Today, I was shocked to find that one of my favorite eBook/eReader blogs, TeleRead, had posted an ultra-conservative political rant, based on the premise that it was commentary on the DoJ vs. Big Six price fixing case. The author, a “TeleRead Contributor” named Michael W. Perry, proceeded to offer his opposition to the Justice Department’s prosecution of this case, but in a way I have never seen before. He blames the motivations of the suit not on the complexity of the burgeoning eBook market, not on Amazon’s shrewd business policies, not on the struggle for author/publisher rights, but on . . . Barack Obama. That’s right, Perry believes that the “Chicagoification” of the federal government has resulted in numerous “vile schemes” to threaten and neutralize businesses who do not align with the President’s political interests. According to Perry, the prosecution of publishers and Apple is simply some kind of political punishment. He even puts forth the federal case that resulted from the Gibson Guitar company’s trade violations as a similar misuse of federal prosecutorial power, all in the effort to make the point that . . . wait a minute; I’m not exactly sure what point Perry was trying to make! Maybe it’s just blame EVERYTHING on Obama. The economy, the price of gas, and yes, the DoJ v. Big Six case as well! Obama is an anti-free market, free market expander in the case of the book business.
Here is the chronological structure and general summary of the points in Perry’s article:
1. The judge in the Google Books case listened to people in the “trenches” more than the current price fixing trial judge. That was better.
2. He employs the False Analogy fallacy by comparing the developer-set pricing of Apple Appstore applications with the price of Macbook Air computer applications. The same app supposedly would cost him $0.99 in the appstore, and $30.00 for a computer. The developer set the price for the iPad app, but not the one for the MacBook Air? I’m not exactly sure what he is trying to say here. iPad and desktop applications are two different things with vastly different features and capabilites. What does this have to do with publishers colluding to fix eBook pricing, making eBooks seem expensive in order to drive sales to physical books? Just because one developer out of thousands chooses to sell an iPad app for $0.99 and a totally different computer app for $30, doesn’t mean agency pricing works. That lone developer is not hatching a plan with all other writing app developers to fix the price of their similar applications.
3. Next, Perry immediately jumps into an outrageous political Red Herring, claiming that the liberal “Chicagoification” of business regulation is used to punish individual corporations that do not donate to Obama’s presidential campaign or other left-aligned political causes, a totally ridiculous and irrelevant argument.
4. “The owners of Gibson Guitar give [financial donations] to Republicans and they’ve been prosecuted on dubious grounds . . . Their chief competitor gives to Democrats and is left alone.” Perry believes that businesses make themselves political targets by not supporting liberal causes, then the government designs regulations that will specifically trip them up and force them into lengthy and costly litigation. I’m pretty sure the price fixing and collusion laws broken by the publishers were on the books long before the Big Six started hiking the prices of their eBooks. On the contrary, the Attorney General’s stated trigger of the suit: “Holder told Justice Department news conference on Wednesday that ‘we believe that consumers paid millions of dollars more for some of the most popular titles’ as a result of the alleged conspiracy” (Bloomberg Businessweek). Nothing is remotely political about making sure eBook consumers are not being ripped off.
5. Perry then makes his next point: “That’s precisely how the Chicago machine works. If you’re a nobody, you can’t fight the machine. If you’re a somebody, you have a business or real estate in the city. All of a sudden your restaurant is violating a fire code and gets shut down. All of a sudden, you’re violating all sorts of regulations. You’re too buried in hassles and prosecutions to fight city hall.” In Perry’s world, the Bix Six and Apple are just another group of large corporations to be targeted by Obama’s European socialist vendetta. Didn’t you know that Obama is a socialist? Because right wing crackpots like Laura Ingraham or Rush Limbaugh say so.
6. His next points really start to go out there. The DoJ is a hired political bully, and can crush any opposition with their unlimited resources. And oh, by the way, the Obama administration leaks sensitive national security secrets to bolster the image of the President as a warrior against terrorism, and he is also playing up his Bin Laden victory (these are standard Republican talking points repeated on Fox News and in the Wall Street Journal). Again, two absolutely random and unsubstantiated Ad Hominem attacks on President Obama, none of which have anything to do with publishers and their eBook price fixing. Perry is just trying to show how “nasty” (his word) the government can be. If the Obama government did all of these other horrible things, their eBook case must have devious ulterior motives as well. Big Brother is watching you!
7. “And we should not think that the potential for political censorship is confined to Democrats. More that a few incumbent Republicans find it appealing.” – Tea Party Republicans and far-right reactionaries have been unseating incumbent moderate Republicans recently, due to their willingness to reach across the aisle to compromise and keep our nation running. Here, Perry takes a swing at incumbents with a brief mention of Citizen’s United. He doesn’t make much effort here, and the “my side can be bad too” argument takes up all of three sentences. Nothing to do with case at hand.
8. Finally, Perry wraps it up with a round of Appeal to Emotion, Appeal to Fear, and Appeal to Belief fallacies and inserts a cryptic and ominous warning about the loss of “political free speech” before “election day.” Perry has veered right off the road, and plummeted his article into a bottomless pit of saccharine patriotism and paranoid delusion. He block quotes Martin Niemoller’s, “First They Came,” to provide a poetic, dooms-day warning to all who may be reading:
First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.
Wow. I am at a loss for words. Who will speak for us after all of the corporations and publishers are placed in concentration camps? I’m going to start digging my bomb shelter now. Allow me to offer Perry’s irrational conclusion in its entirety:
This fuss is not just about how books are priced. It’s about what rules the government can impose on the books we write and publish—meaning what rationale they can use to ‘come for us.’
In the end, this is a free speech issue. The price I set for my books is my business and not the government’s affair. Prosecuting me for using agency pricing is as much censorship, or at least potential censorship, as kicking down my door in the middle of the night or burning my books in a public square. All it takes is for laws to be selectively applied.
It’s more than eBook pricing. Our very freedom of speech is apparently at stake. We should continue to allow publishers to fight the free market progress of Amazon. Go ahead and inflate the prices of eBooks in order to keep us buying $25.00 hardbacks. Because that’s what Ronald Regan would do.
Perry’s argument is obtuse, incoherent, riddled with fallacies, and simultaneously politically biased and ignorant.
TeleRead, I’m not sure what you were doing. Don’t you have any sort of moderation for your contributors? I believe all political points of view should be readily available to the public, but how did this horrible misrepresentation of the DoJ case become a lead story on TeleRead, an eReading/tech blog? I guess Perry’s post could be considered a “view” of the case, but there was way to much forced political commentary to make this a relevant article. The author was blatantly promoting a political view. Is this article appropriate for that type of a blog? I think that using this ant-trust lawsuit as just another example of how Barack Obama is trying to erode our free market is taking things a bit too far. It is an argument that lacks the relevance and legitimacy I would expect from an amazing site like TeleRead.