Jonathan Franzen isn’t sure.
In an article for Guardian Review before the publication of his new book, The Kraus Project, he writes: “In my own little corner of the world, which is to say American fiction, Jeff Bezos of Amazon may not be the antichrist, but he surely looks like one of the four horsemen. Amazon wants a world in which books are either self-published or published by Amazon itself, with readers dependent on Amazon reviews in choosing books, and with authors responsible for their own promotion.”
He goes on to say:
“As fewer and fewer readers are able to find their way, amid all the noise and disappointing books and phony reviews, to the work produced by the new generation of this kind of writer, Amazon is well on its way to making writers into the kind of prospectless workers whom its contractors employ in its warehouses, labouring harder for less and less, with no job security, because the warehouses are situated in places where they’re the only business hiring.”
This is the dystopian vision of Scott Turow and the Author’s Guild, where every move that Amazon makes is greeted as the next step towards the end of literature as we know it. And I just don’t get it. Amazon, and the e-book revolution, have certainly made publication more democratic. It’s now open to anyone, which of course means there will be more junk available. But do these folks really believe that there will be no way for readers to distinguish the good writers from the bad? My novel Senator has a bunch of reviews on Amazon, and the review deemed most helpful by readers also happens to be (in my opinion) the best of the bunch. Read that review, and you’ll get as good a sense of the novel as any newspaper review.
Further, do they really think that, even if Amazon controlled the entire publishing industry, it wouldn’t have an incentive to find and publish great books? And do they really think that Amazon can control the entire publishing industry? Jonathan Franzen is a world-class writer with a large following. If he wanted to bypass Amazon and self-publish on jonathanfranzen.com, he could do it. Or, he could start his own publishing house, giving his imprimatur to the kind of fiction he thinks the world wants; no one is going to stop him, and the barriers to entry are minimal.
I’m also a little baffled by this view that Amazon is destroying the financial prospects of good writers. Writers have no financial prospects! They have never had any financial prospects! If anything, Amazon has opened the doors to a whole class of writers who were shunned by the traditional publishing industry but now at least have a chance at reaching an audience, thanks to the Internet.
Finally, I just want to say that the Red Sox are back in the playoffs thanks to a complete-game victory by John Lackey. And that’s one of those sentences I never thought I’d write.