- Hardback Justice
New Jersey governor Chris Christie made national news when his staff was linked to deliberately producing traffic congestion on the George Washington Bridge. Staff members were purportedly sending a message to some of Christie’s political adversaries who had not been supportive of the Garden State governor’s reelection campaign.
Impeding the free flow of public travel between New Jersey and New York City is one of the lower forms of political revenge. Waiting in snarled traffic for hours burdens not only the governor’s detractors, but also his allies and just about everyone else. The only group that seemed to benefit from this act of retributive justice was the Christie team itself. But even that changed once investigation of the guilty parties commenced.
Acts of retributive justice such as this one are difficult to justify ethically. While the Christie team obviously saw some “justice” in punishing the “wrongdoing” of their political adversaries through manufactured traffic congestion, most people don’t see it see this way, particularly those leaning on their horns stuck in traffic for hours.
What if the manufactured traffic congestion had been virtual rather than actual? What if it were snarled traffic not on a vehicular highway, but rather on a virtual one? What if it were one of the most traveled superhighways in the world?
The founder and CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, made international news when his staff deliberately produced e-commerce delays on Amazon.com. Amazon, which is said to control about 50 percent of all physical and electronic book sales, has been delaying shipments and refusing pre-orders for titles by publishing giant Hachette. Taking a page out of the New Jersey political playbook, Amazon is playing hardball with Hachette Book Group over e-book profits. In short, Amazon wants a bigger cut of Hachette’s e-book profits and is willing to inconvenience Amazon customers and punish Hachette authors in order to leverage a deal that would allow Amazon to retail Hachette books at prices below their competitors.
From Amazon’s perspective, slowing Hachette traffic on the e-commerce superhighway has distributive justice on its side as the public will benefit from the lower prices at which his company can offer their books.
“When we negotiate with suppliers, we are doing so on behalf of customers,” said Amazon. “Negotiating for acceptable terms is an essential business practice that is critical to keeping service and value high for customers in the medium and long term.”
No wrongdoing here, just good old hardback capitalism, says Amazon. “Negotiating with suppliers for equitable terms and making stocking and assortment decisions based on those terms is one of a bookseller’s, or any retailer’s, most important jobs,” responded Amazon to the Hachette dustup. “Suppliers get to decide the terms under which they are willing to sell to a retailer.”
Plus, reports Amazon, Hachette is no mom-and-pop organization, but is rather “part of a $10 billion media conglomerate.” On the publishing side of the conglomeration alone, Hachette includes 5 Spot, Back Bay Books, Bulfinch, Business Plus, Center Street, FaithWords, Forever, Grand Central Publishing, Little, Brown & Company, Mulholland Books, Orbit, Reagan Arthur Books, Springboard Press, Twelve, Vision, Wellness Central, and Yen Press in the United States; and Abacus, Atom, Bounty, Business Plus, Cassell, Franklin Watts, Gaia Books, Godsfield, Gollancz, Hamlyn, Headline, Hodder & Stoughton, Hodder Children’s, John Murray, Little Black Dress, Little, Brown, Orion, Miller’s, Mitchel Beazley, Octopus, Orbit, Orchard, Philip’s Phoenix, Piatkus, Sceptre, Sphere, Spruce, Virago, Wayland, and Weidenfeld & Nicolson in the United Kingdom.
Moreover, in spite of their nearly 50 imprints and monstrous size, Hachette represents only 1.1% of Amazon’s overall sales. In fact, Amazon does “business with more than 70,000 suppliers, including thousands of publishers.” A comparison to Amazon is one of the few perspectives from which corporate publishing juggernaut Hachette can appear small.
Hachette, however, does not think that distributive justice is being served by Amazon’s tactics. For them, Amazon’s actions are no different than the bully tactics of New Jersey’s governor. By deliberately slowing or refusing the purchase of titles by Hachette authors...