Richard Russo Takes on Amazon App in New York Times Op-Ed

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On Monday, the New York Times reported on strong sales in many bookstores in “E-Books, Shmee-Books: Readers Return to the Stores”and ran an op-ed by Richard Russo, who, along with several other bestselling authors, criticized Amazon’s new price check app.

In “Amazon’s Jungle Logic,” Russo, who was alerted to the app by his bookseller daughter, Emily, asked several other well-known authors for their thoughts on the fairness of it all. “I wondered what my writer friends made of all this,” he wrote, “so I dashed off an e-mail to Scott Turow, the president of the Authors Guild, and cc’ed Stephen King, Dennis Lehane, Andre Dubus III, Anita Shreve, Tom Perrotta, and Ann Patchett.”

Though his friends make much of their income via sales on Amazon, Russo noted that no one defended the company’s predatory promotion.

Dennis Lehane called Amazon’s practice “scorched-earth capitalism.” Andre Dubus III was ticked by Amazon’s effort to ask its customers to basically become “Droid-packing” spies. Stephen King has made a mint on Amazon, but still feels they’ve gone “a bridge too far.” Scott Turow disapproved of the giant’s “bare-knuckles approach.” Tom Perotta suggested readers support a “vital, real-life literary culture.”And Ann Patchett, who, as the owner of Nashville’s new Parnassus Books, is perhaps the most invested, offered a tempered response. “If you like seeing the people in your community employed, if you think your city needs a tax base, if you want to buy books from a person who reads, don’t use Amazon,” she said.

For his part, Russo concluded, “The problem with Amazon stems from the fact that though it started out as a bookseller, it isn’t anymore, not really. It sells everything now, and it sells it all aggressively. Maybe Amazon doesn’t care about the larger bookselling universe because it’s simply too big to care. In a way it’s become, like the John Candy character (minus the eager, slobbering benevolence) in Mel Brooks’s movie Spaceballs — half man, half dog and thus its own best friend.”

To bookseller Lacy Simons who recently opened the Hello Hello bookshop down the road from his home on the Maine coast, Russo offered the encouragement to “hang in there.”

And of readers in general he asked, “Is it just me, or does it feel as if the Amazon brass decided to spend the holidays in the Caribbean and left in charge of the company a computer that’s fallen head over heels in love with its own algorithms?”