Friday, March 09, 2012

Guest Columnists: Bryce Milligan Takes On Amazon and Lisa Alvarado Talks With Omar Tamez

LinkTwo for the price of one - today two uniquely creative people contributeLink to La Bloga.

Bryce Milligan, editor, writer, musician, scholar, etc., exposes the unfair tactics used by Amazon to stifle competition, which, as explained by Bryce, leads to far more dangerous consequences for all of us, and dire economic consequences for Bryce's publishing house, Wings Press.

Lisa Alvarado
, poet, writer, artist, and a former bloguera right here on La Bloga, once again graces our pages with an intriguing interview of the "non-jazz" jazz artist, Omar Tamez.

Thanks to both Bryce and Lisa for these contributions.

Manuel Ramos

Amazon’s Assault on Intellectual Freedom

There is an undeclared war going on in the United States that threatens the lynchpins of American intellectual freedom. In a statement worthy of Cassandra, Noah Davis wrote in a Business Insider post last October, “Amazon is coming for the book publishing industry. And not just the e-book world, either.” When titans battle, it is tempting to think that there will be no local impact. In this case, that’s dead wrong. Amazon’s recent actions have already cut the sales of the small press I run by 40 percent. Jeff Bezos could not care less.

One recent battle in Amazon’s larger war has pitted it against a diverse group of writers, small publishers, university presses, and independent distributors. It is a classic David-and-Goliath encounter. As in that story, however, this is more than just pitting the powerful against the powerless. In this case, the underdogs have the ideas, and ideas are always where the ultimate power lies.

Wings Press (San Antonio, Texas) is one of the several hundred independent publishers and university presses distributed by the Independent Publishers Group (IPG), the second largest book distributor in the country, but still only a medium-sized dolphin in a sea of killer whales. In late February, IPG’s contract with was due to be renegotiated. Terms that had been generally accepted across the industry were suddenly not good enough for Amazon, which demanded discounts and practices that IPG—and all of its client publishers—could only have accepted at a loss. Yes, that does mean what it sounds like: To do business with Amazon would mean reducing the profit margin to the point of often losing money on every book or ebook sold.

IPG refused to accept the draconian terms and sought to negotiate further. In what can only be seen as a move to punish IPG for its desire to remain relevant and healthy, Amazon refused to negotiate and pulled the plug on all the Kindle ebooks distributed by IPG, marking them as “unavailable.”

Not a big deal? Imagine that Walmart controls everything you eat, and Walmart decides to stop selling fish because it thinks that fishermen are making too much profit. Amazon is the Walmart of online bookselling. The dispute between Amazon and IPG will affect every literate person in America. It is a matter that goes to the heart of what librarians have termed “intellectual freedom.” In other words, the resolution of this dispute, one way or the other, will affect every individual American’s access to certain books. It will affect your ability to choose what you read.

Restrictions on access to literature generally have more politically motivated origins. The banning of certain Native American and Mexican American authors and books in Arizona, for example, is purely political. Attempts in the past to ban literature based on its “moral content” were largely political in nature. This dispute is purely capitalistic, and is much more difficult to fight.

A single practical example. Wings Press had offered up one of its Kindle titles, Vienna Triangle by California novelist Brenda Webster, for the Amazon daily deal— a limited time offer of 99 cents per download. The book zoomed to the top ten of one of Amazon’s several bestseller lists. While it was still listed as a bestseller, Amazon suddenly marked the title as “unavailable.” The trail of loss increases in impact as it descends the food chain: Amazon doesn’t notice the loss at all. IPG sees it as one of its 5,000 Kindle titles that vanished. Wings Press sees it as one of its 100 Kindle titles that vanished. The author sees it as the loss of her book, period.

Lest one think that eliminating a single ebook novel is a loss of little consequence, Wings Press also publishes the works of John Howard Griffin, including Black Like Me, one of the most important works of the civil rights movement and widely considered an American classic. Amazon’s refusal to sell the ebook of Black Like Me should be of serious concern to every American.

Ebook sales have been a highly addictive drug to many smaller publishers. For one thing, there are no “returns.” Traditionally, profit margins for publishers are so low because books that remain on shelves too long can be returned for credit—too often in unsalable condition. No one returns an ebook. Further, ebook sales allowed smaller presses to get a taste of the kind of money that online impulse buying can produce. Already ebook sales were underwriting the publication of paper-and-ink books at Wings Press.

It has been increasingly obvious to independent publishers for the last two years that Amazon intends to put all independents out of business—publishers, distributors, and bookstores. Under the guise of providing greater access, Amazon seemingly wants to kill off the distributors, then kill off the independent publishers and bookstores, and become the only link between the reader and the author. The attack on distributors like IPG and on some larger independent presses is only part of the plan. Amazon has also been going after the ultimate source of literature, the authors.

Having created numerous (seven or more) imprints of its own, Amazon has begun courting authors directly by offering exorbitant royalties if the authors will publish directly with Amazon. Among the financial upper echelon of authors, Amazon is paying huge advances. Among rank-and-file authors, not so. Here they are offering what amounts to glorified self-publication. The effect is to lure authors away from the editors who would have helped them perfect their work, away from the publishers and designers and publicists and booksellers who have dedicated their lives to building the careers of authors, while themselves making a living from the books they love. Even the lowly book reviewer has been replaced by semi-anonymous reader-reviewers. All these are the people who sustain literary culture.

For Amazon to rip ebook sales away from independent publishers now seems a classic bait-and-switch tactic guaranteed to kill small presses by the hundreds. Ah, but predatory business practices are so very American these days. There was a time not so long ago when "competition" was a healthy thing, not a synonym for corporate "murder." Amazon could have been a bright and shining star, lighting the way to increased literacy and improved access to alternative literatures. Alas, it looks more likely to be a large and deadly asteroid. We, the literary dinosaurs, are watching closely to see if this is a near miss or the beginning of extinction. Fortunately, this generation of dinosaurs is a little better equipped than the last one to take measures to avoid such a fate.

One can choose to buy ebooks from or from almost any independent bookstore rather than Amazon. One can buy directly from IPG. A free app will allow one to read those books on a Kindle. The resistance has already begun, and it starts with choice.

Sign the petition at

Bryce Milligan is the publisher/editor of Wings Press. He is an award-winning poet and author of books for children and young adults.

I was lucky enough to meet Omar Tamez while I lived in New York City. He's a friend of another stellar jazz musician, bassist Ratzo Harris.

He studied music with masters in composition and with the composer and teacher, the Mexican classical musician, Nicandro Tamez, who is also his father - also, André Richard, Daniel Catán, Manuel de Elias, Helmut Lachmann, Pierre Boulez.

Tamez calls his music "non-jazz," and it is an intense, rhythmic soaring experience. I saw him perform with a small combo in NYC...a soaring, lyrical piece that blended poetry and spoken word of the themes of love/loss/life/death --in other word quintessentially Mexican. He is warm, generous, and is utterly, passionately, consumed by his love of music.

Some other things to note:

· For more than fifteen years he's led the group Non Jazz.

· He’s toured Mexico, United States, Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, Turkey, Canada, Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Japan among many other countries all over the world.

· He's the founder, producer and artistic director of the “International Musicians Meeting” and is preparing for the 2012 event.

· Recently, he produced and edited a compact disc dedicated to classical Mexican music at the University of Buffalo; published by Albany Records. The CD is entitled, “Voces Internas."

· He’s played and/or recorded with musicians like Ramón López, Gebhard Ullmann, Reggie Workman, Rashied Sonny Fortune, Andrew Cyrille, André Jaume, Bruce Arnold, Tom Hamilton, Harri Sjöstrom, Kalle Kalima, Jonathan Golove, Lisa Sokolov, Felix Petry, Gabriele Hasler, Beñat Achiary, Agusto- Fernández, Michael Vlatkovich, Marcos Miranda, Nico Morelli, Hernán Rios, Mikko-Ville Luolajan-Mikkola, John Bacon, Greg Piontek, Ratzo B. Harris, Steve Baczkowski, Neil Swainson, Ronnie Burrage, André Minvielle, Ursel Schlicht, Emilio Tamez, Jorge “Luri” Molina, Gustavo Lorenzatti, Anibal Maidana, Facundo Guevara, Marco Colonna, Bruno Angelini, Carl Ludwig Hübsch, Gerald Cleaver, Alex Coke, George Schuller, Steve Swell, Joe Fonda, Michael Jeffry Stevens, Almut Kuhene, Arjen Görter, Tina Marsh, Masumi Jones, Tatsuya Nakatani, and Rémi Charmasson among many many others.

Below is our conversation --

You list your music as “Not Jazz" - Can you explain your choice of words and your feel for the contemporary American jazz scene?

Well, because my background is very wide, I try not be in any category because at the end, I feel music as one thing and not many different labels. We know many of those labels are from record companies, but sometimes musicians themselves take the easy route, an easy way and repeat every day the same things and the same way. It would make me sad to do something the same way day after day. About the American Jazz scene -- musicians want to make money and “build” a career so fast, that they don´t wait for the tree to grow and develop sound, identity and full body as a musician. Or in their bands. I still believe you can make a good living and play real, inventive music.

You come from a musical family. How do you think it influenced you, especially your relationship with your father?

In more ways than I can see or understand the blessing of living in a musical household with him. It was, and will be the best lesson in my life. My father, musically, was the strongest and wisest human I ever met. He was incredibly humble and relaxed and probably that is the biggest influence in my life. His message to me was be a simple human even If you´re doing some high level artistic project.

How do you see that act of collaboration and improvisation, as it relates to your own approach?

I can´t see the difference. For me, music is human relationships….ways to talk and share with the community in which I´m involved.

Who would you describe as musical influences?

Everybody! Of course some musicians, but also painters, filmmakers, dancers, writers, poets….Everything… sounds………the eyes, body language, smiles, landscapes, all kinds of things influence my way of making music, as well as my emotions. I´m a very emotional guy so all those little details and small shapes of life have a huge influence in me.

What are your current projects?

Music…………music………….music. At the end of 2011, I had a 3 week tour in Europe. This spring, my music fest “Encuentro Internacional de Músicos”; in May 2012, will be the tenth anniversary. I’m also producing 3 records in US; one with the masters Karl Berger and Harvey Sorgen. Others with some of my father’s compositions with Herb Robertson, Steve Swell, Joe Fonda and Harvey Sorgen again.

Tell us something not in the official bio.

Make a difference in every moment you can because the world needs love, passion and integrity.

Lisa Alvarado
is an educator, poet, novelist, and journalist, the founder of La Onda Negra Press, author of Reclamo and The Housekeeper’s Diary (originally a book of poetry and now a one-woman performance.) Her first novel, Sister Chicas, Penguin/NAL, was released in April 2006. Her book of poetry, Raw Silk Suture, released by Floricanto Press in 2008, was reviewed by Rigoberto Gonzalez. In Fall, 2009, she was awarded Hispanic Author of the Year by the State of Illinois. In 2010, she contributed to HaLapid, The Journal for the Study of Crypto-Judaism. In 2011, she contributed to Me No Habla with Acento, edited by Emanuel Xaver, and released by Rebel Sartori Press, and Still, Life, essays and poetry.


msedano said...

Bryce, thank you for Wings Press, and this column. Amazon told California where to put its sales tax law, and California legislators rolled over and begged for a Kindle.

Lisa, great seeing you back at La Bloga.


Lisa Alvarado said...

M - It's always great to come back 'home.' I remain grateful for the chance to share my thoughts, interests and scribbles.