What A Deal: $399|To Read A Book

     Pardon me for not getting excited about Amazon.com’s new “reading machine,” the Kindle, on which – for only $399 – you can read books on a 3-½-by-4-½-inch screen.
     Amazon will sell you 92,000 titles to read on the damn thing, more cheaply than the real book costs. The gizmo works off of cell phone networks, has a “next page” button, and runs for 6-½ hours before its battery gives out.
     A recent biography of Albert Einstein that goes for $32 in the stores, and for $19.20 at Amazon.com, costs $9.99 on the gizmo, which is “the top charge for books on the service,” Amazon says. Sony sells a similar device, the Reader, for $299.
     I do not dislike – in fact, loathe – these things, and the companies that make them, because I have a soft spot for books. 
     I hate them because I write books.
     If I get 10% royalties every time someone buys one of my books, why should I get excited about a machine that sells them for $9.99?
     This racket became even more alarming the other day as I scanned the Internet to see if my latest book was in the stores yet, and I saw my first book available online, for free, at two places.
     “Read the complete book ‘Other People’s Blood: U.S. Immigration Prisons in the Reagan Decade’ by becoming a (Deleted) member,” one site said.
     This is a site I know nothing about, that, not content to have stolen my book, charges people money to steal it again.
     Perhaps this site, which I refuse to advertise by naming it, could tell me how its business is different from someone who breaks a window in my house and steals my money.
     You can’t steal my book in the United States by throwing money at the cheap, sneaky bastards who run (Deleted), though. You can only throw money at them overseas.
     But don’t worry. You can read the whole book online at Google. It’s there without my permission, and again, with no word to me about it.
     It cost me 12 years of my life and $20,000 of my own money to write that book. I spent quite a lot of time in prisons, doing it.
     Now tell me, why should I, or any writer, bother to write books when cheap sneaky bastards at Google and (Deleted) can steal them and sell them without giving the authors a penny?
     Why should we write books when the Internet billionaires, who don’t need the money, will make more money from our books than we do?
     What’s in it for the writers?
     How will it help the cause of reading, or literacy, or art, or human life, or simply keeping hard-working writers from putting a bullet through their own head, by charging people $400 – the cost of 16 hardback books – before they can read even one book on this goddamn machine?
     Amazon’s machine works off of cell phone networks, so how long will it be until you have to wade through pop-up advertising to read a book?
     And don’t tell me this is how capitalism works – unless you admit that capitalism works by letting rich, powerful corporations steal the work of artists and sell it, without the artists’ permission, and without paying them a cent.
     That’s feudalism. That’s the droit de seigneur.
     This is worse than sending jobs overseas. When we do that, at least some poor bastard in Bangalore or Myanmar or Shanghai gets 30 cents an hour for making our pants. But when Google or (Deleted) steals my book, or Amazon or Sony sells it online and reduces my royalties by 67% – or pays no royalties at all – who profits?
     I’ll tell you who profits: some rich bastard I will never see, who has no right to my work, and who I would punch in the nose if I got half a chance, which I never will, because they don’t let people like me in his neighborhood.
     Amazon.com, Google, and Sony are harming readers, and harming literature. These corporations prefer dead authors to live ones anyway, since they can sell dead guys’ work and keep all the money. Now these reading machines, and this online book theft, are reducing the incentive for any writer, anywhere, to write a book.
     It’s seldom a reasonable economic gamble to write a book. But creative artists are accustomed to hanging onto life by a thread. Now Amazon, Sony and Google are supplying everyone with scissors.

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