Why is publishing so biased against Amazon? No one likes their own killer

Hugh Howey writes up a sharp piece on the massive bias against Amazon in the reporting of news around the publishing industry. Howey frames his argument in the bigger picture of technology disrupting industry. Tesla is disrupting the legacy car industry. Netflix is disrupting the legacy movie and tv industry. And the list goes on, in all of them we see the same tug of war between old and new.


Two forces tug legacy industries from opposite directions. On the one side, you have customer demand. On the other side you have a mix of fear and laziness. In-between is where corporations and industries find themselves, and they face a choice. Sadly, in most cases, the fear and laziness win out. It’s left to radical new upstarts to provide customers with what they actually want.

via Give Customers What They Want | Hugh Howey.


But I think Howey misses the brutal truth in his analysis.  Amazon isn’t just disrupting publishing, it is butchering it before our eyes. The bookstores still in business like Waterstones in the UK are on their last legs.  Established mid-sized publishers like Quercus and Osprey hit major financial problems this year, making redundancies and selling off imprints in recent months, with many more in extremely difficult circumstances. The entire legacy publishing industry is at risk, because Amazon stole the digital publishing market out from under them and is exploiting this to the full. Why is the publishing industry so biased against Amazon? No one likes the person who is murdering them.


Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Teaches the Rhetoric of Story to over 35,000 students worldwide.

7 thoughts on “Why is publishing so biased against Amazon? No one likes their own killer

  1. I think that you’ve pretty much nailed it there. Whatever people’s conscious motivations, this is clearly bubbling away in the background – Amazon’s success is undermining people’s livelihoods and things that they value. They could deal with this by embracing the changes it represents, but that’s not the first instinctive human reaction, which is to kick back and go defensive. And it’s not the easy response either. But in the long term, I don’t see how traditional publishing businesses can survive without learning lessons from Amazon and the indies.


    1. The hard truth is, a lot of publishing people are going to lose their jobs. The ones without a digital skillset in most cases. And it’s been happening since 2008 at least. Those people have no vested interest in welcoming the change. But, this is the modern working world, and if you choose to work in a creative industry, they move in quicker than most. And yes, Amazon is leading the way, that’s just the reality now.


      1. Quite. Though I do think that the biggest weakness in the cases made by those pushing for change is that they’re seldom sensitive to this negative impact on some people, and so make hard line arguments that put folks from traditional publishing more on the defensive. There’s an intelligent conversation to be had about what both approaches can learn from each other, but it’s mostly drowned out.


      2. This is true, I’m fortunate to be in a good place to make the most of these changes. Were I at a different point in my career I might think very differently. That said, I’ve experienced industry collapse from the inside, and the lesson I took was that it’s *always* better to roll with the changes than to fight them. As individuals we simply can’t control industry level changes.


  2. Yes, the important thing is that nothing should ever change. Once someone has a job in a particular industry, the world should make sure nothing changes that might endanger that job.

    It doesn’t matter if the publishing industry had every opportunity, and advantage to act before Amazon did. They were there first and they should allowed to continue to work the way they always did, until they decide they want to gradually change, or not.

    That’s the way capitalism works!


  3. My father works at Kew Gardens and they are in the process of laying off a number of people: mostly older folks who have been there a while and whose skill sets don’t coincide with the paradigm shift of the organization. But one person’s dead wood is another person’s treasure, if you don’t mind a mixed metaphor. Newer is not necessarily better.



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