September 5, 2014
Janet Fitch goes after “Mr. Bezos”
by Kirsten Reach
Forget the Neal Pollacks, the Hugh Howeys. Give me your Fitches, your Prestons, your huddled authors yearning to write free. Janet Fitch, author of the blockbusters White Oleander and Paint it Black, wants Jeff Bezos to know he has power, as well as responsibility.
She decided to pen an open letter titled “Dear Mr. Bezos,” mailed to Bezos in July and available this week on her website, “because I believe we are at a crossroads, and decisions are being made now which will affect our country permanently.”
Fitch isn’t the first to come forward. From Richard Russo to Douglas Preston to James Patterson, hundreds if not thousands of authors have rallied against Amazon since the beginning of the Hachette-Amazon dispute. They continue to play out in public forums, and until we see some resolution with the big publishers, it’s hard to gauge how much they’re affecting consumers. (Yes, Fitch was one of the names in that 900-person Authors United letter last month. She’s also a Hachette author.)
She is eager to point out that young writers are suffering from the dispute, and may not have the opportunity to be published at all:
As a middle-aged woman who has had some luck as a writer, I’d like this profession of author to remain a possibility for young writers in the future — and not become an arena solely for the hobbyist or the well-heeled. What will be lost when working writers no longer can support themselves pursuing their ideas, their art? What will be lost to this country, if these most talented can no longer make a living?
She suggests that a company of this size has an obligation to operate in an ethical way:
The sheer amount of power you have gained in the literary marketplace negates any disingenuous argument that it’s just “business as usual.” With the amount of wealth and power Amazon has accumulated, you’ve also put yourself into a position of responsibility — wanted or unwanted — for the intellectual life of the country. You have seated yourself at that table. I urge you to consciously accept that responsibility, and respond to it by treating the small amount of your business which is represented by literature with fairness and even —understanding how important to the life of our society books are — preferential treatment.
Finally, she says that Amazon is working to silence — “to silence! is what is usually done in totalitarian countries with a political agenda” — authors nationwide. And she closes, “I ask you to please reconsider the effect of your demands upon publishers, authors, readers, and our democratic nation as a whole.”
Dear readers, we hardly have to write anything about Amazon anymore. The professionals are doing it for us.
Kirsten Reach is an editor at Melville House.