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David Sable Headshot

Bury the 'Hachette'

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"Buy low, sell high..."

An investment cliché of great fame that has spurred much debate, discussion and derision as well as many spin-offs, such as "Buy high, sell higher" or the famous Will Rogers riff, "To make money, buy some good stock, hold it until it goes up, and then sell it. If it doesn't go up, don't buy it."

And then of course there is the flip side -- the reverse view that is used in derision only -- "Buy high, sell low..."

Now before you knee-jerk me -- I am aware of the high-to-low strategies, the bet against instead of for, but I think you will agree -- the basic plot, the immutable law, the game plan, is sell for more than you pay.

That is until you run up against Amazon economics and the digibabble, which I have written about before, that the investor community surrounds them with.

Simply put, they buy low and sell lower... and I needn't explain that volume only makes the loss bigger. You don't make up this difference in volume... the game being "own" by everyone who buys; know them, lock them up; kill the competition and then raise prices... and if you don't believe they will raise them, you have not been following the story and their actions.

However, that is their right. And given the support they have been getting, why not? One day they might be the only retailer left in the world....

As I said, all power to them for their profit story...

My concern is with their insidious strong-arm behavior -- primarily in the publishing world -- that has enormous implications not just ethically and morally (or more to the point, their lack thereof) or for monopoly practices -- but for the future of real literature, good books, great reads -- the kind we used to wait for and queue up for, and anticipate, and reverently open, and crack the cover, and make our own -- even digitally, mind you.

If you haven't seen the Hachette controversy, get caught up now -- but to cut to the chase because so many publishers have put themselves in Amazon's hands, if they choose to delete or omit a buy button on any given book or for any particular publisher, the consequences are clear -- even Harry Potter would have died before Voldemort.

The issues are complex. Apple bowed out too early it seems to reduce litigation fees. Others can't even imagine getting into the fray given Amazon's deep pockets and its protection against having to actually make money.

To be fair, I am an Amazon supporter. An early, early user. A Kindle type (app, though, not device any longer). A believer that they should raise prices... you get the point.

But, I now put them in the Google category. They scare me. They are no longer operating in the digital world that we all talk about and believe in -- the democratic, customer in charge, user at the center, level playing field, anyone can be successful universe driven by technology...

They have even surpassed digibabble. In fact, nothing about this behavior has anything to do with digital... we are purely in Godfather territory here, "Offers that can't be refused."

A number of years ago I testified in a congressional hearing about Google and media monopolies. At the time I said my fear wasn't the monopoly -- I really believed the system would protect itself, as I do with Amazon -- that people would rebel.

My real fear was one company controlling the algorithm -- because tomorrow they could erase you... or worse, as we are seeing with Amazon.

At the end of the day we cannot allow great writers, great publishers, great books to go away to be replaced by whatever Amazon can buy cheap.

It's up to us -- buy books, buy great books, buy beautiful books, find a local bookstore and browse and buy. No one will think you are old-fashioned. In fact, small, local, neighborhood bookstores are getting fashionable again.

Help prove that customers really control the digital economy, it's a question of our freedom...

Remember... listen:

What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated." Thomas Paine

I struggled with this. Paine is my source of revolutionary fervor. And while my passions occasionally (yeah...) get away from me, I was concerned that even for me I was being melodramatic...

And then I thought about it again and remembered that taxation is what drove him. I have no doubt that he would see this issue as an encroachment on our right to buy and, more importantly, on our right to have access to all, all the time, the basic promise of the WWW.

Actually, some seem to think that Hachette had it coming. Maybe... but my sense is that the small guys will end up in the same soup in the end. Amazon wants to be a publisher too, a purveyor of tastes, a lot of power in one place....

So let Amazon worry about its profits -- or not. I'm worried about what I will be reading next week.

What do you think?