American Dream?

Edited by Cecilia Morales 

It’s been 20 years since Jeff Bezos spent the summer packing boxes in his garage, boxes full of books that he sent to his first customers. Even then they had an Amazon sticker on them.

Jeff Bezos certainly isn’t packing boxes these days. He spends a lot more time thinking about how he can make his customers even happier with even cheaper offers, even quicker deliveries and even more sophisticated business models.

The world’s largest online bookseller became the world’s largest online store a long time ago. CDs and films were added soon after the books, then clothing, kitchenware and appliances, and children’s toys, followed by the smartphone business, and the options to self-publish books and to rent the services of a babysitter or perhaps an artisan. AWS (Amazon Web Services) is working very hard to provide computer storage services as well as an e-book flat rate. And don’t forget the drones, which are supposed to deliver packages to customers more quickly and efficiently. The scale of the future-oriented company that always invests its profits in new business models is stretching language to its limits. Mega? Giga? Supra?

Protection of Cultural Treasures

But at what price? The bigger Amazon gets and the more the company expands, the stronger the criticism gets through protests against the working conditions, especially those of the temporary workers in the logistics centers. [Criticism has also taken the form of] discussions about where and how much Amazon pays — or doesn’t pay — in European taxes thanks to certain “sweetheart deals,” such as those with Luxembourg. And then there’s the fight regarding the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and book prices, which has come up repeatedly since the dawn of the digital era.

A good old book. Here in Germany — in contrast to the U.S., China, and for the last few years Switzerland, too — there are legally regulated, fixed book prices. No matter where a book is sold, the same book has to cost the same of amount of money. Behind this regulation stands the belief that a book isn’t just a commodity, but a cultural treasure worth protecting.

But how far should we go to adhere to such regulations today? The digital era is upon us, and with it, flat rates on cultural treasures, too. By now they are standard for music and films. It’s only a matter of time before they exist for books as well. Instead of moaning and groaning, the much larger challenge lies in the development of new concepts to protect cultural treasure that, on one hand, stays up with the times, but on the other hand is market-regulating. Or is that a paradox? Can today’s market be regulated? Don’t we want to [regulate it]?

In any case, negotiations intended to remove state regulations for a TTIP between the U.S. and EU promise nothing good in this regard. And we certainly can’t count on companies like Amazon understanding them because what did Bezos originally plan to name his company? “Relentless.”

Unrelenting. To not allow oneself to budge. To not concede. To not stop in the course of doing something …

What’s left? Everyone’s individual decisions. When all is added up, these decisions can influence many things: They start by ordering a book from the bookseller around the corner, and they stop informing themselves and raising questions as to how they want to live.

No market functions without consumers, no democracy can exist without voters, and no bargain leads to long-term happiness.

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