Monopolies and Other Amazonian Strategies

I don’t know enough about the Amazon/Hachette dustup to express a meaningful opinion—not that such a lack stops others—but I keep remembering reading Wealth of Nations years ago and being struck by Adam Smith’s theory that monopolies are the goal of every participant of any competitive market. (Or something like that.) It shocked me at the time because I still thought free-market economies were God’s gift to the world, and that Adam Smith was some sort of prophet. (That was a different Smith.)

According to Smith’s 238-year-old wisdom, Amazon is doing what any business in its position tries to do: corner the market so eventually it will be able to charge unnatural prices. Not possible, you say? Now that Amazon has the brick-and-mortar bookstores on the ropes, it’s beginning to work on its mail/internet order competitors as well as the brick-and-mortar retail chains like Wal-Mart and Costco. Overreach, you say? That was Smith’s point: it’s what monopolies do. They expand until they destroy all their competitors or, more likely, until they collapse of their own internal inconsistencies.

I haven’t shopped at Amazon for over a year. In fact, I shop at local brick-and-mortar stores. Why? To have a relationship with the people I buy things from (for when they don’t work as advertised, for one thing). I know that’s naïve and costs a more than shopping at EngulfandDevour.com, but I’m a romantic.

Shopped in your local independent book store recently? They’re wonderful folks. And they love books almost as much as you.

Besides, I don’t need to have everything I want yesterday. Neither do you.

After All These Years, Still Reading

The Pew Research Center is publishing several sets of research on America’s reading habits, including the impact of ebooks. It is a chart geek’s paradise.

One section caught my eye: The General Reading Habits of Americans.

I especially noted the chart on how many books we read:

The offset between the mean and median numbers of books is caused by all those folks who read a hundred or more books a year.

You do remember the difference between mean, median and mode, don’t you? Time for a statistics review? Don’t feel bad, obviously the folks who write the evening news and political ads don’t know how to tell the truth with numbers either. Mark Twain said, “Figures often beguile me, particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: ‘There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.'”

So far as the skewed curve of books read per year, we know who we are, don’t we?

A chart elsewhere in the article indicates we’re reading more books than in the past.

Happy reading.

Dr. Philip R. Schmidt

My senior year as a history major at Southwestern College, Winfield, KS, a new doctoral-candidate history instructor joined the faculty. Over the years Phil Schmidt earned his Ph.D. and eventually become chairman of the department.

Many visits to the campus I managed to see Phil, often in his office stacked floor to ceiling with leaning towers of books to be read. We’d chat about books and politics.

Phil died Friday at age 72, still a professor at the school he’d joined almost a half century earlier.

The college has a retrospective slideshow on their website: here.

He’ll be missed.