recently become aware of the long shadow war between Amazon and the publishing industry. In February Amazon began quietly “disappearing” certain authors in an attempt to force Hachette into giving larger discounts on its books.
What the public does not know is that the real fight is about kickbacks. How can Amazon make up for the fact that it sells almost all its books at a loss?