Forget, for a minute, whether you side with Amazon or Hachette in their headline-generating spat. Instead, ask yourself: Why is this seller-supplier fracas causing so much buzz?
One theory, advanced by Jeremy Greenfield in The Atlantic, is that “the future of ideas” is at stake. The reason? If you envision a bookselling future controlled largely by Amazon, Greenfield fears that the retailer would promote high-margin bestsellers at the expense of important (but low-margin) books of intellectual heft:
"Nonfiction books, like Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, are expensive and risky to produce and rarely sell well, yet many of these books drive intellectual thinking in the U.S. Robert Caro’s latest book on Lyndon Johnson The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson took nearly a decade to write–and that means investment and risk...."As more book sales flowed through Amazon, it would have even more direct control over what people read. The company would have little incentive, for instance, to surface books readers are less likely to buy. If The Hunger Games is all the rage, then the company is best served pushing that title toward its readers at the expense of other books. Or, much more nefariously, it could discourage readers from buying books with a point of view it doesn’t agree with."
I respect Greenfield’s opinion. But to some extent, his outlook (wherein bestseller candy gets most of the retailer-generated attention) is already the reality. Yet it hasn’t stopped Isaacson’s book from getting a metric ton of attention, nor has it stopped a translated book on capitalism from dominating the nation’s high-concept conversation....