Is Amazon Good for Readers?

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

The best Kindle ads in the world come from India, where a man goes on an epic journey while carrying a Paperwhite...

The best Kindle ads in the world come from India, where a man goes on an epic journey while carrying a Paperwhite in “celebration of the joy of reading.”

A panel at the IDPF this Wednesday asks “Is Amazon good for readers?” Tell us what you think.

By Edward Nawotka, Editor-in-Chief

Is Amazon Good for Readers? No? Yes?

On Wednesday, May 27, as part of the IDPF’s Digital Book program at BookExpo America, I’ll be taking part in a plenary discussion titled “Amazon: Is it Good for Readers?” alongside Andrew Albanese (Publishers Weekly), Boris Kachka (Author), Kristin Nelson (Nelson Literary Agency), with Joe Wikert (Olive Software) serving as moderator. The event takes place at 3:35 in the Special Events hall at the Javits Center.

The title of the panel is self-explanatory, and please note, it won’t address the much-debated question of whether or not Amazon is good for publishers.

It is undeniable that Amazon has been highly controversial when it comes to readers and reading. The company made virtually any book accessible to anyone for a reasonable price — whether in print or digital. This can’t be seen as anything but a plus for readers. Amazon pushed for lower prices and has by and large been able to implement them (much to the chagrin of publishers). They introduced used book sales on the same page as new books. The ushered in the ebook revolution with the introduction of the Kindle.

Well, Amazon is the most prolific publisher of translated fiction in the United States; it has championed the self-published writer; arguably delivering books readers want that were not otherwise provided by traditional publishers; it bought and expanded the usability of Audible, it publishes its own literary magazine, and perhaps of greatest impact to readers, it owns and operates Goodreads. Heck, I can even take detailed notes within my ebooks, make highlights and share them with my social networks — something that is very helpful in my sometimes role as book critic.

As a reader, Amazon would seem to be an undeniable good. But, and there’s always a but, are we merely suffering from Stockholm Syndrome? Does the knowledge that we are trapped (or kidnapped might be more to the liking of some in the publishing community) make us love the captor? Does the fact that Amazon pushes its own KPD titles more aggressively than other books mean our ability to move beyond those titles will eventually be diminished as they become more difficult to “discover?” Does the fact that we can’t resell our ebooks matter? Or that we can’t transfer titles bought from many other services onto our Kindle annoy us? Or what of the fact we are licensing our ebooks (and the software to read them), rather than owning them?

Amazon is at best a benevolent dictatorship. And the question remains, is Amazon good for readers? What I’ve described above might be characterized is describing how Amazon is good for consumers of reading material. As a reader, I see the experience as far more complex than merely point-click-buy-read. I enjoy the process of discovering new books — yes, through social networks like Goodreads, but also through sheer serendipity. I often buy books to cater to a particular feeling or whim, or when I’m being deliberate, out of aspiration — and Amazon doesn’t cater to my feelings other than those of greed and need for (near) instant gratification. So in this regard, Amazon might just be catering to one of my basest instincts: avarice.

Tell us what you think in the comments.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.