Articles aiming at Amazon
Amazon isn’t perfect.
Some of you may be surprised to hear me say that.
After all, this blog is called, “I Love My Kindle”.
I’ll admit to thinking that my customer experience with Amazon is probably the best I’ve ever had with any company.
However, everyone can always improve.
As I’ve mentioned before, I have always liked Yul Brynner’s response to the question of what the actor would like as an epitaph (“on your tombstone”). I’m going from memory, but this may be close:
“I would like it to say ‘I have arrived’…because when you believe you’ve arrived, you’re dead.”
Anyone who doesn’t want to hear respectful criticism is driving a car high-speed without a windshield…and headed for a crash.
I don’t think Amazon is so close-minded that they don’t think that they can improve…and that they don’t believe that listening to other people can be helpful.
I also believe that there is a tendency for people to want to attack people and organizations that are succeeding.
Part of that, I think, is to make it easier to believe that no one can succeed while being good.
If you believe they can, you have to ask why you aren’t as successful.
After all, it’s easier to believe that only the evil succeed…because it justifies the level to which you’ve risen (presumably without being what you perceive as evil).
There are two articles which recently have criticized Amazon which you might find interesting. I would recommend you read them, and evaluate them yourself. You might think that what they say is true. If you do, then you’ll have to consider for yourself what the proper response should be.
This first one has gotten a lot of buzz, and I was alerted to it by readers (thanks, readers!). It appeared on February 17th in the New Yorker:
It’s a lengthy piece…over 10,000 words.
It talks about how bad Amazon is for books.
It also assigns a pretty Machiavellian motive:
“Bezos said that Amazon intended to sell books as a way of gathering data on affluent, educated shoppers. The books would be priced close to cost, in order to increase sales volume. After collecting data on millions of customers, Amazon could figure out how to sell everything else dirt cheap on the Internet. (Amazon says that its original business plan “contemplated only books.”)”
Now, I know Jeff Bezos is seen as forward-looking, but I have to admit…that seems a bit far-fetched.
Amazon only sold books because the sales were good for datamining?
That seems…rather ahead of the game for the mid-1990s.
It also suggests that only “affluent, educated” people would buy books (otherwise, based on this, you would have an increased noise to signal ratio in your data), and yet, the prices would be reduced?
I’d have to see the data, but if this is the plan, it doesn’t seem to me like it would work very well (and whatever Amazon has does, if you look at in terms of sales and not profits, it has worked very well).
It reads to me sort of like this:
“Rich people buy diamonds. We want to know where the rich people are, so we’ll sell diamonds. However, rich people don’t buy very many diamonds, which won’t give us enough information…so we’ll price our diamonds like they are rhinestones.”
You see the problem?
You could attract rich people (who would presumably be better customers for other goods) with a superior shopping experience and service…you wouldn’t decrease the price to get more data.
I genuinely believe that Amazon, as an entity, liked books from the beginning…even though they may have liked sales equally as much.
I still believe that Amazon has been good for books.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ve been good for the book industry, the way it existed before 1994.
Those are two different things, though.
More people can get more books more easily because of Amazon…tens of thousands of them for free.
Crucially, more people can publish books, creating a more diverse literature.
However, that’s only one small part of the article. There are a lot of specific allegations in it. I have to read it myself yet, thoroughly, but I think many of you will want to do that (perhaps on your Kindles…).
The question of the impact Amazon has on books is one that we can certainly debate. I think it may be decades before we really know. That’s how it is with a transformation: will what results be a butterfly or a werewolf…or a bit of both? Um…a butterwolf?😉
You my find this other article more disturbing:
It’s not about how Amazon treats books…it’s about how Amazon treats its employees.
The title and subtitle make the position clear:
“Worse than Wal-Mart: Amazon’s sick brutality and secret history of ruthlessly intimidating workers
You might find your Prime membership morally indefensible after reading these stories about worker mistreatment”
This is not a hypothetical assessment: it contains reports of specific allegations.
I do recommend that you read it, although it may be hard on your emotions.
Essentially, it suggests that Amazon abuses its workers, in part because of its customer focus.
I’ve mentioned concerns about fulfillment center workers before, and I do think that might be part of why Amazon bought Kiva, a robotics company, some time back.
While the article focuses on Amazon, and on how computerized monitoring and analysis can lead to harsher conditions for human workers, it is actually an excerpt from a book that deals with the topic more widely:
I do want to point out something I found…interesting.
At the bottom of the article is a link to the book. Where does it take you? To the Kindle store, with what appears to be an affiliate link (I’ve used a different link above).
In other words, it appears to me that Salon posted an article, wrote a headline for it suggesting it was “morally indefensible” to give Amazon money…then linked to a place where you could give Amazon money…and they would benefit from it if you did.
What do you think? Has Amazon been good or bad for books? Do we know yet? As books become increasingly democratized, is that a positive or a negative? Is increasing the number of “poorer” quality books available a risk to quality literature? How about Amazon’s workers? If these allegations are true, would you stop shopping with Amazon? What if Amazon was working to change its practices? Feel free to let me and my readers know what you think by commenting on this post.
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* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. Shop ’til you help! By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things.
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.