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Burton: The elephant in the living room on Bezos deal

Published August 17, 2013 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Why, oh, why are the journalists who've covered the purchase of The Washington Post ignoring the proverbial elephant in the living room: Jeff Bezos himself and the likely long-range consequences of his conduct?

I own an independent bookstore in Salt Lake City — have for 36 years — and Bezos' predatory behavior in the book industry coupled with the Department of Justice attack on publishers and Apple on Amazon's behalf read like some old-time tale of the dark side of politics. Especially now that Bezos, whom the DOJ has dramatically enabled, is discounting books at levels never before encountered in our industry — levels far under the wholesale price of books.

That story, a familiar American anthem of monopoly building, coupled with the purchase of The Washington Post, makes Bezos truly frightening. That's where the real story lies. Surely someone can see the writing on the wall — the deadliness of the combination of a monopoly in the book world and control of the media and thereby politics: a first step toward which Bezos has just taken.

As a bookseller I have, like all of us in the book industry, bookstores and publishers alike, watched Amazon use books as loss leaders for everything else they sell, destroying our industry in the process. It's a painful thing to witness if you value books and don't think any one entity should ever control their production, their distribution their sale.

The fact that Amazon doesn't have to pay sales tax — something all brick-and-mortar businesses, independents and chains alike, must do here — makes competition with them difficult to say the least (and also hard on the local economy, to put it mildly). More painful to witness is the attack on our industry in the courts even while many of the banks and corporations responsible for so much wrongdoing go free.

It's all happening under the aegis of Eric Holder's Department of Justice. And, it's of note that Holder's former DOJ colleague, Jamie Gorelick, now serves on the Amazon board.

Apparently our president, too, supports Amazon. Why else would he have chosen the venue of an Amazon warehouse for his recent press conference?

I really thought he supported small business and the middle class. Instead he puts his clout behind Amazon's unbridled attempts to create a monopoly not just in the book business but in retail overall, enabled by investors with their eyes on the prize of total market domination who don't even expect profits, indeed are fine with continued quarterly and annual losses.

This is an economic model that, long term, will lead to economic (not to mention social) disaster for our country and for every one of our communities. Amazon pays wages that rival Walmart's in their inadequacy while small business provides economic and social sustenance for every community of which they're a member, and for the nation as a whole.

In little old Utah, locally owned independent businesses return four times as much to the local economy as do chains. Go to the website http://www.localfirst.org and read the studies you'll find there. As if this weren't telling enough, Internet retail returns next to nothing. Talk about a recipe for national bankruptcy!

You'll find statistics like these, facts like these, in state after state across the country from Texas to Maine to Obama's home state of Illinois.

The economy isn't just about multinational corporations. Collectively, we (small businesses) count for far more in terms of dollars, not to mention all the benefits provided by a web of community. And books are about more than mere money. So is the media. Both are about the control of ideas.

There's the real story — a story that almost everyone to date has missed, especially the media!

Betsy Burton owns The King's English Bookshop in Salt Lake City.