Commentary

Musk Calls For Amazon Breakup After It Initially Rejects COVID-19 Book

Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk yesterday called for the breakup of Amazon after an author who claims that COVID-19 reporting is overblown tweeted that Amazon was refusing to let him publish it on its self-publishing platform, Kindle Direct Publishing.

Author Alex Berenson “thinks scientists, politicians, and the media are fueling coronavirus hysteria,” as David Freedlander wrote  for Vanity Fair in April.

“‘Time to break up Amazon. Monopolies are wrong!’ stated Musk’s tweet in which he also tagged Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, and called the situation ‘insane.’ Musk was responding to the situation in which Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing service turned down Alex Berenson's book called ‘Unreported Truths about COVID-19 and Lockdowns,’” Fabienne Lang writes  for Interesting Engineering.

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Musk has had his own battles  with authorities in California over what he considered overreaching stay-at-home orders that shut down an assembly line in Fremont, California, last month.

Amazon soon after said it had made a mistake and would publish Berenson’s book. Musk’s tweet was not on his timeline  this morning. 

The brouhaha started when Berenson, a former New York Times reporter, posted a screenshot of Amazon Direct’s rejection message below his 12:20 p.m. tweet: “Today @amazon refused to publish my booklet about the coronavirus because it ‘did not comply’ with their (undisclosed) guidelines. This is outrageous censorship from a company that has gained hugely from lockdowns - and dominates the US book market, especially with stores closed!”

Among those reacting, besides Musk, was Andrew Sullivan, who is no stranger to controversy. “I think this guy is nuts. But denying him access to Amazon because of the content of his book is appalling,” he wrote.

Berenson retweeted it with the comment, “Thanks, I think. No, really - thanks!”

“Amazon told Fox News it was an ‘error’ and the book shouldn’t have been removed, but Berenson had his doubts,” writes  Brian Flood for Fox News.

“‘They didn’t say to me that it was a mistake… I do believe that I’m not the only person who has run into this. They need to be clear what their position is on publishing controversial material on political issues. It doesn’t seem to me that this was an error, but I don’t know,” Berenson tells Fox News. He also “said he’s grateful for everyone who spoke out, but Musk … probably made the most noise,” Flood adds.

“Musk has been a vocal critic of government policy during the coronavirus pandemic. He has also tweeted in favor of reopening the country and during a Tesla earnings call said stay-at-home orders are fascist, among other things,” Todd Haselton writes  for CNBC.

“Musk has a record of making strange remarks on Twitter. His latest example was on May 1, when he tweeted that Tesla stock ‘is too high.’ In 2018, he said on Twitter that he was going to take Tesla private when its stock price his $420 and that he had already secured funding. The SEC sued over that tweet, and both Musk and Tesla paid separate $20 million fines as part of a settlement, and Musk agreed to submit his tweets to an overseer from then on,” Haselton continues.

"Amazon dominates the U.S. book retail market. Its online retail store commands about 50% of all new book sales in the U.S. and nearly three-quarters of e-book sales, according to research firm Codex Group. Amazon accounts for at least two-thirds of all U.S. self-published books,” Tim Higgins reports  for The Wall Street Journal.

“‘They are by far the largest self-publishing platform in this country,’ said Peter Hildick-Smith, president of Codex Group. ‘Writers want to be there because they believe they’ll have an inside track with the largest bookseller in the country.’

“Amazon also has emerged as a major publisher of books, turning into a formidable threat for traditional publishing houses,” Higgins adds.

Bezos’ enterprise has also emerged as a rival to Musk’s SpaceX, or Space Exploration Technologies Corp., as it is more formally know.

“Last year, a Space Exploration Technologies Corp. executive said Amazon’s effort to build a constellation of broadband internet satellites was years behind the closely held company. Musk founded SpaceX eight years before Bezos started rival manufacturer Blue Origin,” points out  Bloomberg’s Spencer Soper.

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