Amazon vs. the World!
Amazon has a lot of enemies. Brick & mortar book stores, unions, and some technology companies (like Apple) seem to hate Amazon. But Amazon has one very important ally, the President of the United States.
President Obama ticked off some of his supporters last week when he visited an Amazon distribution center in Tennessee. I know he ticked them off because I heard some of these Obama supporters complain (okay, it was only two people, but still…). These were people who had never complained about President Obama before, but they were so angry at him for saying good things about Amazon that they couldn’t even find a way to blame it on Republicans.
It’s a bipartisan thing. A couple Republicans I know were so angry at Amazon for letting President Obama use the warehouse as a photo-op that they vowed to start shopping at brick & mortar bookstores. Even book buying is becoming political.
Last month the U.S. Justice Department won its case against Apple (colluding with book publishers to keep the price of ebooks up in order to try to compete with Amazon), and now the case is in its remedy (punishment) phase. President Obama visits Amazon at the same time that the Justice Department is beating up on some of Amazon’s major competitors? Maybe the real collusion wasn’t between Apple and the book publishers. And maybe I’m a delusional guy who needs to stick to writing serials about women that I’ve met in laundry rooms and libraries.
Amazon ticks off a lot of people. Amazon ticks off other book dealers by setting prices so low that other stores (except maybe places like Overstock) can compete. The working conditions at the Amazon distribution centers are supposedly deplorable, and that ticks people off. Also, the company loses money almost every year and yet its stock continues to rise, showing that its investors are either incredibly far-sighted or they are repeating the same mistakes that cause stock market crashes every decade (I’m not sure which choice is the correct one).
Now Jeff Bezos (owner of Amazon) is purchasing The Washington Post and has said that printed newspapers will no longer exist (with a few exceptions, like in luxury hotels) in 20 years. Observers might wonder why he would buy something that won’t exist in 20 years. Then again, if Jeff Bezos can revolutionize the book publishing business by not making money, it makes sense that he’d get involved in newspapers, a business that already doesn’t make any money. Maybe Jeff Bezos will buy an airline next.
Despite all this, I like Amazon. I like purchasing books cheap. I enjoy the free Amazon app where I can still purchase books on my phone without buying a Kindle. I like writing my own ebooks that hardly anybody reads (I don’t like the part about hardly anybody reading my ebooks, but that’s how it goes). I also know that Amazon can’t sustain its current business practices (book prices will probably go up, but working conditions will probably remain deplorable).
Even though Amazon seems to have the upper hand right now, trends change very quickly. Consumers are fickle, especially when low prices start to skyrocket. Amazon’s competition might get crushed in the near future, but if/when Amazon double crosses its buyers (and it’s probably going to happen), a new company will emerge to undercut Amazon. And if that new company allows me to buy books cheap, I’ll be a new temporarily loyal customer.