“Not taking sides”

Oct 7, 2014 | Opinions

I’ve been following the Amazon vs. Hachette dispute with interest, mostly for the entertainment value. I don’t have much time to write on it myself, unfortunately, but one thing has finally prompted me to say something: the fact that Doug Preston, Authors United, and David Streitfeld, for example, are supposedly impartial, and not taking sides, when it’s clearly – CLEARLY – not the case. They are the old guard, on the side of Hachette and against Amazon.

The nice thing about the Internet is that you can basically try to prove it, and, well, I just feel the need to call out this silliness.

Fun with Words

Did you know that word clouds are incredibly fascinating things? They can tell you so much about a piece of text… And Wordle is a delightful little service that will generate word clouds. Here’s what happens when you take the text of the two letters from Authors United and place it in its entirety into Wordle:

Wordle: Authors United Letters

Very interesting. Notice, of course, that Amazon is the most common word, and both books and authors show up more often than Hachette. (The word readers is non existent.) Still – only four words stand out prominently, which are Amazon, authors, Hachette, and books.

Now, on to David Streitfeld. I took a representative sample of recent articles written by David for the NYT dealing specifically with the dispute:

And here’s the corresponding Wordle:

Wordle: Sample of David Streitfeld's NYT articles on the Amazon-Hachette Dispute

Again, notice how much larger Amazon is than any other. Notice, again, the relative size of the word readers. The most prominent words are Amazon, Hachette, books and writers. Notice how similar that is to the Authors United result.

Now, just for giggles, I got the text of Hugh Howey’s Change.org petition, and fed that into Wordle too. And here’s the result:

Wordle: Text from Hugh Howey's Change.org petition

Amazon is still very big. But notice something a little different? The prominent words are Amazon, authors, Hachette, readers, books. The size spread is also much more consistent.

The Point of all this

So what does it tell us? Well, I think it’s possible to draw some conclusions, even though this is back-of-the-envelope analysis at least.

First of all – for all their protests, Preston et al are not impartial. They are most certainly taking a side, if only because their focus is squarely on Amazon in this particular dispute.

Second of all – readers are an afterthought for them, which is somewhat remarkable. Their opinion that Amazon’s actions are ostensibly damaging seems to be focused almost entirely on the effects on authors.

Third – Hugh Howey is also not impartial and places his focus on Amazon, but (crucially) I don’t recall him ever claiming to be. In fact, I think it’s pretty clear that his opinion of Hachette is very low, and he’s on Amazon’s side all the way because it makes good business sense.

Fourth – readers are not an afterthought for Hugh. He mentions readers as often as Hachette and books.

This is not a qualitative argument as to who is right or wrong. But this is a look at the big ideas, as it were – the things that are front and center in the minds of those who wrote these pieces of text. And I believe it is telling, more or less, that Preston, Authors United, and David Streitfeld betray their bias in nothing more than the amount that they talk about either Amazon or Hachette. I like that Hugh has a higher focus on readers, the people who make the entire industry possible.

This kind of thing begs for a better sample size; take with a grain of salt, and all that, because it comes with its own issues. But just try it yourself. You’d be surprised what you can find.