What is a book worth?

George Packer writes a New Yorker-quality piece on Amazon’s changing, always-provocative role in book publishing.

It’s long but worth a thorough read and two.

The usual themes are there – that Amazon’s DNA is influenced by its online bookstore origins…that Bezos’s relentless customer focus creates some friends, many enemies and even many-er customers…that its forays in content (from literary magazines to trade publishing to the Kindle device), while ambitious, have seen mixed results. And finally, that the publishing establishment feels about Amazon what an alcoholic feels about a bottle of Johnny Walker black.

Jane Friedman, the former Random House and HarperCollins executive, who now runs a digital publisher called Open Road Integrated Media, told me, “If there wasn’t an Amazon today, there probably wouldn’t be a book business.” The senior editor who met Grandinetti said, “They’re our biggest customer, we want them to succeed. As I recover from being punched in the face by Amazon, I also worry: What if they are a bubble? What if the stock market suddenly says, ‘We want a profit’? You don’t want your father who abuses you physically to lose his job.”

Packer’s argument is that, while Amazon’s role in book publishing has been largely positive for customers (by making it better, faster and cheaper to buy books), it is what might be called a Pyrrhic victory. That Amazon won the book retail battle, but it may lose the publishing war and pull everyone down with it, especially those hard-working authors.

“Amazon has successfully fostered the idea that a book is a thing of minimal value,” Johnson said. “It’s a widget.”

It’s still early, but some new data shows that self-publishing is doing well for readers and authors. You can’t hold back the tides of change: of technology, of transparency, of individual empowerment. However, this sort of debate has been – and will continue to be – around for decades.

As for me? I’ve got a growing backlog of ebooks, blog posts, tweets and Quora threads to get to! :)

A thorough and entertaining piece. Read it here.

Disclaimer: I run Hyperink, an ebook publisher.

Click here to read about the daily habits that I track and why.