Jeff Bezos vs Bernie Sanders: What is Wrong With America

Recently, I discovered that Jeff Bezos's net worth had jumped from $25 billion (the last time I looked, a few months back) to $35 billion. In the same period, my monthly income, and that of many other independent authors in the writers group that I belong to, had declined precipitously, with Amazon having gained control of 80 percent of the e-book market. The entire premise on which I had built my writing career in the last six years, burning many bridges and becoming bankrupt in the process--total independence, fearless writing, being able to reach millions of potential readers worldwide through independent publishing, and by this means to make enough income to survive and continue writing--had collapsed, disastrously.

In this very period (or rather, in the past year, when the slide became precipitous), Bernie Sanders has been inspiring many of us by reminding us of what everyone of any intelligence and integrity knows--that since Ronald Reagan, the top 1 percent of Americans have become immeasurably, obscenely wealthier at the expense of the bottom 99 percent, but especially of the bottom 50 percent of Americans, some of whom, shamefully, live in Third World conditions in the greatest nation on earth. Essentially, tax and economic policies have been an instrument of stealing from the poor to make the rich--the plutocrats--richer still.

Even Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, both wealthier than Bezos (though possibly not for long), but among the more human and compassionate super-wealthy, are aware of this; Warren Buffet famously demanded that his tax rate be increased, because he was not paying his fair share; both Buffet and Gates have pledged half their wealth to charity.

Meanwhile, Amazon seems to be practicing, at its own level, what the Republicans and the Demo-publicans (the Democrats whose policies have become nearly indistinguishable from Republicans, at least in their supporting the program of the plutocracy in becoming even richer at the expense of the poor) have done in the past 35 years at the national level. It has become much more monopolistic, dictatorial, and contemptuous towards its writers—the writers on whose backs it built its empire—whom it now describes as "content providers" (why mince words? what they truly are is wretched literary coolies in a vast factory producing trillions of words for readers who pay just $9.99 a month--much less than that in India--and some of whom just wait for books to become free), and decreased their royalty percentage in many markets unless they published exclusively on Amazon. What's more, the bots would hide the books of those who refused, make them much more difficult to discover on searches. Even many of those who accepted this unfair condition of exclusivity have now realized that their income has dropped sharply as more readers (who don't know that most authors on Kindle Unlimited were conned into a pyramid scheme from which there's no real escape) are addicted to free or cheap books.

What I find preposterous and outrageous about this is that one of the richest men in the world, one who could possibly buy the world's ten poorest countries (in total GDP): he is getting richer by squeezing the last pennies from his poorest authors (the richer authors get special rewards: yes, you get rewards for being "successful"--meaning, rich, but docile and submissive towards Amazon's demands). It is highly absurd to reward bestselling authors with cash rewards just for being bestselling authors, when the system already rewards them: which is why some rich authors pay surrogate companies to get them on the bestseller list (by purchasing a vast number of books on Day 1), which then has a tendency to be self-perpetuating. A truly intelligent, enlightened publisher will reward books for their originality, merit, courageous content, regardless of sales--and would reward authors more when their sales are so low as to equal starvation wages.

But pray, Jeff, if you can find your Inner Bernie, why not just have one royalty rate for everyone, for every book, whether it be 70%, 65%, or 60%, in every market, and do not make it conditional on membership in a special club? Possibly you could reduce it for books under $2.00, but again, for everyone--equality being a basic principle of democracy and human decency? Why should publishing on Amazon require such a huge bag of tricks, that every second week, someone comes out with some elaborate new rule/system which one has to adhere to: why not let each book depend for its sales on its literary and entertainment quality, and nothing else? Would that make you so much poorer?

But it seems that Amazon has learned from India's caste system (which we're still trying to abolish in reality, not just on paper): a privileged upper caste, a middle caste that benefits enough as to keep it with the system; and then the large number of desperate hopefuls, who hang in there hoping to  be promoted to a higher caste. The British divide and conquer system also works very well with writers, who are so weak they will battle each other for a tiny share of the diminishing pie (which can be diminished easily, because Amazon now has so much power, having won against its rivals, destroying many of them.)  But honestly, Jeff, Kindle Unlimited is to the literary world what fracking is to the environment: short-term thinking,

One of the meanest elements (in my opinion--please, Amazon, I have a right to my opinion) in Amazon's policy is that once a title is published on Createspace, even if unpublished a few days later, the Amazon listing will remain online forever, even if the author regrets the title or the book itself as a mistake (and which of us is not human? the more daring and original we are, the more likely we are to make mistakes), and that the book gives a wrong, distorted picture of us. Why should not a self-published title, one just in digital form until a print order comes in, be simply unpublished?

Because, Amazon says, it wants to provide a marketplace, a place where someone can resell your book or a used copy. But what if the author just sold one copy to a friend or family member who will never care about reselling it? Doesn't matter: it is policy! (Wow! I hear echoes of the cops' view of the Eric Garner story: You should have known that it was illegal to sell loose cigarettes. You should have known that as a big black man, we would use overwhelming, possibly life-threatening force simply to arrest you, despite your nonresistance. You were an adult. Sorry, this is our policy! It's the law!). Well, what if just 10 people had bought copies? How much profit might Amazon make from reselling a maximum of 5 of these 10 copies? $30? If so, what is $30 to megabillionaire Bezos when obtained at the cost of an author and creator who has put his life on the line for his art, not one producing a soulless piece of production-line crap? You're going to profit from someone else's pain and misery and depression and forgivable errors?  Do you really need to? Are you that desperate?

Why Bernie Sanders inspires me: he has been fighting for people who were hurting, people who were earning a low minimum wage (my own wages working for Amazon are closer to 20 cents an hour when I count all that the time I have put into my books, their formatting and marketing, and what I have earned), cared for people who were sick and had no health insurance (I don't).

What America needs is more people like Bernie Sanders and fewer people like Jeff Bezos. Will Sundar Pichai of Google and Tim Cook of Apple please wake up and provide a fair and truly competitive alternative to the Amazon near-monopoly--which is a bad thing for books? Absolute power corrupts (and 80% is near absolute), and for healthy competition that benefits writers and literature, no single company ought to have more than a 35 percent share of the market. Google Play, especially: they have irresponsibly abandoned their original promise to authors to provide an efficient, competitive alternative to Amazon. Or will perhaps Bill Gates weigh in with just a fraction of his billions?

And will readers realize how writers are hurting and stop patronizing Kindle Unlimited, which has impoverished hundreds of thousands of writers and devalued words? My books are also on Google Play (which pays fastest): http://bit.ly/CrastaG  . On Apple: http://bit.ly/CrastaApple  On the Nook: bit.ly/CrastaBn and on Kobo: http://bit.ly/CrastaKobo On my website: http://richardcrasta.com/buy-books-direct .

Google Play, I know, can be read on any platform (just download the app); Apple can be read on many, and so can Kindle books; so there's no need to read books just from one company, especially if they are monopolistic, despite the small bribes they may offer you. It may take a bit of effort, but you're preventing a monopolist from crushing an author (and others) who has struggled for free expression all his life--yes, even as a child.

P.S. I am not alone; a more eloquent post: http://in30minutes.com/what-independent-authors-do-kindle-unlimited-predatory-platforms/

( If anyone reading this did indeed buy my books on Amazon in the past month, would you please inform me at rc@richardcrasta.com ?  There's a possibility of missing sales ... that's why. ) 

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