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For Non-Subscribers: Jacket Copy Brings George Packer's New Yorker Article to Surface

By Harriet Staff


Is Amazon bad for books? George Packer's glimpse into the inner workings of the voracious mega-retailer is featured in the most recent issue of The New Yorker. Want to stay in the loop? The folks at Jacket Copy covered this article and included a few highlights for your perusal. Their write-up is so good, we couldn't help but purchase a hard copy of this week's New Yorker to read Packer's complete article, for ourselves.

Amazon is good for online shoppers, but is it good for books?

That's what George Packer asks in this week's New Yorker, in a long article that looks at the online retailer as disruptor.

Amazon can be difficult to write about -- the company would not confirm to the New Yorker facts as simple as how many employees it has in Seattle or how many Kindles it has sold. Packer, the author of the books "The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America" (2013) and "The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq" (2005) talked to me about what it was like to report his story.

"Compared to Iraq or the recession in rural North Carolina, I thought it would be relatively straightforward," Packer said. It wasn't.

Initially, Amazon was going to give Packer access to report about the company from the inside, then things changed. "It took Amazon a little while to decide they weren't going to cooperate with me," he said.

When he came back from book leave in mid-2013, Packer's New Yorker editors suggested the idea to him. "They originally thought of it as a [Jeff] Bezos piece," he said.

While he was working on the article, Brad Stone's book "The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon" was published -- a book Packer said he found to be excellent. But it made focusing on the company's chief executive redundant.

The article, Packer said, "kept eluding me. What am I writing about here?"

What he came up with, he explained, is "Amazon's relation to the world of culture -- especially books."

Interesting facts in his article: When a buyer searches for a book on Amazon.com, the results are partly determined by the fees paid by publishers; publishers pay Amazon a percentage of the profits they make through the online store each year; those percentages have gone up; although publishers may be squeezed by Amazon, they remain dependent on the company for as much as 30% of their sales, a number that's still growing.

He also wrote about payments Amazon gets from publishers, often in the form of discounts -- information that is rarely shared. "You have to be very high up to know about it," he said.

"Peeling back all the ways Amazon and publishing are entangled," Packer said, "took forever." [...]

Read more at Jacket Copy.

Originally Published: February 17th, 2014