Blog post by Clay Shirky
Last month, the American Booksellers Association published an open letter to the Justice Department, asking Justice to investigate Wal-Mart, Target, and Amazon after they lowered prices of best-selling books to under $10. The threat, the ABA says, is dire: “If left unchecked, these predatory pricing policies will devastate not only the book industry, but our collective ability to maintain a society where the widest range of ideas are always made available to the public, and will allow the few remaining mega booksellers to raise prices to consumers unchecked.”
Got that? Lower prices will lead to higher prices, and cheap books threaten to reduce the range of ideas in circulation. And don’t just take the ABA’s word for it. They also quote John Grisham’s agent and the owner of a book store, who both agree that cheap books are a horrible no-good very bad thing. So bad, in fact, that the Department of Justice must get involved, to shield the public from the scourge of affordable reading. (Just for the record, the ABA is also foursquare against ebooks being sold more cheaply than paper books, and thinks maybe Justice should look into that too.)
There may have been some Golden Age of Lobbying, where this kind of hysteria would have had led to public alarm. By now, though, the form is so debauched there’s probably a Word macro for describing competition as a Looming Threat To The Republic. (or The Children, or Civilization Itself. Depends on your audience.)
It’s not surprising that the ABA would write stuff like this — it’s their job to make self-interested claims. What is surprising is that there are members of the urban cognoscenti who still believe these arguments, arguments that made some sense twenty years ago, but have long since stopped doing so.
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