The Rise of Amazon and Regional Inequality

Today I wrote a review of Fulfillment for the Washington Independent Review of Books. It’s a meticulously reported story about how Amazon grew to behemoth proportions, taking advantage of the concentrations of wealth within specific American regions over the last two decades.

I’ll leave the review to the review and will instead wonder here what it means for a book like this to be published in an age where it will depend on Amazon for its distribution and success.

When I was writing this review, I went back into my Amazon history to find the first book I’d ordered from the service, which was back in 2000. It was a small press book written by my friend, true crime author and memoirist John Gilmore. I ordered from of Amazon because it was not readily available at the book stores I frequented at the time in Albuquerque.

It was a big change for me to order a book that way. In those days, if a book I wanted wasn’t in stock, I asked the store to order it for me and would generally receive it within a week, unless the book were rare or part of a a very small press run, which would take longer. Well, Amazon ended that relationship with book shops for me.

Years later I would go to Amazon, not a book shop, to pre-order Hapworth 16, the legendary JD Salinger story that was set to be published by a boutique press. I waited and waited but ther book never emerged, Salinger had canceled its publication.

Funny thing, though, the story had been available online at The New Yorker‘s archives and that’s how I eventually read it. I do wish I had the nice, promised edition, but I did get the story.

Back when I was learning to shop the Amazon way, I was concerned about the Barnes & Noble behemoth smothering small book shops with character and community ties out of business. Now, we worry about Barnes & Noble’s surival.

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