Very small, very transitory pleasures

By Emanuel Derman
February 17, 2012

My carefully concealed always positive outlook on life is taking a beating these days, and the only pleasures are (i) attacking inconsistencies in other people’s positions and (ii) defending my own right to the same.

In that respect, the other day I received an email from my publisher, Simon and Schuster, exhorting me urgently to list not only Amazon on my website but Barnes and Noble too:

BN supports your book online and in stores and it’s crucial that they are represented.

Obviously, publishers are getting worried about competition from Amazon, who are now not only distributing other publishers’ book but also  publishing Amazon’s own. They should worry; Amazon is so efficient and publishers are still living in a cramped archaic world. If I ever wrote another book I would certainly consider publishing it through Amazon, which provides quick turnaround.

Nevertheless, Amazon is too powerful. It’s one thing to be a distributor of everyone else’s books; it’s totally another to also simultaneously be a publisher. Those two functions are best separated, via arguments similar to the ones that suggest that producing financial securities should perhaps be separated from market-making. Too much concentrated power over the entire market.

So, I was amenable to Simon and Schuster’s request to treat B&N on an equal footing with Amazon.

But then, I took a look at the page for my book on the B&N website, and there is minimal information there. In contrast, on Amazon, S&S has loaded the site with excerpts from any good reviews. If you want to buy a book, you get much more information (even excluding reader reviews) on Amazon.

I think I won’t do any work on this until they do.

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I wonder if Amazon provides editorial services to authors? (Although S&S didn’t seem to be all THAT supportive to you from what you wrote in this column back in June last year! No, that isn’t fair, I only had a small snapshot based on your one or two blog posts about it.) Unlike Amazon, traditional publishers do more than printing and distribution.

It is never a good idea to have so much consolidation in an industry. We benefit from vertical integration, but only to a certain point.

I found my way here because Amazon now has the RSS feed for all your Reuters posts on your author page. Also, Amazon is using your Wikipedia biography for your author profile. I would keep an eye on that, or consider providing your own. I don’t know how often Amazon uploads and refreshes content from Wikipedia. Nothing implied about Wikipedia, of course, merely an FYI!

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