It should be no surprise to any readers of this blog that Abe and I are not fans of giant, conglomerate monopolies. Amazon in particular is a bit of work that is difficult to avoid. Whether it’s the stranglehold on data servers and hosting services, the fact that rural areas or many disabled people rely on Amazon dot com for daily necessities, or even hearing how Jeff Bezos wants Rotterdam to dismantle a historic bridge for his own personal pleasure. So cue my complete lack of surprise to hear of yet another bit of nastiness from Amazon, in this case, from Amazon India.
Effective March 31, 2022, the publishing giant Westland will be shuttered permanently. This was officially announced with no warning on February 1st of this year. Who is Westland and why should anyone care? Aside from the natural inclination to hate every decision Amazon is making, there are currently three trade publishers who stand above the rest in prestige, influence, and range of publications in anglophone literature: Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, and Westland. India, as a former British colony, has the majority of its educated population able to read and speak English in addition to any number of Indo-Aryan languages. The Indian Constitution includes 22 languages, but estimates put the actual number at nearly 20,000 languages or dialects used as ‘mother tongues’ in India. There are now any number of articles wondering ‘What Westland Did Wrong’ that could merit their closing, for surely it was for a good business reason. This article in particular does an excellent job of comparing sales data and distribution rates for those three big publishers, looking to find an explanation for the sudden decision. Many of the authors, aware of Westland’s tendency to publish government-neutral or government-critical books, suspect this is part of the answer:
Speculations arose. Several of Westland’s new bestsellers were not exactly appreciative of the government of the day. Josy’s The Silent Coup boldly questioned the decline of democracy and citizen rights, making a case for investigating agencies “creating” terrorists out of nobodies. Jaffrelot used interviews from across the country to show how Modi’s government has equated the idea of the nation with the Hindu majority and relegated minorities to second class citizens. Aakar Patel’s Price of the Modi Years listed statistics and explained the damage brought upon the country by the BJP government.
Josy tells TNM, “Books like mine would not be a good fit for Amazon’s business in India because if they want to build their commercial enterprise here they wouldn’t want to nurture any thinking/writing against the government. To be fair though, I don’t think there has been any pressure from the government on this book until now but Amazon wouldn’t want any future trouble because of books like mine. Removing the thorns in advance so it doesn’t create any trouble in future, that’s how I would read it.”
But, ok, let’s assume good intentions. Let’s assume that this was for purely fiscal reasons and the correct decision is to close the publishing house. The next question is of course: where do the authors and existing titles go? This was the only Indian-based publishing house to play on the main international stage, and many of the top authors in India had contracts with Westland. The unexpected and sudden announcement has not included any plans for transferal of contracts or rights, and many authors and readers are concerned they will be considered collateral damage for the corporation. One additional thing that concerns me is the precedent that Disney set with it’s love of breaching contracts. Scarlett Johansson’s settlement over ‘Black Widow’ was extremely public but a number of writers and creatives involved in franchises such as Star Wars and Marvel have made allegations that Disney does not honor existing contracts and royalty payments. If Disney can do it, why not Amazon, which is significantly larger? It’s a situation I will be watching — I hope that I’m wrong and that the authors will be treated fairly, but it’s 2022.
When have artists been lucky recently?
Tegan has helped with beta reading and editing on this blog for a while now, and she decided she also wants to do a weekly post about topics that catch her attention. As always this is part of our effort to make ends meet, as my immigration status doesn’t allow me to get wage labor, so this blog is my only source of income. You can sign up to help us pay the bills at patreon.com/oceanoxia. The great thing about crowdfunding is how little each contributor needs to put in; in this case as little as a dollar per month – that’s like three cents a day! Pocket change!
Anyway, thanks for reading, and take care of yourselves.
DW Rowlands says
A minor quibble: while Indo-Aryan languages are dominant in Northern India, most languages in Southern India, including some of the country’s most-spoken and oldest, are Dravidian. Indo-Aryan langauges are a branch of Indo-European, and more closely related to English than to Dravidian languages.
Abe Drayton says
Thanks for the correction!