An open letter to Jeff Bezos, CEO Amazon
Congratulations on your recent purchase of Goodreads. You already owned the world's biggest marketplace for ebooks, and let’s give you credit for having the vision to make the Kindle happen. Now you own the biggest community of readers in the world, and those 16 million super-readers, and their influence over the reading habits of hundreds of millions of other people, only cost you a measley $150M. And let's not forget Audible, the only significant audiobook producer in the world. And Shelfari. And the rest. You own it all Jeff.
We're going through the most significant change in publishing since the printing press. We're digitising all the old analogue forms that the written word was once stored and distributed in. Because of e-readers, smartphones and tablets most people now do their reading on digital devices. Bricks and mortar retailers are either bust or heading that way. You could buy up the major publishers but really, what's the point? They will go bust sooner rather than later anyway, then you can buy their backlists cheap, or just go directly to the authors. The old infrastructure of publishing is dying, and you own the new infrastructure lock, stock and barrel.
None of that is up for debate. So what I'm really writing for is to ask a question. Now that you own publishing, what are you going to do with it?
I'm not so naive that I don't already know the answer. You own an industry that used to be diversified over dozens of major businesses and thousands of smaller ones. And it's a growth industry. People want more books than ever. We're a society hungry for information. Ebook sales are going through the roof. So what you're going to do with the digital publishing infrastructure is MAKE A HUGE FUCKING SHITLOAD OF MONEY…BEZOS HAZ ALL DA MONEYZ…as they say on the internet.
But come on Jeff, really? Huge personal fortunes from private ownership of social infrastructure is just *so* 20th Century. It's not like you can go all Andrew Carnegie on us and start building libraries to assuage your immense sense of guilt…well you could but it would be the very *height* of irony as you're primarily responsible for destroying them. Seriously, is there no other game plan than just grabbing all the money for Jeff? You know that feeling at the end of a game of Monopoly, when you're stuffing the $500 notes in to your mouth screaming 'JEFF WINS JEFF WINS JEFF WINS' but the children are crying and your wife is looking at you like Diane Keaton confronting Michael Corleone in The Godfather? Well that's how its going to be Jeff. Serious now.
Let me sell you another vision. And this is a sales pitch Jeff, except I want nothing except the chance to save your immortal soul from your own overwhelming greed.
You, Jeff Bezos, self-made billionaire and CEO of technology giant Amazon, have the chance to seal the deal on your reputation as one of the truly great figures in history. I'm not talking piffling ticks on the hide of humanity like Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar. Fuck Caesar, Jeff. Fuck him to hell and back. I'm talking Gandhi here. I'm talking Buddha. I'm talking fucking Jesus, Jeff. That's the scale of opportunity we're talking about here Mr Bezos. Millennia from now mothers will name their children after you. Entire schools of philosophy will be dedicated to acclaiming your greatness. People will stop in the streets and pray to your name eight times daily. This is the Messiah shot Jeff, and you're the only man in the game who can make it.*
Set the information free.
That's it Jeff. That's all you have to do. Just let it go free. Like a bird from a cage. The whole infrastructure is there and you, Jeff Bezos, hold the key. Just give it away. All the books ever written. And all the books that ever will be written. And all the reviews and essays and critical commentaries that will ever be written about them. The entire ecosystem of human knowledge, all in one digital archive, free for any member of the human race to access at any time and from any place. That's not destroying libraries. It's not even building new ones. It's making the ultimate library. The library humankind has been working towards for its entire history. And you could be the man to finally make it happen. And with it usher in a new shining age of human development that will make the Enlightenment look like an episode of Deadwood.
And if you don't?
We're facing a new digital Dark Age. One where every bit of human knowledge is owned and locked down in DRM protected silos and only released when its corporate owners are paid. One where the profit motive governs every human transaction, where knowledge is power and power is money and knowledge only goes to those who can pay and we spiral in to a cycle of human ignorance that drags us back down in to the intellectual squalor of the dark ages. And right now Jeff you're right up there as one of the four horseman bringing the apocalypse on, you and Larry Page, Eric Schmidt and Tim Cook and the host of money grubbing corporate non-entities you're empowering to lock down every fragment of human knowledge. That's the future Jeff, and if anyone even remembers your name for bringing it down on us, they'll spit after they say it, like a curse.
Or you can prove yourself at least partially human, and do something worthwhile with all that power.
*When I say "the only", be aware this is a time limited offer. Because power is fleeting, and how we use it determines what happens to us once it is gone.