It seems every week some aspect of a classic dystopian novel jumps off the page and into the designs of the Technocracy. This week, two congressmen were shining a spotlight on Amazon’s bolder moves into censoring books.
Why does it matter? Because over the last decade, the tech behemoth has gained a de facto monopoly in digital bookselling and reading, thanks to its Kindle eBook ecosystem.
“Big Tech, including Amazon, is engaged in systematic viewpoint-based discrimination. In the unfortunate phenomenon of ‘cancel culture,’ Amazon plays a leading role in silencing and censoring the political speech of conservative Americans.”
Those objections by Reps. Jim Jordan and Ken Buck were part of a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, requesting the company turn over any documents and information related to its alleged censorship activities. Jordan is the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, while Buck is a ranking member of the Subcommittee on Antitrust.
The letter noted that Amazon has been stepping up a pattern of censorship over the past year, targeting books and authors that have conservative viewpoints.
“Innovative” Technology Designed to Monopolize
Amazon’s model of “publishing” has operated much like its system of product selling. On the front end, it developed an ultra-easy platform for consumers to find and compare low-cost products and content, complete with user reviews about quality and satisfaction. On the back end, Amazon created a vendor system that made it easier to sell, with Amazon taking its cut.
But at the same time Amazon was “helping” consumers and vendors, it was gradually offering a wider selection of its products, competing with vendors. The company’s privileged access to its own data gave them a competitive edge in sourcing, pricing, and analytics, allowing them to win a rigged game of “competition.”
Many vendors have been left in an impossible situation. They have to sell on Amazon or at least try since it now commands a huge segment of online buying. But competing with the behemoth that holds all the digital cards means vendors are selling on razor-thin margins, while progressively losing market share to the very competitor they’re forced to support.
The same has increasingly been true for book publishers and authors. Peter Hildick-Smith of the research firm Codex Group has noted that Amazon Publishing operates not so much as a traditional publisher, but as a content creator feeding a subscription machine. Their low-priced and even “free books” that come with subscriptions have put a death squeeze on traditional publishers.
A Free Hand to Censor
Amazon has also forced authors to sell their books exclusively on their platform, to be eligible for Kindle Unlimited revenues. Such moves, and not just technical innovations, have allowed the company to increasingly dominate, via a system where most authors make very little, while the tech giant profits from an ever-growing digital “library” of content.
Janet Freidman, a long-time publishing industry professional who puts out the influential “Hot Sheet” newsletter for authors, says Amazon Prime and Kindle Unlimited now earn close to $6 billion for Amazon.
“It might be wise to think of Amazon Publishing as a Netflix or Spotify. Amazon Prime members look to Kindle First, Prime Reading, and the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library for free ebooks to maximize their subscription value; Kindle Unlimited subscribers who pay a monthly fee for access may rarely venture outside Amazon’s selection.”
Having corned the bookselling market, Amazon has become increasingly free to censor content without worrying about opening a door to competition. Notably, while Jeff Bezos’s net worth literally doubled during the pandemic lockdowns of 2020, Amazon Kindle has refused to publish certain books challenging the efficacy of the COVID lockdowns.
Amazon has also censored its other services. Its cloud storage platform cut off service to the social media platform Parler at a critical moment during post-election allegations of voting fraud in Democrat-controlled urban precincts in a handful of key battleground states.