Select Page

“…Some will argue it is Amazon’s right to drop a book. Though it possesses many of the frightful powers of government and few of the limitations—Amazon is not the government.

As a private company, many argue, it retains the right to stock its shelves with whatever it chooses. As someone put it to me on Twitter, “Publix stopped carrying my favorite salad dressing. You know what? I went to another store and bought it.”

This is the “Colorado Bakeshop” argument, which the Supreme Court considered in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission: Private businesses might have the right not to sell certain things customers want.

It’s my cake shop, damn it, runs the argument. If the proprietor doesn’t want to create a cake celebrating a gay wedding, or anything else that violates his conscience—maybe he shouldn’t have to.

But the argument is inapt: Amazon isn’t a neighbourhood bakery. Small independent bookstores can (and often do) claim to be in the business of promoting a certain kind of speech.

There are Christian bookstores and feminist bookstores and everything in between. And forcing such stores to sell books they don’t like would compromise the owners’ free-speech rights by forcing them to engage in what is arguably a form of compelled speech.

But Amazon operates on a vast scale. Scale is the difference between homicide and genocide, a pickpocket and Bernie Madoff.

As a direct result of Amazon’s action, many outstanding books will now go unwritten; they will not be commissioned whenever Amazon’s distribution is the slightest bit in doubt.

As I write this, authors are being dropped by agents or politely refused representation, based on what the agents now know Amazon will not carry. “I’m just thinking of your career,” agents will say. “Why not try something a little less inflammatory?” (A little more Amazon-friendly).

Publishers will apply endless euphemisms for “no,” to otherwise worthy proposals. Why should publishers spend sleepless nights worrying that Amazon will unaccountably vaporize their investment?

This is the “chilling effect” of censorship, John Milton called the “greatest displeasure and indignity to a free and knowing spirit that can be put upon him.” When censorship is imposed by the government—or the world’s third largest multinational—it forbids new life like a frost….”