The Internet retailer Amazon remunerates authors per page read. Form the point of view of the Association of German Authors, the firm tracks the reading habits of customers like a Big Brother.
A few days ago, Amazon marked its 20th birthday. Its German employees celebrated in their own manner. On this day, they wore T-shirts printed with “Pro Amazon — With Collective Bargaining Agreement.” Firm founder and boss Jeff Bezos, one of the richest citizens of earth with a fortune of $30 billion, finds the staff protest surprising because he considers himself to be a “fair and responsible employer.”* The other side at assembly lines and in distribution centers sees it differently, and continually decries the aggressive anti-union position of the firm — with 154,000 full and part-time employees — that daily challenges the existence of traditional trade: Amazon has developed into a fighting machine that spares nothing, and much less the latest tax tricks with which extra billions are earned. The Germans are prepared to offer Amazon the second largest market after the USA: Jeff Bezos was honored with the innovation prize of the German economy in 2014. That’s how calves deal with their butcher.
Of Calves and Butchers
Certainly, Bezos is a gifted entrepreneur who has transformed the rules of the game in the digital world into an exceptionally successful business model and is far from finished with it. Twenty years ago, he sold the first books over the Internet; in the meantime, there is no product in this world that he wouldn’t (if no strike gets in the way) deliver to the last Black Forest village, and could also soon have it dropped off by drone if he turns this science fiction gag into reality.
Bezos never gave up the book business, and he brought it into the electronic future with the Kindle reading device. The great advantage is that, networked with its readers, Amazon can look over their shoulders and know exactly when their attention grows or slackens. While traditional books sometimes wandered onto shelves unread, and the book dealer had no idea when they were taken into hand or disposed of as recycled paper, there are now gapless records of pages read, thematic preferences and anything one can hardly imagine.
Out of this, a payment model for authors could be developed. The self-publishers among them are now being paid on the basis of pages read and no longer “lending occurrences.” The Association of German Writers has put it in a nutshell: Amazon is tracking the reading habits of its customers like Big Brother. The association sees in this a “controlling intrusion into the intimate dialogue of the reader with the book and the related relationship to the author connected to it.”
Such an objection is too subtle for bulldozer Bezos. He would also hardly understand the criticism that this model presents a special threat to the writing process of authors, who now primarily have the task of driving readers from one page to the next. The inventor will ask himself: So what? As long as there are enough people who buy such literary nonsense that comes about this way and even read it, Amazon did everything right. In the future, the number of Kindle authors can be added to Amazon employees – naturally, without a decent collective bargaining agreement.
*Editor’s note: The original quotation, accurately translated, could not be verified.