Franzen: Bezos is 'apocalypse horseman'

Franzen: Bezos is 'apocalypse horseman'

US satirical novelist Jonathan Franzen has likened Amazon founder Jeff Bezos to one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

In his essay for the Guardian on the obsession with technoconsumerism, Franzen criticised Amazon’s destructive pursuit of dominance over the publishing and bookselling supply chain.

He wrote: “In my own little corner of the world, which is to say American fiction, Jeff Bezos of Amazon may not be the antichrist, but he surely looks like one of the four horsemen. Amazon wants a world in which books are either self-published or published by Amazon itself, with readers dependent on Amazon reviews in choosing books, and with authors responsible for their own promotion.”

He added: “The work of yakkers and tweeters and braggers, and of people with the money to pay somebody to churn out hundreds of five-star reviews for them, will flourish in that world. But what happens to the people who became writers because yakking and tweeting and bragging felt to them like intolerably shallow forms of social engagement?”

Franzen goes on to compare prospective authors with the warehouse workers Amazon employs. He also flags up ‘bogus’ reviews on Amazon and other areas of the internet as a serious threat to the authors and the publishing and bookselling industries.

“As fewer and fewer readers are able to find their way, amid all the noise and disappointing books and phony reviews, to the work produced by the new generation of this kind of writer, Amazon is well on its way to making writers into the kind of prospectless workers whom its contractors employ in its warehouses, labouring harder for less and less, with no job security, because the warehouses are situated in places where they're the only business hiring,” Franzen said.

“And the more of the population that lives like those workers, the greater the downward pressure on book prices and the greater the squeeze on conventional booksellers, because when you're not making much money you want your entertainment for free, and when your life is hard you want instant gratification ("Overnight free shipping!").”

He goes onto say if this practice continues, “so the physical book goes on the endangered-species list, so responsible book reviewers go extinct, so independent bookstores disappear, so literary novelists are conscripted into Jennifer-Weinerish self-promotion, so the Big Six publishers get killed and devoured by Amazon”.

The comparison of Bezos to one of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse is similar to the comparison Waterstones managing director James Daunt allegedly made in 2011 in the Independent, where he said Amazon was a "ruthless, money-making devil" and "the consumer's enemy". However, Daunt later refuted he had said this.

Franzen has been hailed as one of the greatest American novelists of his time by Time magazine. HarperCollins is to publish his next title, The Kraus Project, on 1st October in the UK.