Richard Russo: Amazon puts great young writers in “particular peril”

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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