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Summary:

Amazon is a “predator,” Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Russo said at paidContent 2012 this afternoon, and he believes that young undiscovered writers are at particular risk.

Richard Russo paidContent 2012

Richard Russo paidContent 2012Amazon is a “predator,” Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Russo said at paidContent 2012 this afternoon, and he believes that young undiscovered writers are at particular risk.

Russo’s daughter Emily, an independent bookseller at Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn, “will find your next favorite author. You would not believe some of the young, incredibly brilliant authors in the pipeline,” Russo said. “Emily will recommend them to you if you go to her store.” But you’re “not going to find out about [them] as a result of Amazon algorithms.” [Note: While Russo didn't elaborate, I don't think he's suggesting here that Amazon's algorithm is purposely covering up these authors; rather, he's suggesting that an algorithm can't replace an actual person who is knowledgeable about books and can make individual recommendations.]

Our staff writer and legal reporter Jeff John Roberts asked Russo what the solution is, since we can’t turn back time. Should the publishing industry turn to lawsuits as the music industry did when facing digital transition? No, says Russo, referring to the DOJ price-fixing lawsuit against publishers and Apple: “Right now the government seems to have Amazon’s back.” Instead, he said, authors, publishers, agents and readers “should just put the pressure on.” Referring to sales taxes, he said, “Amazon has been doing things that are incredibly predatory for a long time, but when enough people call them on it, they tend to back off.”

It probably goes without saying that longtime Knopf author Russo wouldn’t go the self-published route. “The thought of publishing a book that Gary Fisketjon has not edited,” he said, “literally chills my blood.”

Check out the rest of our coverage of paidContent 2012. Full archived video on livestream (registration required).

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  1. This had to be the silliest, least-credible talk I’ve heard in a long time. First, he’s exactly wrong. Young authors have a better chance of being published, discovered and read then they’ve ever had. Why, there are authors who have sold 1 million books – without a publisher – on Amazon! http://bit.ly/s3wyug I’m not even sure why Richard ws a speaker (curious if someone from PaidContent would answer that question). I’m sorry his daughter’s independent bookstore is challenged by the 21st century – but his 20-minute erroneous rant was embarrassing and a waste of the audiences’ time.

    1. Thanks for weighing in, Dan. We’re trying to include all perspectives on the evolving e-book market — Richard Russo, as an established author and member of the Authors Guild, is in a good position to contribute to the discussion (that doesn’t mean, of course, that he’s correct or even informed — that’s for the audience to decide).

    2. Going to have to agree with Richard. Amazon is a big force in destroying the professions of authors. There’s no vetting process in self publishing. I can hold down K for 100k words and publish it. The more crap you force a reader to wade through, the more you drown out the talented ones. Look at what’s happening to the music industry.

      1. gabrielgadfly Deb Thursday, May 24, 2012

        I don’t think most discerning readers are wading through much crap, because word of mouth is still the single greatest way people find new books they want to read. People don’t tend to recommend crappy books.

      2. Yes, let’s look at the music industry. It was nearly killed by the record/production companies in the 90s who thought all we wanted to hear was “lowest common denominator” crap. Yet I can now hear new music from artists directly from their sites, or from a variety of ways that never touch one of the big music companies. And the same will hold true for books. I have read some great Amazon Singles from authors I’d never heard of. And just how many pulishers even thought there was a market for short form books? Pretty much none. Yet Amazon brought short stories back into the discussion. Their authors are making money and the reading public is rediscovering a great form of book.

        I just don’t have a lot of sympathy for the authors in the Authors Guild because they tend to be major published authors who benefited greatly under the old monolithic system. Yep…that same system that foists $27.95 books on the reading public. If you strip out all the inefficiencies in the system, authors can make a really, really good living, the public gets more books (nearly $30 for a book takes a pretty decent amount out of hte pocket of the 99%) and content advances or not based on how good it is, not on how well a publisher promotes it or how big the advance was.

  2. Why is the age of a writer relevant to the issue raised in the story? Plenty of new authors are not young.

  3. john holdcroft Thursday, May 24, 2012

    very convenient for Russo, already published and likely quite wealthy because of his excellent writing, to dismiss Amazon as a channel for others. He doesn’t need them to still be successful. For some authors, it is the only channel to sell their work. I dont disagree with some of his larger points, but a little perspective needs to be given.

  4. John F. Harnish Thursday, May 24, 2012

    As an author previously published by mainstream houses, and currently publishing ebooks under my long established imprint, I disagree with Mr. Russo’s observations. I shamelessly embrace the benefits provided for authors utilizing Amazon’s Direct Publishing program. As famous bank robber John might have said, “Because that’s where the money is.” With all things considered, fame is over-rated— I want the money!!!

    The number of “young” authors in the pipeline is limited by the size of the pipe. The pipeline leads to a dwindling number of brick-n-mortar bookstores with sluggish sales. The flourishing Indy bookstores, however, are stocking niche books and printed editions with potential to become part of a collector’s library. Indy stores are becoming more of a gathering site for book events. Indy booksellers offer a social and content diversity not found in the chains of mass market booksellers. Indy stores have put out the welcome mat for all authors—regardless of how or whom they’ve been published.

    Please explain the benefit to “evolving” authors when their book isn’t part of the appropriate results of an Amazon search algorithm. I’ve been doing all I can do to make my ebooks easier for search engines to find!!!

    Enjoy often… John

  5. tabulator32 Friday, May 25, 2012

    I’m at a loss. I’m not taking sides on this issue just yet because I don’t understand exactly how Amazon is covering up the upcoming authors. The article mentioned Amazon’s algorithms and provided no detail as to what they are doing or why its bad. Please provide some detail or proof of what you are reporting. I just don’t get it.

    1. Laura Hazard Owen tabulator32 Friday, May 25, 2012

      Hey Tabulator, Russo didn’t explain this in the panel either but I think he means that Amazon’s recommendation algorithm can’t replace an actual person who is knowledgeable about books and new authors.

      1. Thanks for the response, Laura. That is one possibility. I would prefer if journalists and reporters would provide more fact and less speculation and opinion. I could speculate for hours on what was meant but I’d rather know what the writer actually intended.

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