Why I’m fed up with Amazon


In the past I have both 1) praised Jeff Bezos for displaying what looks like a true love of books and reading, and 2) highlighted Amazon’s bullying and heavy-handedness in the publishing industry by linking to Steve Wasserman’s damning 2012 article “The Amazon Effect,” in which Wasserman, the former editor of the Los Angeles Times Books Review, explains how his early positive view of Bezos and Amazon soured over time as it became evident that the company is intent on “bulldozing any real or perceived obstacles to its single-minded pursuit of maximum clout” by imposing “increasingly harsh terms on both its competitors and its clients.”

Recently it’s looking like the scale has tipped definitively in favor of the negative judgment on both Bezos and his company. Or at least that’s my take, which is based on the fact, revealed just last week, that Amazon is now flat-out blackmailing publishers and authors into complying with their draconian demands by charging higher prices and delaying shipments for products from companies that resist them. Various other tactics are also involved, such as removing entire promotion pages for some books. What’s more, Amazon isn’t afraid to play this kind of hardball with books by big-name authors. Titles by J. K. Rowling, Anne River Siddons, and James Patterson are among those that have been affected.

Says The New York Times‘ David Streitfield and Melissa Eddy:

Amazon’s power over the publishing and bookselling industries is unrivaled in the modern era. Now it has started wielding its might in a more brazen way than ever before. Seeking ever-higher payments from publishers to bolster its anemic bottom line, Amazon is holding books and authors hostage on two continents by delaying shipments and raising prices. The literary community is fearful and outraged — and practically begging for government intervention. . . . No firm in American history has exerted the control over the American book market — physical, digital and secondhand — that Amazon does.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m personally fed up with this kind of crap, and this feeling applies to more than just the Amazon situation. Amazon is emblematic of a major cultural shift that has taken place in the Internet era as megacorporations representing various sectors of the business world and cultural life at large have attempted to hold us all hostage by playing an egregiously monopolistic game. And it all seems doubly sinister in a way that’s distinct from the monopolies of a past age, since this time the imperialistic and totalitarian business practices are hitched to, and also — or so the corporate titans hope — enabled and sweetened by, the digital-populist tone of “personal freedom and empowerment” that still attends the Internet like a lingering morning mist at midday.

This kind of thing makes me remember all over again why I ditched Facebook and Twitter. Among other reasons, I just got sick of being a willing pawn in the war of the Digital Overlords, where my personal data and decisions are used as leverage and ammunition. I’ve been thinking for many months that it may be time to ditch Amazon as well, and this recent revelation adds some serious weight to that consideration. This would of course mean going back and removing all of the Amazon affiliate links here at The Teeming Brain. I also own a Kindle and subscribe to Prime, so, you know, I’m pretty deeply entangled. And don’t think for a minute that I’m not aware of the tarry syrup of irony that automatically coats every word I type here, on a blog, using a computer that’s running a Windows operating system, thus reinforcing the basic thrust of the entire digital economy and cultural technopoly that I’m ostensibly criticizing.

I would be interested to hear anybody’s thoughts on this issue. Is Amazon really a tyrant? Would a personal boycott be advisable? Would it even be meaningful? More broadly, is the future just a giant playing field for megacorporations where the role of us peasants is simply to be trampled underfoot while saying thank you for it?

Image courtesy of mack2happy / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

About Matt Cardin


Posted on May 27, 2014, in Arts & Entertainment, Internet & Media and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. “And don’t think for a minute that I’m not aware of the tarry syrup of irony that automatically coats every word I type here, on a blog, using a computer that’s running a Windows operating system, thus reinforcing the basic thrust of the entire digital economy and cultural technopoly that I’m ostensibly criticizing.”

    I think that’s your most damning comment in the entire article, especially since we all know Microsoft was duly indicted and yet never budged from it’s business-as-usual, and yet there you are, still using their platform even when viable alternatives exist (iirc, MS owns about 30% of Apple)

    But you secretly love it, don’t you. It is the validation of the American Dream, rich boys make it big, get astronomically richer off everyone else, not because they’re particularly clever, but because they had the clout to get into that position of monopoly. They are our epic heros, we cheer them, and a quick glance at the self-help bookshelves at the local real-world bookshop confirms that we want to be just like them.

    So is there any use in wining about just one of them?

    • LOL … uh no Microsoft is the guy who supports any company that wants to make tech that allows people to build their computers themselves, and those people who do that use linux or whatever to run their shit with windows open out of the fucking matrix . They can read and understand computer language, I don’t work well in that language , so I use macintosh which is a computer for normal mundane people like myself not good with computers. Microsoft does a shit ton to provide people with tehcnology lego to build things themselves. I also like apple because their stuff is more reliable. Matt might not be so aggro about technology if he lived with macintosh products for a while, using Windows well I could understand his frustrations.

  2. I think it’s just the way things need to go . As technology gets bigger, costs come down with big factories to produce and efficiently distribute product. That’s just the way of machinery. It’s something we just have to flow with, I think. I went to a small bookstore the other day.. and I asked for The Idea of the Holy, Ennemoser’s History of Magic, and Mallet’s Northern Antiquities . When I had last checked amazon, Idea of the Holy would have taken like 3 weeks to ship so I thought fuck it I’ll just buy it locally. I needed to get course books that my professor insisted on selling through a small bookstore. So I just asked about some books while I was there . They didn’t have any of them.. I’m going to go visit a rare and used book seller sometime in Montreal to find the kind of stuff I am looking for.. I was recommended ( http://www.wordbookstore.ca/ ) . This is all book stores should do to compete with amazon is at least have things that amazon would take like a month to ship out and have a more personal relationship to customers, authors, and so on. If I wanted to buy a book by Tolkien or whatever there is no reason why I shouldn’t just order from a big box store if that is more convenient for me. I don’t think facebook and other big tech corps would be the way they are without the perpetual state of war and paranoia that our leaders have put us in . I like facebook it connects me to the world in a way that empowers me the way that newspapers and print media cannot . I have really obscure tastes . I wouldn’t know that some funeral doom band from Finland was touring without a website like facebook. I don’t like digital books the page turning thing is awkward I prefer to have a physical book in my hands especially a great reference book like Otto’s . There’s also some great music stores here like Freeson Rock that have like all the great prog rock stuff and metal and whatever. I feel like when I go to these places that they serve me and can get me stuff that I would never be able to browse and find nor would they have in stock on amazon . Like I have found old Elend albums from like a long time ago limited to only a thousand copies sitting for sale for $10 in their store . Amazon can’t offer me that .

  3. Matt, you should contact stores like The Word to sell your books. Researching book stores like that might take a bit of time but you’ll be able to increase your exposure that way . At least get the bookstores serving customers that would buy your books interested in you. That’s really the best thing you could do and better than dealing with amazon since most users of amazon frankly don’t really care about heavy reading anyway.

  4. “This is a huge opportunity,” said Adrian King-Edwards, co-owner of Montreal’s The Word bookstore, whose wares included a recently acquired first edition of Leonard Cohen’s debut Let Us Compare Mythologies ($10,000) and a sheet of Adolf Hitler’s official stationery ($1,000). “There’s been immense effort put into this fair, and we’re hoping that it will become an annual event. And the response so far from the Toronto book collectors has been really good.” http://arts.nationalpost.com/2010/11/05/among-the-antiquarians-why-there%E2%80%99s-optimism-in-the-old-book-game/

  5. It’s a tough one, Matt. I have heard complaints about Amazon from one of my favorite independent bookstore owners, Mitchell Kaplan of Books & Books. And yet, I have to say for someone like me, publishing from a small University press that doesn’t have the budget for mega-advertising and mega-distribution, being on Amazon gives me just the slightest bit of a chance at competing with bigger names from bigger publishers. I also think if Amazon got big from those anemic bottom lines is because we readers still look for that bargain. I think it’s a tradeoff and that in the long run this is going to be bad for all of us, but that’s pretty much how I feel for all technology: it’s so seductive and easy, and yet we know just around the corner ahead there is going to be big trouble. From a practical standpoint, I need Amazon. But now I think I’m going to try to look harder for other alternatives, or at least vary it a bit.

  6. “a lingering morning mist at midday”

    So true, Matt. There is, I suppose, an element of grim satisfaction for those of us that never bought the whole freedom and empowerment spiel.

    But the great sliding has begun; too late now for the pebbles to vote.

    Every time I read an under-30 commenting how convenient and easy it is to use the Internet to ‘connect’ or ‘find stuff’, I start fantasizing about sustained aerial bombardments.

  7. This issue is complicated. Two giants battling it out and we can’t see the actual blows. http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2014/05/26/amazon-v-hachette-dont-believe-the-spin/

    I don’t like amazon’s strong-arm tactics, but this whole issue is tangled with the Big 5 publisher’s price-fixing collisions that the government slapped down. It’s part of the fallout from the court-ordered demand for individual negotiations with each publisher. I hesitate to take sides when I don’t know even know the battle lines, which are hidden behind the scenes.

  8. More broadly, is the future just a giant playing field for megacorporations where the role of us peasants is simply to be trampled underfoot while saying thank you for it?

    you pretty much have hit the nail on the head there Matt.
    well said. 😀

  9. One thing to consider is that Amazon does make it possible for independent authors (aka self-published) to actually make income from their books (with substantial DIY gumption required) in ways that weren’t possible with the publishing industry of the last 15 or 20 when it became impossible for publishers to maintain backstock without serious tax liabilities.

    see: http://authorearnings.com/the-report/ – the number crunching that might convince anyone to go indie
    http://hollylisle.com/selling-to-the-net-or/ – which seriously implicates Amazon and ordering-to-the-net BUT she shows how that Amazon-ness is being “hacked” to benefit authors (either in that post or in a later one, I don’t recall).

    Now this all says nothing about corporate shenanigans or what happens when all book buyers only have Amazon as an option. Like all systems, lack of redundancy can be fatal.

  10. From 2008 I bought my books from amazon and bookdepository and I bought more than a thousand books. From March 2014 amazon release a statement that said “No more free shipping for you” (I’m from portugal). From that moment on, I understood the power of that company. Nowadays I still buy books from bookdepository (even if they belong to them) but I see the prices are higher.

    Your kindle situation is upsetting and that’s why I never once bought a ebook. If amazon closes what happens to kindle and your purchases? They control everyones kindle.

    Amazon will not fall with this. They are entering the film industry now with good reviews. I think many people are dependent on them to get goods. With all those things they are still cheaper than everybody else. One day when they destroy Barnes & Nobles then we will see the power of Amazon. It’s like microsoft. So many people say they are evil but use them on a daily basis. And one day the same will happen with mobile phones.

    And I don’t think the goverment are going to mess with that. If they do, they will then move to microsoft, google or apple? And then what? The oil companies? No way.

  11. I concur!
    I moved to N. Michigan. I was a Prime member. Though I was paying premium prices AS WELL AS their fee, they changed me to 3-5 days. I did not sign back up for Prime, and every order subsequently went to la-la land. They wouldn’t ship for 8-10 days. Finally, I cancelled the orders.
    Additionally, I buy 15-20 books from them a month. I may return 1-3. You get deeper and deeper into them and you just don’t like them. Now they’ve blocked my ability to return a book. I spent 1000’s a year!

  12. I have just tried to order my first book online from Amazon .ca.5 times in 7 days their system made me re-submit my card for payment. I have never had such a negative experience. I have checked with my bank and I have no card problem, there’s no withholding payment for 10 days etc. I was told I had to get a Chase Manhatten Visa. Problem is I’m in Canada. That bank doesn’t exist here. Then the problem was that the funds in my card are $ Canadian! I’m in Canada, ordering through Amazon.ca not Amazon.com and the invoice is in $ Canadian! Dumbass! I had to hang up on one agent, she had no idea what she was talking about, had been on the job all of 2 months, and her Phillipino accent was so heavy that I couldn’t understand her and had to get her to slowly repeat herself each sentence!. No promised call-back from her supervisor yet either. Last night one of their online chatpeople told me ha saw the problem and fixed it. 6:30 this am another email showed up. My card was still not being honored. after being fed more BS I finally told the agent on the phone this am (5th call in a week!) to cancel my order. She asked me if I wanted to re-try ordering. No. And cancel my account. Now. And put in your system that you are to not contact me in the future. Nice first (and last) experience.

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