So Why Is Paul Krugman Now Defending the Privileges of the 0.1%?

Apparently Paul Krugman has weighed in on Amazon and has concluded that it has "too much power".

I just cannot believe progressives are falling into the trap of defending major publishers against Amazon.  People like Krugman who bash Amazon are effectively setting themselves up as defenders of a small oligarchy of entrenched publishers who have, until recently, done a very good job of making themselves the sole gatekeeper of who gets into print.  Amazon is breaking this age-old system down, in the same way that Uber is challenging taxi cartels and Tesla is challenging traditional auto dealer networks, and giving most everyone access to the book buyer.

The system that Krugman is defending is the system of the 1%.  Or 0.1%.  The current publishing system benefits about 200 major authors who are in the system and whose work has traditionally been spammed by the large publishers to every bookstore and news outlet.  When you walk into an airport book seller, how much diversity of books do you see on the front table?   You just know that you are going to see Sue Grafton's "AA is for Aardvark" and Janet Evanovich's "Fabulous Forty-Six".  The publishers have risk-return marketing incentives to push the 46th Stephanie Plum novel over trying any new author.

So while the traditional publishers flog the 0.1% of authors, Amazon has empowered 20,000 authors.   Those who sell just a few thousand copies (or fewer) of books have found an outlet in Amazon that never existed for them (as disclosure, I am one of those).  And writers who distribute mainly through Amazon get a far higher percentage of their book revenues than they ever would get from the traditional publishers.

So Amazon is helping the consumer (lower prices) and 99.9% of authors (better access and higher profits).  It is perhaps hurting the top 0.1% and a few century-old entrenched corporations.  So what doesn't Krugman like?


  1. Morlock Publishing:

    I hardly find this odd. Liberals are, in theory, for the little guy over the big guy (in this case, the indie Amazon author and the eclectic Amazon reader), but in practice they - like most of us apes - tend to make their decisions based on tribal loyalties. "Publishers" are the respectable blue intellectuals; "Amazon" is a morally suspect for-profit entity that isn't located in the smart areas, has never demonstrated the smart opinions, and threatens to disrupt the clubby atmosphere.

    Note that the Republicans treat the Tea Party in exactly the same way. On paper the Tea Party is right up the Republican alley. In practice, though, they're "the wrong kind of people".

  2. Matthew Slyfield:

    "So what doesn't Krugman like?"

    That he isn't getting a piece of the pie?

  3. Earl Wertheimer:

    It's not only Liberals. Ever since David & Goliath, people have been trained to sympathize with the underdog. It's almost a reflex action. 'Smaller means that they need more protection'. Unfortunately, I have seen too many libertarians also taking this path. They support Palestinians because Israeli is so powerful. Not because they are right or wrong. They support crazy individuals against the government only because they hate big government so much.
    PS: If I ship you a copy of BMOC, would you sign it?
    It's now a collectible ;-) "1 Collectible from $14.95"

  4. Sonar:

    I know at the university where I work, his is the require textbook and
    cost for new is up there , maybe he sees the writing on the wall in that
    Amazon will go after textbook publishers next.

  5. ErikTheRed:

    Well, in fairness, Krugman is always defending the privileges of the 0.1%; he's just not always as blatant about it.

  6. Brad Warbiany:

    Change it slightly:

    "Why is Paul Krugman defending the New York Times over the many bloggers out in the world? The New York Times and other newspapers have done a very good job of making themselves the sole gatekeeper of who reaches readers with news and opinion. Blogs are breaking this age-old system down, in the same way that Amazon is doing so for book publishers."

    Paul Krugman is already a newspaper columnist and already has book deals. OF COURSE he's trying to fight anything that dilutes his position of power!

  7. Sam L.:

    He protects his own. Against the upstarts. often addresses the Amazon/indie publishing question.

  8. Ben:

    Krugman is such a sell out. Blatant tribalism is bad enough but its even less inspiring from someone with a good mind who has abandoned principle.

  9. ECM:

    It's not odd: the Amazon situation is much closer to an actual free market, something the left hates with ever fiber of its corrupt being. They *are* the elitists, and are for top-down control of everything, so why wouldn't they defend the old guard against this uprising? It's what they do. They are the status quo, despite the place they occupy in the popular imagination as being for 'progress'.

  10. Without Gov't, who would...:

    While I agree with your arguments, I thing a big factor in Krugman siding against Amazon is the fact that Bezos owns both Amazon and the NYT rival Washington Post.

  11. annorzimouse:

    "People like Krugman who bash Amazon are effectively setting themselves up as defenders of a small oligarchy of entrenched publishers who have, until recently, done a very good job of making themselves the sole gatekeeper of who gets into print."

    That's because people like Krugman are on the other side of the gate.

  12. Mike Powers:

    Ah-heh. Uber is not some astounding service innovation. It's a lot closer to those free-labor non-profit campgrounds you hate so much (with good reason!)

  13. slocum:

    A lot of the traditional publishers are in New York. Some of the moguls are probably his buddies. Plus, Jeff Bezos had the audacity to buy the Washington Post, and has taken it in some libertarian directions (buying the Volokh Conspiracy blog). So Krug man wanting to take Bezos down a couple notches is no surprise.

  14. bigmaq1980:

    Here is an example of a guy (an already published, founder of Wired magazine - Kevin Kelly) who is all for breaking their hold...

    He self-published a book that couldn't be printed in North America. He also wanted control of how the book was designed (something one gives up a significant portion of to the publishing "experts").

    He helpfully wrote a blog on how to self-publish ebooks for anyone else who would like to DIY it...

  15. bigmaq1980:

    I wonder if any of this has to do with Bezos buying the Washington Post - Krugman writes for the NYTimes.

    We may be seeing the start of some broad (coordinated or not) leftie attack on all things Bezos.

  16. Sue Smith:

    Follow the money. Hint, WW Norton, NYC

  17. Rick Caird:

    I wonder if Krugman thinks he has skin in this game. Amazon does not pay advances and they do not organize book tours. Amazon does not do a lot of advertising. Krugman, being one of the "preferred authors", actually loses if Amazon gains more power and his publisher less.