05 July 2004

In yesterday's Washington Post Book World, the esteemed Jonathan Yardley—who always has something worthwhile to say about a book or its context, even on the rare occasions that he's completely off the mark—reviews YABOA (Yet Another Book On Amazon). As a cynic who is inextricably entangled with the publishing industry, I found this two rather revealing passages (in reverse order):

Ultimately it was a business decision — eclectic sells — yet it ran contrary to just about everything that's taught in business school. It also, by no means incidentally, disproved the conventional business-world wisdom about books: that the publishing business is toast, that books can't survive in a technological marketplace, that only huge, assembly-line pop books can find buyers and readers. Amazon demonstrated beyond a doubt that the book market is remarkably healthy, and that the Internet makes it possible for customers to locate and purchase specialized titles that appeal to limited but highly motivated readerships. Amazon has been an almost unalloyed blessing for small publishers and university presses, which can reach potential customers on the Web in ways that conventional bookselling simply cannot offer. Amazon has plenty of faults, but it is a publisher's and a reader's dream — a market where you can buy any book you want, where you can be informed about books you never knew existed yet are exactly what you want, where your purchases can be delivered speedily at little or no cost.

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[A]s Amazon has progressed from its unlikely origins in that Seattle garage to its present macro-eminence, it has shed much of its eccentricity and taken on the character of just another big business run by MBAs, bean counters and PR operatives. The place that had a few dozen employees when Marcus was hired in 1996 now has thousands, which means bureaucracy and everything attendant to it. Were Marcus of a sentimental or romantic turn of mind, he could have called his book Paradise Lost, though since Amazon never approximated paradise it's just as well he didn't.

"An Insider Tells What He Saw at the On-Line Book Revolution" (04 Jul 04).