Is Amazon a Monopoly?

Frank Foer proclaims, "Amazon Must Be Stopped. It's too big. It's cannibalizing the economy."

Amazon Boxes

New Republic editor Frank Foer proclaims, “Amazon Must Be Stopped. It’s too big. It’s cannibalizing the economy. It’s time for a radical plan.” His argument is novel but not unpersuasive.  Aside from its initial core business of selling new books, it’s difficult to argue that Amazon has anything like monopoly level of control on, well, anything. But Foer argues that the problem is precisely that it has its hands in everything.

Amazon is the shining representative of a new golden age of monopoly that also includes Google and Walmart. Unlike U.S. Steel, the new behemoths don’t use their barely challenged power to hike up prices. They are, in fact, self-styled servants of the consumer and have ushered in an era of low prices for everything from flat-screen TVs to paper napkins to smart phones.

So, what’s the problem?

In its pursuit of bigness, Amazon has left a trail of destructioncompetitors undercut, suppliers squeezedsome of it necessary, and some of it highly worrisome. And in its confrontation with the publisher Hachette, it has entered a phase of heightened aggression unseen even when it tried to crush Zappos by offering a $5 rebate on all its shoes or when it gave employees phony business cards to avoid paying sales taxes in various states.

In effect, we’ve been thrust back 100 years to a time when the law was not up to the task of protecting the threats to democracy posed by monopoly; a time when the new nature of the corporation demanded a significant revision of government.

But, with the exception of a few years during and after the Progressive era, trustbusting has focused on consumers, not competitors. Why should we care about competitors and suppliers if we get our crap delivered to our doorsteps at a cut rate price in less than 48 hours?

As he built the company, Jeff Bezos carefully studied the example of Walmart, America’s largest retailer. He borrowed his personal style from the parsimonious Sam Walton and also poached from his C-suite. Walmart’s executives aren’t extravagantly compensated; neither are Amazon’s. For a time, they didn’t even receive reimbursements for office parking. Meanwhile, both companies have studiously avoided unionization and treat their workers miserably. In one famous incident, Amazon hired paramedicsto revive heat-sick employees at a Pennsylvania warehouse rather than buy an air-conditioning unit.

Still, the biggest lesson that Bezos drew from the Waltons was in how to handle suppliers. Both Amazon and Walmart promise its customers the same featundercutting their competition on price. But frugality and innovation can only go so far in keeping prices headed southward, especially in the face of the stock market’s impatience. Growing profit margins depend, therefore, on continually getting a better deal from suppliers. At Walmart, this tactic is enshrined in policy. The company has insisted that suppliers of basic consumer goods annually reduce their prices by about 5 percent, according to Charles Fishman’s book, The Walmart Effect.

It’s hard to overstate how badly these price demands injure the possibility for robust competition. But when Amazon engages in the same behavior, it acquires a darker tint. Where Walmart is essentially a large-scale, cut-rate version of the old department store and grocer, Amazon doesn’t confine its ambitions to any existing template. Without the constraints of brick and mortar, it considers nothing too remote from its core business, so it has grown to sell server space to the CIA, produce original televisions shows about bumbling congressmen, and engineer its own line of mobile phones.

So, essentially, Amazon is gaining efficiency—and dutifully passing it on to its customers—at the cost of ratcheting down profits and work conditions across the economy. That actually is a real reason to worry. And, as Foer details in several paragraphs about Amazon’s ruthless treatment of book publishers, the price for getting into the one essential distribution system is steep and its consequences for consumers is unknowable.

So, no matter how large they grow, publishers will continue to strip away costs to satisfy Amazon. And more attention will fall on a strange inefficiency at the heart of the business: the advances that publishing houses pay their writers. This upfront money is the economic pillar on which quality books rest, the great bulwark against dilettantism. Advances make it financially viable for a writer to commit years of work to a project.

But no bank or investor in its right mind would extend that kind of credit to an author, save perhaps Stephen King. Which means that it won’t take much for this anomalous ecosystem to collapse. Amazon might decide that it can only generate enough revenue by further transforming the e-book marketand it might try to drive sales by deflating Salman Rushdie and Jennifer Egan novels to the price of a Diet Coke. Or it can continue to prod the publishing houses to change their models, until they submit. Either way, the culture will suffer the inevitable consequences of monopolyless variety of products and lower quality of the remaining ones. This is depressing enough to ponder when it comes to the fate of lawn mower blades.

Yet, of course, while these costs are largely hidden, the benefits are obvious.

We’ve all been seduced by the deep discounts, the monthly automatic diaper delivery, the free Prime movies, the gift wrapping, the free two-day shipping, the ability to buy shoes or books or pinto beans or a toilet all from the same place. But it has gone beyond seduction, really. We expect these kinds of conveniences now, as if they were birthrights. They’ve become baked into our ideas about how consumers should be treated.

My household does an inordinate amount of shopping at Amazon. Indeed, my first instinct for non-perishables is usually to check their website. While it’s not always the cheapest alternative, it’s reliably competitive in its pricing and the convenience of simply ordering it from my couch and forgetting about it—vice having to drive somewhere and fight the crowds—is immense. Additionally, the ability to comparison shop among numerous brands, check customer ratings, and easily return things I don’t like is a joy.

Interestingly, Foer doesn’t actually offer a plan, radical or otherwise. He notes that FDR “waged all-out war on monopoly. In 1940 alone, his Justice Department brought 92 new cases and filed 3,412 complaints; it went after big-time players like Alcoa, General Motors, and the American Medical Association” and argues that this “implanted antitrust more securely in government, a technocratic tool for managing the health of the economy.” But Amazon isn’t running afoul of the law.

CEPR’s Dean Baker adds a codicil: Amazon has generally not been profitable and, to the extent that it has, it’s been due to the “government subsidy” of not being required to collect state sales taxes.

Amazon has enjoyed an enormous subsidy from taxpayers in most states in most of its existence since it has not been required to collect the same sales tax as its brick and mortar competitors. This is a loophole of enormous value with zero economic or moral rationale. It means that a multibillion dollar business doesn’t have to collect the same tax as a family operated book store. That’s good policy, right?

The justifications put forward by Amazon’s flacks run from absurd to laughable. One popular one is that as a mail order outfit they don’t use local services. That one doesn’t cut it, the tax is on consumers, the retailer is collecting it. Who gives a damn if the store itself uses city services?

If you can’t understand this as a huge subsidy for Amazon, think harder. Suppose we randomly exempted a store from the obligation to pay rent for its building (gift from taxpayers), would that help it compete with other stores? The basic story is that Amazon gets to split the sales tax savings with customers, getting more business that way and more than accounting for the modest profits it has actually booked since it came into existence.

This is actually an outdated critique; Amazon in particular now collects sales taxes on most purchases, including mine, as it has had to build distribution centers in them to satisfy the demand for speedier delivery. It’ll build more as it goes to a same-day delivery model.

Regardless, this isn’t a subsidy so much as a loophole. Catalog vendors have, for more than a century, escaped collecting sales taxes on out-of-state customers because the law only required collection for transactions which physically took place in a state. If I’m on vacation in Nevada and buy something, I pay sales taxes in Nevada rather than my home state of Virginia. Since states and localities have differing tax rates, consumers often shop in nearby states to save money, especially on big ticket items.

Mail order businesses have always had the advantage of most of its customers not physically being in the state, thus making the delta 100%. While I can see the argument that it’s unfair for local vendors who pay a tax to have to compete with others who don’t (that’s the argument against food trucks or the new “sharing” economy) I’ve never understood why it is that, say, Virginia ought to collect sales taxes on a company whose operation is in, say, New Mexico. If anything, removing the Internet sales exemption should simply mean that New Mexico would get to collect and keep that money.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Economics and Business
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Mikey says:

    This upfront money is the economic pillar on which quality books rest, the great bulwark against dilettantism.

    Dunno, Frank…they let YOU publish a book. And this inane piece, too.

    Amazon is not a monopoly. It’s not even remotely close. There are thousands of other online stores, many of which offer better prices than Amazon on various products. For many other products, it’s still–I know this will amaze many–cheaper to go to an actual brick-and-mortar store. And a lot of what’s sold through Amazon isn’t sold by Amazon, but by one of the thousands of small businesses that gain nationwide reach by selling through Amazon’s affiliate program.

    I have no idea what he’s on about. He seems a bit of a twit, actually.

  2. Tillman says:

    I remember going through my Amazon payment confirmation emails this year to add the missing state sales taxes to my state income tax filing. I felt so responsible for covering the extra five bucks.

    @Mikey:

    And a lot of what’s sold through Amazon isn’t sold by Amazon, but by one of the thousands of small businesses that gain nationwide reach by selling through Amazon’s affiliate program.

    Based on all the old books I buy, I thought a lot of their business was this. Anytime they offer “used” on an item, it’s almost always from some affiliate who ships from three states over in a week.

  3. Ron Beasley says:

    I have some eyesight issues and depend on my Kindle(s) for most of my reading – you can increase the font size. For the same reason I no longer drive so Amazon Prime is a bargain when compared to cab fares or even mass transit so I purchase a lot of other things from Amazon. That said the Amazon business model still worries me. The small book store is gone and even my local mega-bookstore, Powell’s, is hurting. I also worry about them strong arming publishers. I have a few friends who are authors and they tell me they make little if any money on books sold at Amazon. Will this eventually result in less books? Probably – a sad thing. As for non book items they are simply following the Walmart business model.

  4. Mu says:

    There’s a funny graphic bouncing around the internet, showing Windows marketshare in the cellphone market vs Amazon’s share of retail. Windows wins. Amazon is a long way from a monopoly.

  5. Mikey says:

    I took a look through my Amazon order history. The first book I bought from Amazon, on October 22, 1997: ATM for Dummies. (That’s Asynchronous Transfer Mode, not Automated Teller Machine…)

    The most recent order, from just last week? Cat food.

    For the last couple years, probably half of what we ordered were items sold by an Amazon affiliate member rather than Amazon itself.

  6. And in its confrontation with the publisher Hachette

    There is a monopoly power issue here, but the problem is Hachette, not Amazon. Publishers are able to charge huge margins on the books they produce because they’re able to act as gatekeepers, limiting the supply of published authors. Part of this strategy is keeping the prices of ebooks nearly as high as the prices of physical books; if ebooks become much cheaper, there’s a risk of alternate distribution channels developing and their power weakening.

    I really want to barf when I see multimillionaires like Stephen Colbert trying to act like this is a fight between the little guy and big corporation when it’s really just a fight between two groups of elites.

  7. James Pearce says:

    @Ron Beasley:

    As for non book items they are simply following the Walmart business model.

    I dunno. Amazon’s business model seems to depart from the Walmart model in a few key areas, the most significant is that Amazon doesn’t maintain a retail store presence, or in many cases, even the inventory. This is no small thing from a business perspective.

    I actually think it’s funny people still think of Amazon as a bookstore, or even a retailer of any kind. I mean, they did start out as a store, but these days they’re no more a “store” than is Ebay.

    Example, I bought a dozen mini-styli for my smartphone from Amazon. They were a buck or two, a good deal I thought. I didn’t read it closely, though, and the order wasn’t prime elligble. A few weeks later, a little envelope from Hong Kong showed up. Amazon didn’t even touch the thing.

    Point being, it’s not just about books. It’s about changing the way business is done.

  8. @Ron Beasley:

    The small book store is gone and even my local mega-bookstore, Powell’s, is hurting.

    There’s two small bookstores near me. Everytime I go there, they never have the book I want. Yeah, they can order it, but what’s the point? It’s the same wait as with amazon.com, only I have to make two car trips I could have avoided.

  9. wr says:

    @Ron Beasley: “I have a few friends who are authors and they tell me they make little if any money on books sold at Amazon.”

    That makes no sense at all. I’ve never heard of a publishing contract that has separate rates for books sold at, say, Powell’s and books sold by Amazon.

  10. michael reynolds says:

    Amazon now has an effective monopoly on books. No question about that. This will kill off a lot of publishers entirely, perhaps all of them. And when Amazon controls the entire business from author to final product, when they have zero competition, why would they continue to discount?

    The end result will be a book market that is of drastically lower overall quality with higher prices. But by then the book business will be of no interest to Amazon – they’re already on to bigger and better things. They’ll have destroyed publishing in the United States and seriously damaged the intellectual life of Americans, and done it all as a loss-leader. They’ll move on to destroying gaming and TV and movies, because their business model does not rest on profit, it rests on annihilating competition.

    You have here a very, very efficient parasite. And we’re too paralyzed by ideology and legalized corruption to do anything about it.

  11. Guarneri says:

    A writer doing us a public service by pointing out that Amazon might not be good for writers. Great. But I digress.

    I don’t know what this characters primary writing interests are, but let’s hope they aren’t business. Just two examples. I have never, ever seen any participant in the ladder of risk capital – bank to VC firm – underwrite an author. Maybe an angel investor or publisher, but not what we consider institutional capital. They don’t issue junk bonds to finance Michael Reynolds new book. Tax collection? Just write the code and charge it. This guy ought to go wash his underwear and do something useful.

    He completely misses the standard issue in an Amazon- type model: that it will drive out competitors and, that accomplished, it will then raise prices. I’m not impressed that the issue is likely, as noted in comments.

    This is the kind of guy who wrings his hands at cars putting buggy whip manufacturers out of business, or PCs the stenography pool. With all the concern over stagnant wages I would think that anything that makes those wages stretch further would be lauded. As a current or former owner in dozens of businesses I’ve looked down the barrel of Wal-mart or Home Depot purchasing agent “shoot offs.” It’s not fun, and I hold no brief for the big boxes etc other than to observe that they bring standards of living up for millions of consumers. But it’s reality.

    Maybe this guy should go do something important, like rail against the Redskins or impugning the nature of cuddly little lions.

  12. @michael reynolds:

    If someone doesn’t stop Amazon, Reynolds is never going to be able to afford that diamond-crusted swimming pool!

  13. michael reynolds says:

    No, you’re missing the point. Actually Amazon does not hurt me, it hurts publishing. It hurts the people who want to be me. In fact my advances have risen steadily despite Amazon.

    Anyone who currently has an audience and a name can self-publish, set a price of say, $4.99 on an e-book and keep $3.50, which is two to three times what I get via the usual route per book. I hope this won’t shock anyone, but I’m a writer of moderately popular YA, I am not a literary giant. No one will be studying my prose 50 years from now, but I have decent market instincts and I’m very prolific.

    The reason we need publishing is to find writers of great value who may take some time to find an audience to support them. Look at it as the R&D of books. If we don’t invest in the R&D of supporting up-and-coming writers, the business stagnates.

    So, no, it doesn’t hurt me in the least. It hurts people who are better writers than I am and leaves only people like me standing. If you want publishing entirely dominated by people like me and don’t mind losing the Updikes, Salingers, DeLillos, Rushdies etc, then Amazon is for you.

    Stephen King is backing Hachette against Amazon; it’s not because Steve doesn’t think he can make a living. Some of us actually care about more than our own narrow self-interest. We call ourselves “Democrats.”

  14. Kari Q says:

    I agree with Michael’s point. If you want to read nothing but high selling, popular books (especially for young adults and women readers) then you probably have nothing to worry about. But if you are interested in other kinds of books, it should trouble you greatly to see a single entity – retailer or publisher – with so much control over the market.

  15. michael reynolds says:

    @Kari Q:
    It’s especially deadly to non-fiction. Without advances you simply don’t get non-fiction. But to an extent fiction subsidizes non-fiction. Strip out the fiction from the major publishers and you kill history, politics, etc.

  16. Mikey says:

    @michael reynolds: @Kari Q: A good friend of mine is an author of three books. The big publishing houses wouldn’t pick him up because his books combine a couple of genres in a novel (no pun intended) way and he was pretty much told they wouldn’t know how to market his stuff so sorry, try somewhere else. Now he’s with a small publisher of niche fiction and if it weren’t for Amazon he’d have nowhere to sell–and the publisher probably wouldn’t exist, either.

    We now live in a world where gatekeepers–not just in books, but all media–are of dwindling importance. I think that’s the larger issue, worth discussing, but I’m not sure it is a trend that will ever reverse.

  17. Guarneri says:

    @michael reynolds:

    The self deprecation is interesting, but I don’t buy it. No, Hemingway you are not, but you have passed through the cruelest mill of all – the marketplace. If there is a market and a product to satisfy it those greedy businessmen don’t pass up opportunities to fill it. You worry that what amounts to the incubation lab for writers will become non- existent. I don’t buy it. Now in what is basically semi- retirement I am affiliated with an industrial setting incubator. I can tell you unequivocally that the big worry isn’t a Goliath competitor per she. It’s the government and all the rules, regs, filings and govt enabled crowding out by BigCo that wants to win by govt fiat, not the marketplace. We can handle the marketplace but you can’t fight city hall. Yes, some of us are concerned about that – we call ourselves Republicans.

  18. michael reynolds says:

    @Guarneri:
    I just explained about non- fiction. Ask anyone with any understanding of publishing. There’s a reason why virtually every writer in America is backing Hachette – we understand the business and you don’t.

    I’m in the UK right now on a book tour that costs my British publisher at least 30 grand. That’s how I ‘succeed in the marketplace.’ Amazon does not do that. If I do well, some of the profit I generate then goes to support the next guy. Without publishers that does not happen, meaning that I handle my own marketing and publicity and do nothing to support other writers.

    It’s the equivalent of getting rid of minor leagues in baseball. Jeter makes money, but there’s no new Jeter. The market narrows, quality drops, and once Amazon has a complete monopoly they raise prices on inferior goods. That’s pretty basic economics.

  19. Just Me says:

    I love my Kindle and have discovered some really good self published authors (although note to authors just because you self publish do not skip the editing-a poorly edited book can really ruin what might be a good story). I also like the fact that the font can be adjusted and I have seen people who have eyesight issues be able to enjoy books that might not be available to them in a large print version (especially teenagers-the ya market doesn’t make a habit of publishing YA in large print).

    I have almost finished my Christmas shopping and I don’t think I’ve purchased any of it from a brick and mortar store and most of it has come from Amazon although a few things have come from other online stores.

    I buy coffee through Amazon along with other things that just aren’t available in my area even if I wanted to shop brick and mortar. Living in a small rural state there aren’t too many places that sell specialty coffee or other things.

    I also do a lot of shopping through their marketplace-it’s easier than eBay and other used websites.

  20. MBunge says:

    On subjects like this, you really shouldn’t argue from personal experience. “Well, I benefit from it so it must be going good.”

    The big picture is what matters here. The Amazon/Walmart business model is fundamentally designed to benefit themselves and consumers by screwing pretty much every other part of the economic chain. They’re less about creating new value, of which everyone can get a cut, and more increasing their share of existing value at the expense of others.

    Mike

  21. anjin-san says:

    The reason we need publishing is to find writers of great value who may take some time to find an audience to support them.

    This is an important point. Just look at the death of A&R in the music industry and then observe the bleak, sterile landscape that is American pop music. Once upon a time men like Berry Gordy and Ahmet Ertegün put considerable effort into discovering, developing, and promoting talent. The results were spectacular – great work, and a fair amount of timeless work, made it to market, and everyone made money. For the most part, everyone came out ahead – consumers, artists, promoters, radio, studios, and labels.

    Certainly there were winners and losers, a comparison of the careers of Smokey Robinson and Florence Ballard is a classic case study. But it was possible to have a healthy market flooded with great, profitable product.

    Now it seems to be strictly about the bottom line. Great records are hard to find even if you put a lot of effort into looking for them, but Simon Cowell is a billionaire, so all is well.

    Interestingly enough, the television industry – largely a creative desert during that age of amazing creativity in music – seems to have figured out how produce superior creative work and make money. Yes, there is still a lot of garbage, but there is a great deal of really excellent programming.

  22. JKB says:

    Someone is confusing monopoly with competition via superior retail experience. Amazon does not control the routes, the raw materials, the outlets, or anything else. The offer a very large, easily accessible retail experience where many find it convenient to shop. Not unlike Walmart does for brick and mortar. They offer savings in time and money.

    Nothing stops suppliers from selling their products through other retailers at the same, lower or higher prices. Nothing requires suppliers to use Amazon (or Walmart) to sell their products except their desire to be in front of the many consumers who are shopping when they make their choice.

    In publishing, Amazon is something of a trust buster. Publishing was controlled by a small group of publishers who controlled who got into the big booksellers as well as the mom and pop stores. Either you went through the publishing cartel or you didn’t get on the shelf. Amazon doesn’t require that and as many lament, even require the use of an editor.

    If you lament the loss of the small bookstore, then don’t buy books via Amazon or the big box bookstores. Otherwise, shut up, as you are not putting you money where your mouth is. Same with other retailers.

    If you fear Amazon will soon kill the competition then raise prices, then you should welcome this as higher prices would incite others to enter the fray using the same retail innovations Amazon has pioneered.

    As for the Hatchette, if you don’t like Amazon’s terms, don’t sell through Amazon. Sell through the other retail portals, online or brick and mortar. If the big name authors supported this then they could attract shoppers to the new venue where they would find the no names.

  23. anjin-san says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I’m a writer of moderately popular YA, I am not a literary giant

    Say it ain’t so Joe…

  24. MBunge says:

    @JKB: Someone is confusing monopoly with competition via superior retail experience.

    Someone doesn’t understand what monopoly means in this economic context.

    Mike

  25. wr says:

    @michael reynolds: “This will kill off a lot of publishers entirely, perhaps all of them”

    This is only partly true — because the publishers are busy trying to kill publishing before it can be done to them. I’ve been published by Penguin, and I’ve been published by one of Amazon’s imprints, and the difference is night and day. Penguin, like the other big publishers, insists on sticking to a 19th century business model, where it takes a year and a half to get a book into stores, and two years before they’ll actually cut a check. Everything moves as if ol’ Stumpy is still down in the press room setting type. And while I loved my editor, it was clear that the publisher thought of me as an inconvenience.

    As a publisher, though, Amazon was a dream. Penguin’s royalty statements go on for pages and are deliberately indecipherable; Amazon allows me to see my up-to-date sales and royalties at anytime. Penguin’s contract was dozens of pages of legalistic obfuscation; Amazon sent a two-page contract for 12 books — and when my lawyer objected to a couple of minor things, changed them immediately. And Amazon paid a much higher royalty.

    And Amazon actually pays a fair royalty for e-books, while the major publishers keep trying to pay the same rate as on their paper books, pretending that the costs are the same on both.

    There are definitely downsides to Amazon. But it’s not black and white. There’s a lot the major publishers could learn from them — if they chose to.

  26. @James Pearce:

    the most significant is that Amazon doesn’t maintain a retail store presence, or in many cases, even the inventory.

    At the end of their 2013 fiscal year, Amazon had $7,411,000,000 in inventory assets and had spent $1,410,000,000 cash on inventory that same year.
    Amazon 10-K

  27. wr says:

    @anjin-san: “Just look at the death of A&R in the music industry and then observe the bleak, sterile landscape that is American pop music.”

    I think you’re confusing the bleak, sterile landscape that is radio with the vibrant scene of American pop music. The problem is that there is no gatekeeper to bring selected bands to prominence, so you have to work to find the good stuff. But if you’re willing to put in the time, it’s amazing what’s out there. If you go to Spotify, for instance, and choose a band you know you like, it will give you a dozen or more suggestions or similar or related acts.

    But you’re right, there’s no big music business to market these people. That doesn’t mean they’re not out there.

  28. James Joyner says:

    @michael reynolds: @wr: @JKB:

    A dozen years back, I spent about 18 months as an acquisitions editor at a middle-to-small publishing house specializing in non-fiction. Even then, it was a perilous business.

    The problem is that publishers absorb all the up-front costs–scouting for talent, paying advances, paying editors, paying for the warehouse and whatnot, paying for paper, printing, and distribution; etc. The retailers, whether Amazon or Barnes & Noble or Bob & Erma’s Artisinal Booke Shoppe, then sold the books and paid us a percentage on the ones the sold. Eventually. The ones that didn’t sell? They sent back to us without paying us a penny; I think even the return shipping was out of our hide.

    Most books, then, are disasters from a profit standpoint. A handful of bestsellers support the whole house.

    Amazon has the power to take those terms and make them even more onerous. They pay a smaller percentage on the winners, still pay nothing for the losers, and take forever to actually pay for the winners. And there’s nothing the publishers can do about it because, without Amazon, they’ll never have a bestseller.

  29. jib says:

    @anjin-san: ????

    I agree with wr, I think you are confusing corporate radio, which has been killed by Clear Channel and co. with the music scene. Music has never been better. One example, KEXP does podcast called Song of the Day. They keep all the old podcasts online. Gigabits of songs, from all kinds of acts. Probably have never heard of most of the people but I promise you will find much you like. Once you find someone you like, go to Spotify or Pandora and find more of their music. Then you can go to Amazon and buy their music. Go to their websites and find out their tour schedule and go see them live.

    All without the crap you had to put up with the big label A&R. The new model is a 1000 true fans based economy. It is different and does not work for everyone but it sure the hell beats spending days going through import bins at record stores hoping you might find something from that band you heard on some late night radio show.

  30. CSK says:

    Funny, but I just received in the mail my Authors Guild Bulletin, plus a copy of the Model Trade Book Contract and Commentary.

    The lead article in the bulletin is entitled “Slaying the Dragon: Authors Join the Fight as Amazon-Hachette Battle Rages On.”

  31. anjin-san says:

    @wr: & jib

    I spend a lot of hours looking for good music, and I find a reasonable amount, both by newer acts – The Civil Wars (sadly broken up), Ollabelle, Saint Etienne & Kris Delmhorst are a few off the top of my head. There are also veterans such as Cowboy Junkies and Rickie Lee Jones that continue to produce excellent, if little noticed work. But the good stuff exists almost entirely in the margins, and much of the really good work is being done in other countries. I have mixes of French pop music that blow people away. It’s fantastic stuff, and they have not heard any of it.

    There are things in life I am confused about, but music is not one of them. I don’t want to pat myself on the back too hard, but I talk to record company presidents and some of the best musicians in the world on a fairly regular basis. I have a huge collection of music, much of which I’ve found perusing the internet late at night. allmusic.com, Jazz Times, All About Jazz, Pitchfork, Pop Matters, Steve Hoffman Music Forums, and audiophile sites such as Stereophile’s, & sixmoons.com are all great places to find good music.

    I’ve had the good fortune to spend my life in the SF Bay Area, and I have been a dedicated concert goer and nightclubber for 40 years now, so yea, I also know about that. I was at some of the seminal shows in rock history. Again, there are a lot of people I grew up with that can say the same thing, we were lucky to be in the right place at the right time.

    Pandora and Spotify, are not part of the answer, they are fu++king artists – hard. Check out some of the writing Elliot Randall has done on that subject. I don’t want to support their business models. Amazon is working hard to push consumers into mp3 – a garbage format. Yuck.

    This about what “pop music” implies. It’s the music that is at the center of our cultural consciousness. For a long, long time, going back perhaps to when Louis Armstrong started to work with Fletcher Henderson, there was real brilliance at the core of popular music, not out on the marches. I would say that era probably ended when MTV came upon the scene.

    Music has never been better

    I’m sorry, but this is nonsense. It was absolutely better in the 20s – 70s. Are you seriously going to look at what is being done now and tell me this is a better time for music than when The Beatles, The Stones, Motown, Stax/Volt, Atlantic, Muscle Shoals, and The Wrecking Crew were driving popular music? When Ahmet Ertegun, Jerry Wexler, and Tom Dowd, three geniuses, were in the control booth recording Aretha Franklin? Name a record that’s been made in this century that is more essential than Getz/Gilberto or Kind of Blue.

  32. anjin-san says:

    @jib:

    it sure the hell beats spending days going through import bins at record stores

    Personally, I loved going through record bins looking for goodies. We would hang out at Village Music in Mill Valley or hit Tower Records in SF. Record shopping on Telegraph in Berkeley was great fun, I still love hanging out on Telegraph. The only thing I know of today that compares is Bleeker St. Records, but that is 3000 miles away. The internet is efficient, and requires much less effort, but something has absolutely been lost on the way.

    Better back in the day

  33. Mikey says:

    @anjin-san:

    Personally, I loved going through record bins looking for goodies.

    You know what that is, today? Bandcamp.com. Head over there and marvel at what you can find. And then buy it directly from the people who created it.

  34. wr says:

    @anjin-san: “Name a record that’s been made in this century that is more essential than Getz/Gilberto or Kind of Blue.”

    To you?

    To someone who is at the age you were when you first heard Kind of Blue?

    I’m pretty sure I’m never going to hear a new album that’s more essential than Blood on the Tracks or Veedon Fleece or In Your Mind or Wish You Were Here or Hounds of Love.

    But that’s because I’m no longer at the age where a song can change my life.

    To fail to understand that is to be Abe Simpson yelling at clouds.

  35. wr says:

    @anjin-san: I still remember hearing Born to Run for the first time on the radio at the comic book store where I worked on Telegraph and literally running up to Tower Records to buy the album that had just come out that day…

  36. anjin-san says:

    @wr:

    To someone who is at the age you were when you first heard Kind of Blue?

    The first time I heard Kind of Blue I was 40. Discovering jazz in midlife allowed music to be revelatory for me all over again.

    “Essential” is more than hearing a great record at an impressionable time in life. Music that is truly great exists outside of time and context, it will always be fresh and vital. Listen to “Time Out” – nearly 60 years after it was recorded, it is still edgy and sophisticated.

    Oh, I traveled far
    The nearest star
    And Mount Palomar, Palomar, Palomar, Palomar
    And we don’t care just who d’you know who d’you know
    And who you really are, really are…

  37. wr says:

    @anjin-san: I try listening to Kind of Blue every couple of years to see if admiration will turn to passion. Hasn’t happened yet. But then I only started to like Led Zepplin a couple of years ago… Maybe I’ll get into jazz when I’m sixty… or eighty.

  38. anjin-san says:

    @wr:

    Born to Run

    Saw Springsteen do almost the whole album live at the Paramount, that show fried some of my transistors.

    You probably crossed paths with my brother and his buddies on Telegraph at some point, they spent damn near every weekend there in the mid 70s. One of those guys has one of the largest vinyl collections in the country now.

    Personal footnote to BTR, the iconic cover photo was shot on my 16th birthday, learned that factoid just a few weeks ago. You might like this. I’ve talked to the author a few times, a pretty cool guy.

  39. anjin-san says:
  40. just me says:

    Music is entirely opinion based and I have no problems finding good music. I don’t mind hunting for it and most of what I like wouldn’t have gotten radio play under the old model and the new model gives them more outlets (I’ve found a lot through YouTube and the genius on iTunes occasionally).

  41. anjin-san says:
  42. Mikey says:

    @wr: My “essential album” is Metallica’s Ride the Lightning. Creeping Death still gets my blood pumping 30 years later.

  43. JKB says:

    @MBunge: Someone doesn’t understand what monopoly means in this economic context.

    the exclusive possession or control of the supply or trade in a commodity or service:

    Amazon has market power, but they do not in anyway have exclusive possession or control of the trade in books or anything else. Online or anywhere else.

  44. michael reynolds says:

    Let me make clear, I’ve got nothing against e-books, on the contrary I was an early believer and an early-adopter. And I have nothing against what Amazon could be. I have a problem with what Amazon is: a company incapable of turning a profit that is obliterating publishing in an effort to reach profitability via monopoly. They’re predators. If they were businessmen they’d be running a profit rather than causing destruction to prop up a wholly underserved stock price.

  45. wr says:

    @anjin-san: I was there at the Paramount. The Born to Run tour, right?

    Man I loved that place. Saw Bob Marley there… and Roxy Music.

  46. wr says:

    @Mikey: Metallica is one of those bands I can respect but don’t respond to — keep thinking I’ll hear the magic one of these days, though.

  47. wr says:

    @michael reynolds: “a company incapable of turning a profit that is obliterating publishing in an effort to reach profitability via monopoly. ”

    I’ve got to say I work with a lot of people who write literary fiction — colleagues and students — and they keep getting published by rising new companies I’ve never heard of. Tin House now seems almost as old as Putnam…

    The fact is that the big publishers have been running away from midlist fiction for a long time now. As they consolidate they take on the blockbuster mentality of the movie studios, and become less interested in those first and second novels. But there seems to be a huge growth of new imprints to fill the void — which is maybe a better system, anyway.

    Publishing isn’t being obliterated. It’s fracturing and it’s changing, and like all purveyors of “entertainment” it faces increased competition. But while Amazon hurts publishers in some ways, it helps in others — these smaller presses now have a national or global distribution network in a way they wouldn’t have before.

    Amazon is far from all good, but it’s just as far from all evil.

  48. Tillman says:

    @anjin-san:

    “Essential” is more than hearing a great record at an impressionable time in life. Music that is truly great exists outside of time and context, it will always be fresh and vital.

    Yeah, that’s why you cited bands from within the last century instead of Beethoven or Bach. 🙂

    I heard a similar schtick from my father six months ago about how my generation just doesn’t have any good music. Nothing groundbreaking, nothing seminal. I just put on some Trombone Shorty in response.

  49. michael reynolds says:

    @wr:

    I don’t think Amazon is pure evil. I have Amazon Prime.

    But you’re kidding yourself if you think Amazon won’t move on to crushing the littles after they’ve crushed the bigs. Right now they are helpful to start-up publishers, but what’s to stop them changing the terms once Simon and Harper and Random are out of business? What happens if the littles threaten to get big? You’re describing a world where the only way to publish is as a slave to Amazon.

  50. anjin-san says:

    @Tillman:

    Yeah, that’s why you cited bands from within the last century instead of Beethoven or Bach.

    I appreciated, but was never was floored by classical music until I saw it preformed live by a top symphony, then it blew my doors off. I was 51 at the time. Certainly classical has a lot of essential music, that’s why its still played all over the world every day centuries after the fact.

    Where did I say that generations after mine have not produced any good music? I think I made a point of saying that I do find good music by current acts. The current musical landscape, IMO, simply cannot match up to what I grew up on, especially when you look at the mainstream. I was lucky enough to grow up in a golden age. That does not mean there is nothing of value going on now. Here are a few semi-current things I like a lot:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-iuFJ5P9ung

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2lyZQB1H_Zw

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fNlxKH9Jtmc

  51. EddieInCA says:

    A fascinating discussion.

    Since the Hachette debacle, I’ve not purchased one item from Amazon. I’ve gone to bestbuy.com for my electronics, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Golfsmith, and Academy’s online sites for my athletic gear, REI for some outdoor stuff for the house, Lowes and Home Depot for the home repair stuff. I’m not missing Amazon at all. In fact, my wife and I just picked up two recliners from overstock.com just last week.

    For me, it’s the principle. Amazon is cannibalizing entire industries. And still they make no money. They’re either going to burn through all their capital, or they’re going to create monopolies in several areas of commerce. The only question is which one will come first. They’ll need the monopolies in order to make money by raising prices. Otherwise, the business model doesn’t work.

  52. anjin-san says:

    @wr:

    Oh shit, Roxy music at the Paramount. Somehow I never saw them, despite wearing out a lot of their albums.

    I saw Springsteen at the Paramount in ’76, if I have my Bruce lore down, that was the “lawsuit tour” which is part of a group of tours known as the Born to Run Tours. ’75 was the core Born to Run tour though.

    That was my first theater show, a very memorable evening that changed my expectation for live music forever. Arena shows never did it for me after that.

    Great theater, in recent years I have seen some memorable Tori Amos shows there.

    BTW, I have an excellent remastered copy of the ’78 Winterland show, if you want a copy, let me know. Best show I ever saw.

  53. Tony W says:

    @michael reynolds:

    You’re describing a world where the only way to publish is as a slave to Amazon.

    It’s a story as old as time. Just as the publishers overplayed their hands to create Amazon’s opportunity, Taxi companies are falling to Uber & Lyft. When an industry becomes greedy and dense and unresponsive to its stakeholders it is ripe for disruption and that’s what is happening today in publishing. Amazon themselves may overplay their own hand one day – as you say the stock price is tenuous and margins are razor thin.

    Change is painful. I have become used to the incredible disruption in my own industry, but it never gets comfortable.

  54. HarvardLaw92 says:

    I honestly do not patronize Amazon, just as I do not patronize Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Barnes & Noble, et al ad infinitum, unless I have absolutely no other viable alternative.

    Do I hate corporations? No

    Do I hate profit? Nope

    Do I think that the world, and specifically my little corner of it, is better served by thriving local economies? Without a doubt

    Finally, do I think that the wonder of walking into a local shop where the owner not only knows my name, but also knows what I like, how I like it and considers me to be a friend (and vice-versa) is just this side of miraculous? A thousand times yes.

    Companies like Amazon and Wal-Mart do not promote those things; they destroy them. Because I value those things, I don’t do business with them if I can avoid it. Wouldn’t it be great if everybody felt that way.

  55. MBunge says:

    @JKB: Amazon has market power, but they do not in anyway have exclusive possession or control of the trade in books or anything else. Online or anywhere else.

    If that’s your understanding of the term, when has there ever been a monopoly in the history of the modern economy?

    Mike

  56. MBunge says:

    @Tony W: disruption in my own industry, but it never gets comfortable.

    And not all change is for the best. Passively accepting change without any thought is a pretty sure way to get more bad than good.

    Mike

  57. Mikey says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Finally, do I think that the wonder of walking into a local shop where the owner not only knows my name, but also knows what I like, how I like it and considers me to be a friend (and vice-versa) is just this side of miraculous? A thousand times yes.

    That’s a preference enabled by the privilege of relative wealth.

    Companies like Amazon and Wal-Mart do not promote those things; they destroy them. Because I value those things, I don’t do business with them if I can avoid it. Wouldn’t it be great if everybody felt that way.

    Wouldn’t it be great if everyone could afford to.

  58. Tony W says:

    @MBunge: Agreed, however I know the difference between my circle of influence and my circle of interest.

  59. Mikey says:

    @MBunge:

    when has there ever been a monopoly in the history of the modern economy?

    The Bell Telephone System was effectively a vertically-integrated monopoly until the 1982 consent decree that separated long-distance service and created the RBOCs.

  60. michael reynolds says:

    Change can quite often be for the worse, and what we are getting now is not more consumer choice but less. Amazon, Apple and Google are not just killing competitors, they’re killing off our range of choice as consumers.

    The iPhone 6 which I now own is an example. My 5 died just before I had to go out of the country so I grabbed a 6. It is awkward, hard to use and something Steve Jobs would not have tolerated: ugly. Yes, I could go to Samsung but I am bound up in the Apple universe so doing so would waste enormous amounts of my time. I have now passed peak iPhone and have an inferior product at greater cost.

    Amazon now litters my page with ads that reduce the efficiency of the Amazon experience. Google Maps are now less useful because of the corruption of advertising. My tech experience has grown worse in the last year, not better, as these companies grow fat and lazy and indifferent to consumers.

    I don’t have a solution, I’m just noting that these companies are now regressing and degrading rather than enhancing my life.

  61. wr says:

    @michael reynolds: Sorry, Michael, but that’s just crazy talk. Obviously you have a choice when it comes to your cell phone — you say it yourself. And it’s not just Apple or Samsung — there’s a universe of Android phones out there. But you have made the choice that the things you don’t like about the new iPhone are outweighed by your desire to stay in the Apple universe.

    Consumer choice doesn’t mean you’re going to like every product a certain company puts out. It means if you don’t like that product you can buy a different one.

  62. ernieyeball says:

    @Mikey:..The Bell Telephone System was effectively a vertically-integrated monopoly until the 1982 consent decree that separated long-distance service and created the RBOCs.

    -effectively is a key word here-

    There were more than 1,400 local phone companies in 1984 that were never part of the Bell System. Many still exist today, primarily in rural areas. Typical independents are family-owned businesses or subscriber-owned coop- eratives that serve one or more small communities.
    The independent telephone industry originated in 1893, when Alexander Graham Bell’s original patents expired. In the early years of this industry, customers of independent telephone companies could only call other customers served by the same company.
    GTE, before its merger with Bell Atlantic, was the largest independent phone company in the United States, owning numerous independent local telephone properties in rural and urban areas from Hawaii and California to Virginia.
    This distinction between “former Bell System” and “independent” meant that Bell Atlantic and GTE had historically been regulated very differently. For example, GTE was already providing long-distance (interLATA) services to customers at the time the merger with Bell Atlantic was announced.

    http://www.verizon.com/about/sites/default/files/Verizon_Corporate_History.pdf
    It should also be noted that the lawsuit initiated to break up the Bell System was brought by the Justice Department of the Ford administration in 1973. Apparently Trust Busting was the Republican thing to do at the time.
    As I recall there was a lot of public opinion against the move due to a “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality.

  63. Rob Siders says:

    Author Barry Eisler, who rejected a two-book deal and a $500,000 advance to self-publish, has a stunning takedown of the Foer piece. Among the highlights:

    I try to subscribe to the notion that we should never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity. But really, is it possible to write a 3000-word article—with references to articles that themselves claim Amazon is a monopoly—and genuinely believe “the term monopoly doesn’t get tossed around much these days”? I’d like to believe that Foer is just ignorant, and that the correct explanation is #1. But… wow. That’s pretty damn ignorant.

    And:

    We’ve all been seduced by the deep discounts, the monthly automatic diaper delivery, the free Prime movies, the gift wrapping, the free two-day shipping, the ability to buy shoes or books or pinto beans or a toilet all from the same place. But it has gone beyond seduction, really. We expect these kinds of conveniences now, as if they were birthrights.

    Um, okay, I guess, but couldn’t you can say the same about antibiotics and flush toilets and ice cream straight from the freezer? Why isn’t Foer up in arms that people just expect they can drive to the supermarket for fresh milk, damn it, rather than having to get up in the cold and dark at 4:00 a.m. to milk their own cow?

    I could leave that as a rhetorical question, but it isn’t really. There’s an answer. Which is: people like Foer are afraid of change.

    Read the rest here: http://barryeisler.blogspot.com/2014/10/franklin-foer-keep-publishing-exactly.html

    Disclosure: Eisler is one of my clients.

  64. Tony W says:

    @Rob Siders: Agreed. Nobody likes their cheese to be moved.

  65. JKB says:

    @MBunge: If that’s your understanding of the term…

    Well, that is the dictionary definition of the term. Look it up sometime.

    Perhaps, you could elaborate on your understanding of the term since that understanding seems to be different that the accepted definition of the word.

  66. JKB says:

    @Rob Siders:

    Eisler’s essay is very good. He recommends and I found to be more interesting an essay by Clay Shirky on the topic. Shirky gets right to the point of the horror of Amazon

    If Amazon gets its way, saying, “I published a book” will generate no more cultural capital than saying “I spoke into a microphone.”

    To criticize Amazon, the publishers and their defenders must simultaneously insist that literature is essential for society, and that a sudden increase in its availability would be a catastrophe.

  67. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    @anjin-san: While I agree with you about the 20s-70s and music, I have to admit that your comment has a kind of “get off my lawn, you hoodlum kids!” tone to it.

  68. R.Dave says:

    @michael reynolds

    The concern you’re expressing is much the same as the concern I hear from people in the magazine and newspaper publishing industries even as the explosion of blogs, forums, and aggregators has resulted in greater access to and amplification of elite thinkers and previously-marginalized voices alike. Yes, those things are indeed killing the magazine and newspaper industries as we know them, but we are all better for the trade. For example, what do you think the chances are that I – simply an interested layperson with respect to international affairs – would have ever even heard of Professor Joyner, let alone enjoyed routine access to his analysis of events, had we still been in an era when his musings could only be found in four or five articles published each year and a handful of books published over the course of his career?

    I see a similar pattern emerging for book publishing. Yes, the industry, as it has existed for the last century or so, is dying. But with the costs of hard-copy publishing and mass-distribution (courtesy, in part, of Amazon) dropping to the point where small publishing houses can again emerge and even limited-run self-publishing is economically feasible, and with the costs of e-publishing and distribution nearing zero, I see no reason to think that the brilliant writers of the future will have any difficulty in producing their works and finding an audience for them.

  69. anjin-san says:

    @JKB:

    Well, that is the dictionary definition of the term. Look it up sometime.

    This is coming from the guy who has invented his own definition for “socialist” because the real one does not fit into his ideology.