Obnoxious Amazon

POLITICS & POLICY
(Mike Segar/Reuters)

A great deal of life in a self-governing nation is well governed by conventions rather than law. Which is precisely what makes Amazon’s decision to no longer sell Ryan Anderson’s book When Harry Became Sally: Answers for Our Transgender Moment so obnoxious.

We trust publishing houses to decide what gets published, and to give those books their imprimatur and prestige. Those who pay close attention to these things know that Regnery is known for big best-selling conservative books. Or they know the prestige of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Booksellers choose what gets displayed and stocked in their stores. That’s an important role. But, aside from dedicated specialty stores, all of the larger and general-audience booksellers will sell you any book that they can reasonably obtain, even if it is not regularly stocked on their shelves. They will sell you Nazi propaganda books. Or Calvinist theology. Or instructional books on making firearms at home. They don’t typically inquire why you want the books you want.

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Both the publishers and booksellers are commercial interests, but they have different conceptions of the social goods that they provide readers and the public. Publishers have a slightly more paternalistic role. Booksellers, more the role of a facilitator.

Amazon started as a bookseller, and they had success precisely because they were so good at finding and delivering obscure and hard-to-find titles. They achieved their market-dominant position by doing the most facilitating. That has made their entrance into the publishing business somewhat complicated and controversial.

But now, having destroyed hundreds of thousands of traditional booksellers who also did the facilitating role, Amazon seems to be changing its role once again. You can still purchase Nazi apologia on Amazon. What you can’t buy is the 2018 book by the now-head of the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

It’s natural to feel that a type of fraud or underhanded effort is at work.

And it’s precisely when self-government of the type at work between publishers, booksellers, and customers breaks down in this way that people start to wonder if the law should begin to intervene.

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