& First we feared the lengthening tentacles of Canadian newspaper baron Conrad Black. Then Rupert Murdoch started acquiring newspapers and we were concerned. All the while, little Jeff Bezos, ensconced in his ground-gobbling Amazon fortress on the shores of Seattle’s Lake Union, was quietly building what has become the foundation for the greatest control of information the world has ever seen.
We could call it the Information Monopoly. Bezos is pretty much set up now to control who gets to publish a book, what it’s about, when and where it gets released and for how much. Independent booksellers are now pretty much set up to look for other employment. [UPdate 6/1/2014: Bezos as monopolist — http://bit.ly/1oXEgk2]
Now, we learn that he is the new owner of the Washington Post. He says he’s not sure what he will do with it, but Bezos is famed for collecting things, like bookselling industries, and controlling them. What’s to say that he doesn’t want to collect newspapers and control its industry?
Sure, he could be a benevolent monopolist who never uses his power or position to decide who gets to publish a news story; in other words, who gets to speak, on what, and when, and where. But isn’t the fact that “he buckled under pressure from Washington and scrubbed Wikileaks from [Amazon’s] Web servers” a little bit scary? I wonder: What could happen if he scarfs up the remaining few still-powerful bastions of independent journalism? What happens, then, if the government doesn’t want something published from the files of a whistleblower like Ed Snowden?
And let’s not forget what Hamilton Nolan has wondered about in Gawker: “Amazon recently landed a $600 million contract to build an entire cloud computing system for the CIA. The company is reportedly staffing up on engineers with top secret clearance. Does Jeff Bezos have top secret clearance? That would be something that the Washington Post might want to think about…” The CIA is famed for getting, and keeping, people in its pocket — who better to have in your pocket than the spook-watchers at the Washington Post?
In his letter telling stunned Post employees they have a new boss, Bezos, promises “courage to … follow the story, no matter the cost.” That’s a nice thought. But what if the cost is say, $600 million? That’s a substantial sum, even way up there in the Bezos financial stratosphere.
There’s lots and lots to think about. The mind reels. The Amazon of Bezos now flows through a ever-darkening information jungle filled with creepy crawlies.
“Monopolies are always problematic in a free society, and they are more so when we are dealing with the dissemination of ideas, which is what book publishing is about,” says former Berkeley bookseller Andy Ross, quoted in this article in The Nation.
“Amazon simply has too much power in the marketplace,” says Ross. No duh.
And now Bezos, already sitting atop the idea-disseminating industry of bookselling, has become is the newest member of a newspaper publisher’s club, made up of a declining number of individuals who sit atop the second pillar of the idea-disseminating industry. And isn’t it interesting that Bezos is starting his new collection with the dominant daily in the town where we make all the laws aimed at controlling things like, well…monopolies?
& Still believing that it’s nice to have a freedom to speak, but only as long as you have a place to speak, I’m outta here.
Update 8/6: Dylan Byers on Politico — “Twenty-four hours after The Washington Post announced it would be sold to Jeff Bezos, the negative reviews are starting to file in.”