Mr. Franzen: Don't be a Hypocrite

by Rachel Baker on September 18, 2013

Over at the-local-news.us, there’s an article pointing to a longread essay by Jonathan Franzen (originally posted at The Guardian). In the essay he says:

In my own little corner of the world, which is to say American fiction, Jeff Bezos of Amazon may not be the antichrist, but he surely looks like one of the four horsemen. Amazon wants a world in which books are either self-published or published by Amazon itself, with readers dependent on Amazon reviews in choosing books, and with authors responsible for their own promotion. The work of yakkers and tweeters and braggers, and of people with the money to pay somebody to churn out hundreds of five-star reviews for them, will flourish in that world. But what happens to the people who became writers because yakking and tweeting and bragging felt to them like intolerably shallow forms of social engagement? What happens to the people who want to communicate in depth, individual to individual, in the quiet and permanence of the printed word, and who were shaped by their love of writers who wrote when publication still assured some kind of quality control and literary reputations were more than a matter of self-promotional decibel levels? As fewer and fewer readers are able to find their way, amid all the noise and disappointing books and phony reviews, to the work produced by the new generation of this kind of writer, Amazon is well on its way to making writers into the kind of prospectless workers whom its contractors employ in its warehouses, labouring harder for less and less, with no job security, because the warehouses are situated in places where they’re the only business hiring. And the more of the population that lives like those workers, the greater the downward pressure on book prices and the greater the squeeze on conventional booksellers, because when you’re not making much money you want your entertainment for free, and when your life is hard you want instant gratification (“Overnight free shipping!”).

But so the physical book goes on the endangered-species list, so responsible book reviewers go extinct, so independent bookstores disappear, so literary novelists are conscripted into Jennifer-Weinerish self-promotion, so the Big Six publishers get killed and devoured by Amazon: this looks like an apocalypse only if most of your friends are writers, editors or booksellers. Plus it’s possible that the story isn’t over. Maybe the internet experiment in consumer reviewing will result in such flagrant corruption (already one-third of all online product reviews are said to be bogus) that people will clamour for the return of professional reviewers. Maybe an economically significant number of readers will come to recognise the human and cultural costs of Amazonian hegemony and go back to local bookstores or at least to barnesandnoble.com, which offers the same books and a superior e-reader, and whose owners have progressive politics. Maybe people will get as sick of Twitter as they once got sick of cigarettes. Twitter’s and Facebook’s latest models for making money still seem to me like one part pyramid scheme, one part wishful thinking, and one part repugnant panoptical surveillance.

I thought at first having read the whole essay, “this sounds like it might be interesting.” Then, I did a google search, and the first thing that came up in that search for ‘the kraus project’ is, yup you got it, it Amazon posting for The Kraus Project: Essays by Karl Draus: Jonathan Franzen, Karl Kraus.

Mr Franzen, if you are going to be a critical authority on something and you make statements about a company and the state of authors and readers, then is it not hypocritical to sell your book through that same company and those same authors and readers posting the irresponsible book reviews? How much did you make off your previous books that were sold from Amazon? If I remember correctly, Freedom and The Corrections stayed pretty high on that best books list (which is the hourly changing list of books sold on Amazon). Of course, my memory could be off.

Forgive me for being irresponsible but I’m going to quote Spider Man: With great power comes great responsibility.

You sir, seem to have missed it. Its hard to believe these are your true thoughts when you so easily make money from the same company you impugn. I understand the publisher “makes the decisions” but if what you shared are your real thoughts, then fight to not make them any more money. Stand strong on your principles. You may lose a portion of your audience, but do you really care about those irresponsible reviewers anyway?

Disclaimer: I have a kindle fire – I love it, I buy books from Amazon for it, and…I read some of the free books. I am an Amazon Prime member and I will continue to be.  I will also continue to try to figure out the social ramifications of anyone and everyone publishing books because they have a dream to be an author.  And…I will continue to dislike the ridiculous everyone-can-write-and-publish-a-book trend that’s happening right now with Amazon, and the regurgitation of shallow stories with titles that are remarkably like the titles of best sellers because the author or some irresponsible new publisher thinks maybe readers are stupid and will mistake poorly edited book with no plot line and shallow characters for one that’s actually popular and well-written.

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