Where would we be without Amazon? The Authors Collection

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IN JULY, AMAZON WILL CELEBRATE its twentieth birthday. Though incorporated in 1994, it was July of the next year that its first sale took place, a rather important sounding book, not appealing to the masses, titled Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought.

On-line book selling had begun.

This was a very important time for the Internet. Only a year before, Justin Hall, a student at Swarthmore College, began posting a daily log of his activities. He is generally given credit for naming his Web log a blog. And blogging took off. There’s no definitive answer as to how many blogs actually exist today, but it appears to be well over 200 million.

ebayThen in 1995, e-Bay was founded. Some think the “e” was for electronic, but actually it was short for Echo Bay. Turns out, echobay.com was already taken, so founder Pierre Omidyar secured eBay.com for his web address.

The year 1995 also saw the start of Craig’s List and Angie’s list.

Google was the late comer. In 1996, two graduate students at Stanford, Larry Paige and Sergey Brin, embarked on a research project to improve the system of ranking results from a query. Google was registered in 1997 and incorporated in 1998.

But it is Amazon that is most important to writers.

Jeff Bezos originally chose “Cadabra” for the name of his new company but changed it because that sounded too much like “cadaver.” He chose Amazon because it would sort near the top in alphabetical lists, it had an aura of the exotic, and the Amazon was the largest river in the world and drained (influenced) the largest area in the world. Note the arrow in the Amazon logo: from a to z.

But “AbraCadabra,” that incantation that opened doors, would have been appropriate also. Amazon opened the gates to millions of writers who could not gain admittance to the big publishing houses in New York. Along with improved capabilities in the printing field that made it possible to print and bind one book at a time at a somewhat reasonable price, Amazon gave the book a place to be (possibly) found by readers all over the world.

Then digital books began to gain traction. Amazon did not lead the charge, but when its Kindle book reader came on the scene in 2007, e-books took off. Relieved of the age old problems in the book industry of printing too many books, storing them, and getting them to the customers, the price of these digital books could be lower. Amazon did not have to worry about warehouse storage for its digital books. It never had to remainder thousands of digital books. And its cost to deliver a digital book to the client was pennies. Other companies began to sell books on the Internet. Some produced electronic book readers. But Amazon soared to the top.

Of course, the idea of electronic books was not new. Back in 1930, Bob Brown wrote a book about – basically e-books. In 1949, Angela Ruiz Robles, a teacher in Spain, patented the first electronic book. And in the early 1960s, documents were put into electronic form at SRI and at Brown University. Palo Alto Research Center (Xerox) proposed a notebook computer capable of displaying books for reading. Corporate officers killed that project; they were a copier company.

In 1992, Sony launched an electronic book reader that could read books stored on a CD.

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But it was Amazon who brought these ideas to a much larger audience. Amazon made literally millions of books readily available to everybody in the world in paper and digital editions.

So, when Amazon instigates procedures we don’t like, remember, Amazon opened the doors for writers.

Where would we be without Amazon?

James R. Callan is the author of Cleansed by Fire.

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