ENGELHARD: In praise of Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos saved books as much as Gutenberg saved printing. Photo: Jeff Bezos (AP)

NEW YORK, August 9, 2013 — By now most people know that Jeff Bezos took a giant step into the world of journalism by purchasing the Washington Post, and nobody covers all the ramifications of such a bold move better than my colleague Rick Townley here. Townley offers an overview and an appraisal that, in my view, is right on.

As a writer who was there nearly at the start, I may have something to add, and it is all good, good for Bezos, good for readers and very good for writers. That part, the part about writers, is seldom mentioned when talk gets around to Amazon, the online company that Bezos started back in 1995. A personal observation may be worthwhile, and it amounts to this:

Jeff Bezos saved books as much as Johannes Gutenberg saved printing.

Through Amazon, Bezos started off by selling just that, books. Today he sells everything under the sun, and nobody does it bigger or better.

But on publishing and bookselling, there has been talk that Amazon trampled the competition. That is nonsense. Publishers began losing traction back in the 1980s through faults all their own when the big fish began swallowing the small fish. Today, on Publishers Row in Manhattan, where once there were thousands of different and varied imprints – today there are five.

There are rumors that soon the Big Five will be whittled down further, to the Big Four. If you are a writer, good luck.

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As for bookstores, same thing. The shops-on-the-corner began disappearing before Amazon came along, all through mergers, acquisitions and consolidations.

Amazon came in just in time. Millions of books that were destined to die, got sold. Thousands of writers out in the cold, got published.

I got the call (actually an email) around 1996/97 asking if I would mind having my books (starting with Indecent Proposal) listed and for sale on Amazon. Are you kidding? Of course! But there was nothing so special about me. By the multitudes, writers from all over were invited to participate; their books listed and for sale.

Where has this been all our lives?

In those early years, Amazon introduced its Amazon Shorts program, where writers were urged to submit their short stories. In other words, if you wrote well enough, you were getting published – and what a new world was this for writers who had been teased and trifled by the big-time houses, and whose works were doomed from start to finish.

Now writers had a home. This is a big thing! Writing is tough enough. Getting published can be brutal in a world so uncaring. Hundreds, soon to be thousands, participated. Digitally, this is where I met some first-rate writers, John W. Cassell and Linda Shelnutt to name just two. We exchanged our stories, shared opinions, and a big bad world got friendlier.

A new universe of literature had opened up, and soon readers, actual readers, began buying our short stories and our books, digitally and in print.

All that was unthinkable until Amazon came on the scene.

Following the Shorts program, another new beginning – the Kindle. We know that readers love it, but writers love it even more, for Kindle offers another means to get published. No longer are writers at the mercy of the Big Five, whose doors always seem shut. Now writers can bypass the snobs and go directly to Kindle.

Even big name writers, fed up with the slow and grinding process of mainstream publishing, have turned to Kindle. This includes Pulitzer Prize winning author David Mamet. He went straight to Kindle with his latest, as have many others. This is, after all, the digital age.

Theologian Abraham Heschel provides a near perfect definition of a prophet. A prophet is a person “who knows what time it is.”

Jeff Bezos is no prophet, okay. So what is his secret? He knew what time it was. The 21st Century.


New from Jack Engelhard, the novel: Compulsive

Jack Engelhard, a novelist for such moral dilemma bestsellers as The Bathsheba Deadline, The Girls of Cincinnati, and the classic Indecent Proposal, his memoir Escape From Mount Moriah, and Slot Attendant – A Novel About A Novelist, Engelhard’s partly autobiographical expose about the trials of making it as a writer, brings his words to the Communities page covering all topics, with special focus on the absurdity of human behavior and reaches around the globe.

Read more Jack Engelhard, A Novelist’s View of the World

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Jack Engelhard

Jack Engelhard enjoys international fame as a novelist for such moral dilemma bestsellers as The Bathsheba Deadline, The Girls of Cincinnati, and the classic Indecent Proposal, which was turned into film starring Robert Redford and Demi Moore. His memoir Escape From Mount Moriah has been acclaimed for excellence and a movie version was an official selection at CANNES. Slot Attendant – A Novel About A Novelist is Engelhard’s partly autobiographical expose about the trials of making it as a writer. Engelhard’s journalism covers all topics, with special focus on  the absurdity of human behavior, and reaches around the globe. He can be contacted at www.jackengelhard.com


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