Amazon buys Goodreads. Is this simple Kindlergy™ or is it an Orwellian nightmare? Will all roads lead to Rome, and all links to Amazon? Is an innocent social network for the literary minded being data-mined for sinister purposes, or is this the next logical step for a scrappy Internet start-up?
To mull this over, I went to the KFC where the Borders used to be, and ordered the Variety Bucket. The whole thing was troubling to me. We’re so much more circumspect with politics and journalism than we are with business. Rupert Murdoch needs to get a waiver before he can monopolize the media in any region. Fox analysts have to quit once they announce they’re running for president so there’s no overlap between our leaders and their propagandists. Why is no such care taken with the companies that sell us…everything?
The day after reading the news I tried to figure out the ramifications. Ezra Klein thinks Amazon just wants to add a social feature to Kindle. Currently the device functions as a mere replacement for books, analogous to the way the synthesizer was to be a replacement for the horn section. No one had a problem with the sound of a trumpet, so synths only worked when they developed blurps and bleeps of their own. Likewise, no one really hated books, so an electronic book needs something to augment it, and maybe Goodreads is part of the answer. Personally, I’m planning on getting rich by selling Kindleweights™ and Kindlethickeners™ for people who don’t like the reader’s heft.
I debated the possible motivations at a Taco Bell that used to be my local record store. Books are spread by word of mouth. No wait, that sounds wrong. It’s not like people are chewing up wood pulp and regurgitating them for their friends. If that were the case, e-readers would probably have caught on faster. Knowledge of books is passed by word of mouth, AKA texts of fingers, or clicks of buttons. For mainstream books, enough hype can make a best seller, perhaps a movie deal. For more obscure offerings, it’s all about marketing to the “long tail,” that small group of select buyers who might want your product. If either kind of stream can be controlled by Amazon, what can compete? As the delivery service promotes the products through the recommendation sites, all recommendations become suspect, as the snake eats its long tail.
Just thinking about snakes eating tails made me stop by the exotic food restaurant—where the electronics store used to be—on the way home for some fried snake. I still hadn’t wrapped my head around Amazon’s purchase, and I’d gained seven pounds.
The next morning I continued my research at the doughnut shop that used to be a hardware store. Ezra Klein had revised his column to say “The Kindle is an awesome product, and it’s only going to get better! If I ever said anything bad about it, I was wrong, and what’s more, I never said it.” Media critics are hailing the company’s growing control of the information stream as “a streamlining of knowledge,” “efficient and exciting” and “eliminating the middleman in the word-of-mouth game. “ The word “amazing” is now defined as “like Amazon” by Merriam-Webster. I guess it’s too late to ask questions; we should just welcome our new masters.
So I did. Through a series of journalistic coups, I connected further and further up the corporate ladder until I was Skyping with Hippolyta, the chieftess of the Amazons, those bare-breasted warrior women of Sarmatia, who fought so valiantly in countless wars before they turned their attention to online commerce.
“Congratulations, Hippolyta! You guys seem to have taken over the world!”
“Well, not entirely, but we’re getting there!”
“I’ve noticed that the only thing you don’t control is fast food.”
“Oh, we’re working on that. We’re investing in biotech, working on an organic plasma that can supply the body with all the nutrients it needs, bypassing the digestive process entirely. Dieters will demand it, we’ll have it surgically implanted into people’s throats, and then we’ll control people’s diet via PayPal. Thanks for your interest in Amazon!”
So I resigned myself to a world dominated by Amazon. I guess our only hope is the plasma vampires who will inevitably crop up, driven by poverty to devour other people’s plasma. Save us, plasma vampires!