A Comics Artist Is Taking On Amazon

Thursday, July 03, 2014 - 01:59 PM

Anders Nilsen (Santiago Garcia/Flickr)

Those of you keeping score at home can add comics artist Anders Nilsen to the list of individuals, companies, and European nations taking sides against Amazon in its increasingly public dispute with publisher Hachette.

On Tuesday Nilsen announced that he’s self-publishing his new book, God and the Devil at War in the Garden. That announcement ended on a mysterious note:

The first 25 orders will go out with a free 13 page minicomic called Conversation Gardening. It's both a comic and the beginning of a little experiment I'm embarking on. I'll explain more later this week.

Later this week has arrived, and with it Nilsen’s explanation, in the form of the first panels of Conversation Gardening. The comic offers Nilsen’s thought on Amazon’s recent actions and on its hegemonic control of online book retail. But as Nilsen alluded to in his initial announcement, he’s also beginning an experiment. He’s trying to incentivize not buying any of his work from Amazon:

I’m asking people who buy one of my books (any of my books, not just this new one) at an independent bookseller (or from my online store) to send me 1) the receipt, (a formality to show it’s not from Amazon) and 2) a question or idea written on a piece of paper. I will then make a drawing in response on the piece of paper and send it back to them. I’m planning to do 100. Signed and numbered.

There’s an easy and cynical response to this, which is simply “big deal, it won’t do anything.” Looking at it that way misses the point, though. Of course losing 100 sales is nothing for Amazon, Nilsen isn’t going to singlehandedly drive them out of business. But at least this experiment is attempting to prod a few people into more conscientious consumption.

What’s more, it means someone invested in the fight is actually trying to talk about the situation. Dennis Johnson, co-founder of the small publisher Melville House, observed this morning that large publishers (including Hachette) remain quiet even as Amazon — usually silent — goes on the record. For his part, Nilsen has said that this is his attempt to make something grow out of the dispute:

 I wanted to do something that would amount to a positive response – creating something new. A boycott or an anti-trust case or vaguely shaming people for shopping on Amazon are all fine, too, but they are negative responses that try to keep something from happening. I wanted to make something new happen.

Yes Amazon will remain largely untouched, but at least there’ll be a conversation about it, and some cool comics, too.

 h/t Annie Koyama

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