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Debate: Amazon Is The Reader’s Friend (video)

Who’s up for another round of Amazon: Foe or Villain?

Everyone’s favorite water-cooler topic was the subject of not one but two debates this past week. In addition to a debate in the last session of the last day of DBW (which I missed due to travel arrangements), that same evening there was also a debate which was streamed live.

I missed it due to traveling but it was recorded and I have embedded the video below (and I linked to a transcript). The debate was hosted by Intelligence Squared and stars Joe Konrath, Scott Turow, Matt Yglesias, and Franklin Foer.


Depending on how closely you follow Amazon news, you might not know two of the 4 panelists, so let me provide some background. We all know who Konrath is; he’s a big voice in self-publishing. And of course Scott Turow is an author, lawyer, and the former President of The Author’s Guild.

Matt Yglesias and Franklin Foer are two journalists who came to my attention this past year when they opined on the Amazon Hachette fight. Yglesias took Amazon’s side in a series of editorials he wrote for, and Foer published an anti-Amazon screed in The New Republic (where he was the editor) calling for antitrust action against the retailer.

Turow and Foer are of course taking the anti-Amazon position, and Konrath and Yglesias are taking the pro.

If you find it a little strange that anyone can take the position that Amazon is _not_ the reader’s friend (given Amazon’s customer service policies) just remember the content of debate doesn’t actually reflect the title, nor does the audience opinion. I can see on the Intelligence Squared website that the anti-Amazon position won the audience poll in a 50%-42% split, with 8% still undecided at the end of the night.

The online poll ran 72% in favor of Amazon, and I am sure that the difference between the audience and online results had nothing to do with the fact that the debate was held in NYC during a publishing conference.

The debate, with intro, runs 97 minutes. Or at least that is what the timeline suggests; I have yet to get the video to stream beyond 12 minutes or so (despite having a fast internet connection). If you know of a way to download the video, please let me know.

Luckily, there is a transcript of the debate (PDF). And just so you know, the first three pages of the transcript aren’t in the video.

The transcript is 59 pages long, but I lost interest on page 13.  Only Yglesias and Turow had spoken by that point, and the arguments presented were so poorly reasoned and rife with factual errors that I did not wish to continue.  (If the later arguments are better, please let me know.)

I know that as a blogger I should write up a summary and critique, but I refuse to waste my Saturday night reading that tripe.

I would be willing to listen to it, yes, as I sit in the dark and try to cope with this pounding headache. (I could log when the debaters inspired me to chug another dose of Nyquil in the hopes of achieving unconsciousness rather than having to continue to listen to the debate.) But I would rather not have to read it.

And that, folks, is my critique.

Update: After publishing this post, I went and read the critiques of the debate on GigaOm and Publishers Lunch. Neither Laura Owens nor Sarah Weinman that much of the debate.

On a related note, I do not know whether the following link will embed properly; let’s see what happens when I press the publish button.

Edit: No, it will not embed, so I will convert the link to a clickable link. Click it and you should get a video in a window.

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Bob W January 17, 2015 um 6:59 pm

I thought the title of the debate was stupid. Of course Amazon is not my friend, no company is my friend. The debating point should have been is the book world better with Amazon rather than without them.

I did watch the debate last night and you’re not missing anything. There were some amusing moments but nothing new. Without any evidence the position was "Amazon is out to destroy traditional publishers and they won’t be happy until they’re out of business. Amazon is a monopoly and they are going to abuse the power and screw the readers." The opposing position was that the tradition publishers are the real villains.

Rebecca Allen January 18, 2015 um 4:12 pm

I only watched the last half hour, when I saw Laura Hazard Owens posting immensely entertaining livetweets. Turow and Foer were making statements of fact that were wildly false that went unrebutted. Konrath was … being Konrath, which I get a huge kick out of but which almost certainly annoys as many people as it amuses. Yglesias was being Yglesias, which if you only know him from book coverage, you probably don’t fully appreciate yet. He’s super, super nerdy and does amazing analysis with great perspective and a sense of humor. Alas! He assumes his audience actually understands the words he uses, which isn’t always the case. So he was talking about counterfactuals and why they shouldn’t be used in a debate … and his side lost. He would have been better off just calling them liars, altho that has some negatives in a debate context as well. There was also a scruffiness factor which I suspect favored the better dressed team (note to self: when my sisters-in-law talk about the importance of a certain style of dress and grooming when they are in court — they are lawyers — they are Not Kidding. Which means a lot of legal cases are getting decided based on who spends more time at Nordstrom). I agree that it probably isn’t worth watching in toto.

Ingo Lembcke January 19, 2015 um 11:47 am

You can try t o download the video with curl on Mac OS X:
curl -O ""

The link in the quotation marks could work alone, forcing the browse to download it or display it in an quicktime/viewer (downloading it then might not work or be offered). Rightclick the link and try to open it.
In Safari for Mac OS X I have "click to flash" installed, which blocks flash and if it is available shows html5 instead, and then allows to download it. Use at your own risk.

Nate Hoffelder January 19, 2015 um 12:13 pm


Ingo Lembcke January 19, 2015 um 11:51 am

And as usual, the webinterface breaks the comment. The link and the curl -O should be one line in the terminal, with no spaces between the opening and closing quotation marks. Just tested, copy&pase does not add space anywhere, but the quotation marks are changed, oh well, if does not work, it was worth a try.

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