George Packer's excellent piece in the New Yorker, entitled Cheap Words, won't help change my feelings. He investigates Amazon's game plan on books and publishing. Bezos genius was to realize, far before we talked about Big Data, that the power of a business could rely on accumulating data about users. These data could be exploited thereafter to sell them everything. This strategy has remained in place in the last twenty years. What has changed in the past few years is Amazon desire to go from a distribution role to a content producing role.
Packer's investigates how Amazon became the savior of publishing houses on the 90s, offering them higher margins, few returns and an unlimited shopping spaces for their new titles AND their backlist. As the dependency of publishers to Amazon increased, with a large proportion of their sales now done online, the Seattle company extracted more value out of them by asking high promotional fees and rebates on the books. The success of the Kindle and the exponential growth of digital sales allowed Amazon to enforce its controversial pricing strategy ($9.99 for every eBook) that caused so much uproar from the publishers and writers.
The New York article mentions the success and failures of Amazon Publishing. While the company has been able to attract self-published authors by offering them an advantageous business model, it has not know the same success with its professional publishing house. A situation that George Packers describes as likely temporary as the "Earth's most customer-centric company" (the official company mission) is more and more able to exploit data about what the readers enjoy and like to purchase.
Photo below - one of the protagonist in this drama is Russ Grandinetti, the VP in charge of Kindle for Amazon (photo below). He does not escape the criticisms of the publishing establishment, being called arrogant and untrustworthy.