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Amazon vs. the World!

August 7, 2013
The way things are going, Amazon may soon start paying its customers to read books just to put libraries out of business.

The way things are going, Amazon may soon start paying its customers to read books just to put libraries out of business.

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.

5 Comments
  1. I like Amazon too, although I don’t think, as you said, that it’s bulletproof. No one would have thought that bookstores would be going out of business ten years ago, so who knows what’ll happen in ten years.

  2. Amazon, like any other successful corporation, has its critics and its supporters.

    It seems to me that Amazon has done what no brick & mortar store had been able to do — get more people reading. With the cheap books, the free books, and the ability for more authors to publish, there are more reading opportunities than ever (not that all free/cheap books are good — some are badly in need of an editor, but that’s another story). And, as a long-time reader and book lover, I’m happy to see people reading. One of the things I learned working in a brick & mortar for all those years is that I don’t care what people read, as long as they are reading. When I first started working there, I was a snob, believing that certain genres were beneath notice. But, it finally occurred to me that the benefits of reading (whatever the material) are a good thing — reading enhances your memory, your imagination, and you learn things along the way. So, Amazon getting more books into more hands is, in my mind, a good thing.

    And, for whatever else it may be, Obama giving a speech at an Amazon warehouse is a good thing — and, Republicans should be talking it up, instead of being outraged. Amazon just announced the creation of 25,000 jobs in the near future — something that not many companies are doing right now. And, domestically, at least, working conditions at Amazon are better than many other retailers.

    Don’t get me wrong — I’m not an Amazon loyalist. I think they have their flaws — but, places like WalMart certainly have more.

    Thoughtful post….

  3. An interesting post. While I do like actual bookstores, I like Amazon because it saves me money on college textbooks and I like getting all the ebooks they’re willing to give me for free. I’ve also sold a few textbooks on Amazon myself when the college bookstore wouldn’t take them. I guess for me it’s just a matter of knowing what to use it for and hoping that it won’t end up taking over the world or something!

    • I’ve always thought that college textbooks were a scam, so if Amazon can help students save some money (maybe even a lot of money), then that’s great. I feel sympathy for some local bookstores that are losing business because of Amazon, but I don’t feel sympathy for college bookstores at all.

  4. An interesting blog post. Amazon’s relationship with Obama is certainly raising eyebrows. I also like Amazon. They are a company after all and they are not going to survive being nice. If you are interested I wrote this blog post about Amazon’s global assault – http://guyportman.com/2013/08/09/amazons-assault/
    Thanks

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