Who doesn’t like a good fairytale? Few. I suppose that’s why when Jeff Bezos sent me an email announcing my four novels could be translated into foreign languages for free, a smile crept across my face. Long years have taught me it’s best to keep my hands in my pocket whenever someone makes me an offer I can’t refuse.
For a start, I wondered about the quality of the translations. Could a robot manage nuance? Could Heart Land, my tale about a boy growing up in Ohio in 1939, be interpreted in Cantonese with feeling? Robot translations from my Facebook friends in India are often inscrutable. James Joyce’s stream of conscious makes better sense. So, I asked myself, if a writer has no control over the quality of a translation, would it be prudent to trust his or her creation to an algorithm?
I deleted Bezo’s offer without comment rather than risk being uncivil.
But as I’ve said, I like fairytales. If I were casting the part of the Gingerbread Witch from Hansel and Gretel for a play, I’d give the role to Bezos, without regard to gender. We’re all young enough to remember her objective, aren’t we? She’s the old woman who tempted the innocent with goodies, filling them with empty calories until they trusted her enough to climb into her oven.
Bezos lays a similar trap. He tempts writers and other entrepreneurs with promises that make them forget to read the small print.
Jon Emont of the Wall Street Journal uncovers Bezos’ story. (“Amazon Sellers Get a Devil’s Bargain,” The Week, 8/2/19, pg. 34) Sellers who accept the billionaire’s marketing offer will discover he has a right to buy their enterprises for a flat fee of $10,000 should it become successful. I think of the policy as “thrive and die.”
Of course, there is an option. Amazon can scan your data, copy your product and become a competitor. (Ibid, pg. 34)
Believe it or not, the practice has its defenders. They insist Amazon can’t steal everything. It hasn’t the capacity. Personally, I find the observation to be of small comfort. (Ibid pg. 34.)
The European Union also looks askance at Bezos’ method of operation. It has instituted an antitrust investigation. Until that report becomes public, this writer plans to resist the offer of free gingerbread.