Amazon and Me

I have to confess to a lot of dissonance with the current conduct of – being that I have a huuuuge number of books up there on Amazon, buy an equally huuge number of books from them, and as an indy author among many, went into enthusiastically providing content for their launch of the Kindle e-reader early on. The Kindle was seen (correctly, in my humble opinion) as a means to economically route around the whole indigestible bolus of providing print copies of books to interested readers through traditional publishing, a means which involved discounts to a distributor, print costs, shipping costs, storage costs, return discounts and return charges … it cut out that whole cycle of shipping and accounting for concrete (in the metaphorical sense, not the literal) copies of printed books, in favor of … wheee! Text files downloaded to a reader device! Instanter! No shipping or warehouse fees, no dependency on the eccentric whims or availability of a local bookstore! No return fees, for possibly and eventually a sullen little trickle of royalties three or four months after the original sale! Freedom! Our books, straight to the reader! I did a talk early on, to a book club in a small town in South Texas, where there was nothing much for 170 miles in any direction for any but perhaps small religious bookstores, now that drug stores and the like no longer even have the wire racks of paperbacks stocked by small distributers the way that they used to do. I think that most of the readers at that event bought the Adelsverein Trilogy on their Kindles – all that they needed to do was order the book, go outside (remember, this is at least a decade ago) and bam! They had their book! Was the 21st century great, or what?!!

So the indy authors in the group that I hung out with, metaphorically speaking, were all about Kindle readers (and those other eReaders which came along later), both as a means of avoiding the gatekeepers of the Mainstream Literary Industrial Complex, and because we could provide readers almost directly with what we wanted to write, and what readers wanted to read. Yes, a lot of the output provided by indies was, as the great Theodore Sturgeon put it, the 90 percent dreck that almost anything popular is … but the remaining 10 per cent was pretty darned good, and there remain a lot of indy writers making nice incomes from their readers and fans who will never, ever feature in the New York Times Best-Sellers lists, not that they mind at all, since those indy writers are chortling all the way to the bank. Some of them have done very well, even well enough to get a belated look-in by the Mainstream Literary Industrial Complex. I’m not one of them, and I’d reject any such offers, being that I prefer being in total control of my work, small as it is in comparison to those who have gotten ahold of the brass ring.

Anyway, as loathsome as Amazon’s business practices have been, early and especially of late – for indy writers, they are the biggest platform available to us. We cannot, at this point, afford to cut off our literary nose to spite our face, although it is agreed among discussions, that we should explore alternatives, and jump to them as soon as a better presents itself. Nothing personal, Amazon – just business. As for Amazon’s other business besides books … well, there you have a comprehensive search engine with regard to consumer products. It has been suggested that consumers should use it to research an item … and then use the information posted thereon to go directly to the provider and order it from them. Seems sensible to me, cutting Amazon out of the economic loop. Buy directly from the small, or big corporation – it can’t possibly cost any more, especially since Prime seems to have gone wonky of late.

Some few years ago, I got to be an Amazon Vine reviewer. I have no notion of how this bit of serendipitous good fortune came to me; posting a huge number of reviews on books and movies which were noted as ‘helpful’ by purchasers over a certain period seems to have had something to do it with it. Swear on a stack-a-Bibles, I have never exploited this good fortune to the extent that I might have done – getting review items for free on expensive items given to me for free (save for the tax value reported to the IRS for which I do have to pay at the end of the fiscal year), pounding out a review and then reselling the goods on the secondary market for a modest profit. Honestly, I was never offered much early on – mostly books, but since late 2018, after an apparent internal and expanded revamp of the Vine program quite a few nice and relatively high-value items were offered to me on my Vine queue: household and gardening items, things like faucets, ceiling fans and light fixtures, tools, a couple of printers, a laptop and a desktop computer, and of late, baby items for the prospective grandson … all for the cost of trying them out and doing an honest review. It’s a fortunate circumstance which has saved a bundle when it came to home and garden improvements. The Daughter Unit and I joke about “The House that Bezos Built”, as there are so many small elements in the home renovation which came our way through the Vine program. I don’t plan to give this up; however, I will continue adhering to my caveat of not asking for high-value items for which I have no use other than to re-sell them at a profit. (I’m quixotic that way.) I will make especial note in the review of where such items were manufactured. If it’s from China, I’ll say so – and if manufactured somewhere else, I will say so, loud and proud.

Additional edit: And speaking of Kindle books – my latest historical novel, My Dear Cousin: A Novel in Letters is now live on Amazon and available.

26 thoughts on “Amazon and Me”

  1. I was a very early customer of Amazon and an early adopter of Amazon Prime. I think I began to use them for books in 1995. An Amazon executive flew down from Seattle a few years ago to sail with me. I have believed for a long time that someone like Bezos could have taken over Sears about that time (1995) and saved that great company. Sears demise was not due to technology, like Eastman Kodak. It was just managerial incompetence. I have a long connection with Sears. Family worked there, I worked there and Sears executives funded my scholarship to college. My short career at Sears taught me how screwed up the company was in the mid 1950s.

    Maybe a Bezos type would have developed the arrogance of Bezos, even running Sears. In 1995, the first year I encountered Amazon, Sears closed its catalog division.

    Anyway, I quit Amazon Prime after the AWS debacle. My books are an insignificant amount of my income but I do like that people are still buying them and leaving nice reviews. I was a Vine reviewer for a few months but they sent me a couple of awful books to review and I quit.

  2. The problem of Amazon for authors is that they have no control over the platform, are just along for the ride and subject to whatever whims might move Amazon. All the “third party” sellers are in the same boat. Authors might be in a slightly better position since Amazon can’t just copy their book and offer it at a lower price if it turns out to be popular like they have many other things.

    There are a number of formats for e-books, several of which work on Kindle that don’t depend on Amazon, at least for now, but distribution and promotion is a problem. The Streisand effect would probably make it easier to promote the sort of books that would be most likely to be banned and the audience would be more likely to seek them out.

    I consume fiction entirely from my Kindle and wouldn’t want to have to depend on my phone, but I am probably atypical. Since it’s also useless for technical books, all my expensive books are on paper. Physical book stores have disappeared from my life.

    I waited for years for the stupid publishers to realize that they needed a truly open format to keep control of their market before breaking down and buying a kindle. I don’t suppose it’s much consolation to the indies that Amazon is just as high handed with Simon and Schuster as anyone else.

  3. Please recall that the book business is not where you will pinch the corporate executives at Amazon.

    On the other hand, having the ‘zon hosting your ++UnGood BadThink stories and facilitating payments to authors of same is glorious.

    Do so until they force us off.

  4. The most profitable part of Amazon is Amazon Web Services. A very significant % of startups are using AWS to enable their core operations as well as their customer-facing web sites. This is also true of a lot of established companies.

    I would think that at least some companies would be thinking along the lines of…’hmm, what if AWS decides they don’t like us anymore?…” Wonder how large a deal needs to be at this point before AWS is wiling to negotiate terms & conditions (especially termination provisions) as opposed to take-it-or-leave it….I would guess probably not willing to negotiate below $10-20K per month or so, and definitely willing at $100-200K+.

  5. As I understand it, and I’m more than willing to be corrected by someone with actual experience, everything is ala-cart. This includes provisioning across different regions and continents, guaranteed up time, band width availability and compute resources. It’s all available if you’re willing to pay and largely pay for what you use. All is available for the simplest and smallest application if that’s what you’re willing to pay for, although volume discounts also figure in.

    This seems to offer unbeatable advantages for something like Parler versus the cost and trouble of establishing their own infrastructure. It would now seem to be an unacceptable risk as well. Will they next decide to kick energy companies that aren’t green enough off? When their attitude seems to be sue me, how big a company do you have to be before it’s not you they’re talking to? I expect their service reps and salesmen are going to be answering some very pointed questions, not that a reasonable person would believe anything they might say at this point.

    In a sane world, this would be the deal breaker to end all deal breakers, every customer would be looking for a way out. This isn’t just another lost package, dependability is the sum total of what they’re selling to customers that will hold every lost millisecond against them. I suppose we’ll see if they’re too big to fail.

  6. Am I wrong to draw this analogy?

    Sears is to Amazon retail as Ross Perot’s EDS is to Amazon AWS.

    Rent a business mainframe? I

    If Sears and EDS were brought down by failures to better use the cloud it seems to me that Amazon is vulnerable if they can’t ride a new wave of more powerful “personal” processors and storage – and commo.

    A cluster of Raspberry Pies with a few tetabyte USB memory sticks near a 5G tower…

  7. MCS: Yes, AWS provides services that very, very few companies could do on their own. You can go with Microsoft or Google as well, but after that there’s not any other peer competitor. Even the very largest companies use one of them, they don’t build their own servers. It really is outrageous, but shows that the left are as always totalitarian scum, and they are feeling their oats because the GOP is a bunch of sniveling cowards, and are out of power anyway for the next few years. They know that with a few big checks in 2022 they’ll avoid any sort of blowback, since it’s only the filthy masses who are being told to shut up, not the real power players in DC.

  8. Codger alert: It seems to me, when we look at virtually any modern technology, we see a good idea that turned – I’m looking for a word here – bad? evil? – as it evolved. So, for example, getting books digitally and eliminating the cumbersome middleman steps mentioned above, buying things online, using replay in sports, phones with cameras that take photos and record videos (and track you), “social” media, etc. All, at the outset, had considerable promise and appeared to be things that were going to improve our lives. But in retrospect it seems like the law of unintended consequences has decided to take steroids. It seems there are as many, or more, negatives as there are are positives to all those “advancements.” I suppose my great grandfather might have had similar thoughts about automobiles replacing the horse and buggy and I am aware of the cynicism that comes with age. However, I have always enjoyed technology, have been an early adopter of many technologies, used to code web pages using HTML back in the ’90s, and currently have a moderately smart home, so I am not averse to technology. I’m just concerned by the many not-so-good things that have either been exposed or have arisen because of it. I’m not sure exactly where I’m going with this but I feel better having written it.

  9. In it’s infancy, the internet was designed to be a distributed system that would route around ‘interruptions’. Is it (theoretically) possible that book sales/distribution or even AWS-type services could be distributed in a peer-to-peer fashion without an insurmountable cost in responsiveness? A few years ago, there were some very successful distributed computing endeavors (protein folding, genome number-crunching) that might suggest the possibility. I don’t have enough expertise to know, but with the promise of nearly universal high-speed internet (Starlink), perhaps the overall internet might have the bandwidth to make a more decentralized system a viable path.
    Anyone with the technical chops to give this thought a reality check?

  10. Recall that they didn’t just shut down Parler’s servers, basically all the companies they had contracted with to build component parts shut them off as well. The “hack” of all their posts was because their security company shut them off with no notice, so that anyone could log in with no verification and download anything. When you contract with companies to provide services, there has got to be some sort of recourse when they shut you off like that with no notice. Also recall they even shut off Trump’s email. Now imagine if you’re some small businessman who They decide to target, and your business can’t get POS services, you can’t get a web site, etc. The fact is that right now They think They could do that if you have a picture of yourself in a MAGA hat or whatever, and no one is standing up for you at the moment.

  11. AWS offers a whole range of services, from database management to AI to speech recognition to various developer tools. The more of these services you (the customer) use, as opposed to sourcing these components separately or developing them yourself, the more difficult it will be to move should that become necessary.

    There are many levels on which hosting services can be outsourced; for example, with ‘colocation’ services, you can locate your own hardware and software in a data center which provides reliable power, air conditioning, and network connectivity.

    Players at the high-function end of the market, in addition to AWS, include Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform, IBM Cloud, and Oracle Cloud.

  12. I’ve never been a fan of the Kindle platform since the “1984” debacle:

    It was revealed at the time that, not only did Amazon have the power to go into your Kindle and delete anything on it, they also had the power to surreptitiously EDIT the contents

    Right. They can revise/edit a book you have a copy of, change the text, remove a picture, add a picture, anything they want. Without you ever knowing they did it.

    And yes, IRONY(!!): It came out over incorrectly sold copies of… 1984.

    I do own some copies of Kindle books, but they are my last choice, usually when the author’s books don’t GET printed. And I always download a local copy which they have no control over, regardless, if I do.

  13. The company for which I work is making a big push to move as much enterprise tech off to the cloud as possible. That has mostly been AWS, but AWS dropping offline last year made us stop and think a bit. My company is infested with wokies, so they all supported what AWS did with Parler — but some of the more level-headed engineers and architects started the discussion of “and what if they do that to us?”. We have some pretty robust disaster recovery systems, but no one has thought about having a DR system large enough to survive a complete cutoff from our cloud provider. I expect Microsoft and Google are going to benefit from some egg-shifting from one basket to many baskets.

  14. Brian, et al: y’all may find this of interest, “Viva Frei”, a Montreal litigator does a vlog, and he’s done three on the parler suit, the amazon response, and the parler response to the amazon response:

    In order:

    @ about 20mins each, they are neither too tedious nor too “nomenclaturish” to be boring, and offer at least a decent feel for what the issues are from the legal perspective, also offering some insights into EXACTLY what Amazon did which was likely open to tort.

  15. }}} I expect Microsoft and Google are going to benefit from some egg-shifting from one basket to many baskets.

    Not sure what good that is going to do. Google was openly complicit with Amazon and Apple in shutting off Parler. If you’d been using GWS, I have no doubt they’d have yanked those, too.

    And I don’t see a company that is based out of Seattle having much issue with jumping onto that censorship wagon, if the target is pointed at by the Woken.

  16. In my experience as someone who has dealt with the cost of AWS, it’s a great service if: 1) you are starting a new service and don’t want to pay the large up front CAPEX costs, 2) you are uncertain how much capacity you will need and don’t want to overinvest or underinvest, 3) you can design your service to ramp up and ramp down to accommodate fluctuations in demand so you don’t pay for instances you don’t need, 4) you need the capacity quickly. Once you reach a certain scale it can be cheaper to run your own hardware, but by that point it might be too difficult to migrate off AWS.

    I probably won’t be completely boycotting Amazon, but I will shop around elsewhere. I’ve already purchased a couple things from other vendors when I normally would have just bought from Amazon. I’ll continue to buy extremely low cost items from them to be shipped by Prime assuming they will lose money on those.

  17. Yep! That is how it starts.

    But, remember! The people who “lease” your work are not the audience tha Amazon et al. are paying arttention to. The pennies that they earn from you don’t show up in the Executive Suite.


    I suspect you do, or you would not be pleading here. Watch what you say/write. “Cancel” is for everyone not at the top.

    Enjoy the faucets.

  18. Another issue with Amazon is their horrible quality or more properly completely unpredictable quality. It’s very easy to order something that seems OK only to re-order and be delivered a load of crap. Probably two-thirds of what’s there is being sold by people that have not the slightest idea what they are selling or understandable English.

    Now there’s a new complication of forced labor that’s only going to get worse. We’ve already seen big tech fighting to ignore who is actually working for them and the Chinese government is actively blocking any effort to verify whether free labor alone is being used. This article draws the parallel with the Anti-Apartheid actions against South Africa:

    We need to ask Apple and Amazon why they support actual slave labor while making so much noise about what ended here more than 150 years ago.

    And by the way, antifa attacked the Oregon Democratic headquarters leaving graffiti “F- Biden” and breaking all the windows.

  19. Amazon is dead to me. I’ve been a customer since 2000.

    First, they stopped delivering Kindle ebooks because I live in a foreign country – maybe they have an excuse.

    Then they have shipped four orders that are now undeliverable because they used a shipping company to my country that doesn’t do deliveries. After the first delay, I called the local delivery company office and was told Amazon should send someone to come and pick up all the shipments stacking up with them.

    Got on chat with an Amazon rep and passed on that their delivery agent wouldn’t and was told it would be delivered in 2 day – two weeks ago. Mean time, three other orders are hung up the same way. Even the refund was a partial one.

    They were informed but they didn’t listen.

    Now the Parler scandal, showing bad faith and a clear hostile action against people like me.

    Amazon is dead to me.

  20. Amazon is getting close to being dead to me too.

    It isn’t because I’ve set out to boycott them. So far.

    It’s that their site now sucks. I don’t bother shopping with them on my desktop anymore, because it’s such a pain to log in. Security, awesome. I admit this isn’t really much of a complaint, just an explanation of why I only shop with my phone.

    So. The phone app. It’s awful and getting worse with every update. Any given search will provide me with a long list of ad-sponsored items, Chinese knockoffs, and things utterly irrelevant to what I’m looking for.

    I recall years ago searching for a specific auto part and being surprised at how quickly I found what I wanted- and that I found it at all. I just had occasion to do another auto part search- and I didn’t find what I wanted, but I did see a lot of ads.

    Thumbs down. This actually reminded me of an experience I had shopping at Sears, decades ago.

    Wow, I haven’t even mentioned the new political focus the company has adopted. I’m sure it will go well, as it has with the NFL and NBA.

  21. I originally used a different ebook reader and eventually downloaded the kindle app to my phone because I was going on an extended vacation in 2017 where there would not be wireless. I liked it but I prefer a physical book, so I have not used the app since we returned from the vacation. I do download books occasionally but rarely.
    I have amazon prime and have had for years, but of late I am using amazon to find and review products then try to buy them directly from the vendor. What is it, a death of a thousand cuts. It is not much but I do what I can.
    I am also trying to buy local even if it costs a bit more, not a huge amount more but I think we need to support local merchants.

  22. Part of the problem is the US Supreme Court decision that makes the seller responsible for collecting and paying state sales tax. With 10-12000 individual tax districts in the US, it’s impossible for smaller sellers to handle the accounting and paperwork. Several multimillion dollar catalog sales companies have gone out of business as a result. The small seller is forced to sell through a huge company such as Amazon or Walmart because those companies can afford the accounting.

  23. 7 reasons why Amazon either won’t exist in 10 years or will be vastly smaller.

    1. They don’t have the lowest prices. This used to be one of their main benefits, but other online and bricks and mortar stores beat their prices about 90% of the time in my experience.
    2. Free shipping (outside of Amazon Prime) means 8-10 days wait and sometimes longer. Walmart, Home Depot, and others have next day pick up (no charge) via online ordering at their local stores. Typically 1-2 day wait.
    3. Their retail operation has never been profitable. They are in a low margin business with intense completion (see item 1 & 2 above) and it is never going to get better. Trying to make money shipping (for free) groceries (a 1% margin business) is making things worse.
    4. Their main profit center, the cloud business AWS, is under intense competitive pressure, especially by Microsoft. They will have a hard time offsetting the losses in retail with AWS as time goes on.
    5. They have a huge problem with counterfeit products, fake reviews and junk products (mostly from China) as the Walls Street Journal has pointed out in recent articles. I have experienced this first hand and so I rarely buy from them now.
    6. Their search algorithms are rigged to promote their products and their partners products, not necessarily the most relevant – again see recent WSJ articles on this topic.
    7. They have been criticized for working conditions at their distribution centers. The Amazon tax is the least of their worries – wait until the progressive come full force after their business model.

  24. I’ve bought several items from other sites in the past couple weeks, no complaints about shipping speed at all. I think a lot of people are going to find Amazon isn’t at all necessary.

  25. I’ve had good luck with Ebay, not sure they’re any better politically but at least less obnoxious. No illusions about the need for “buyer beware”, you need to know what you’re buying but the legitimate sellers are in abject terror of bad feed back. No illusions that it’s about anything besides buying and selling either, if I want my conchesnious raised, I come here.

    Amazon’s auto parts used to be the exception to their horrible search, with the ability to narrow down to individual models and even VIN’s. On the other hand, I can’t remember actually buying from them. Normally a dedicated parts dealer does a better job of convincing me that they know what they’re selling and it’s what I need. I’ve been stuck too many times in the middle of some repair, holding the wrong part in my hand to be happy with the crap that generally passes for a description on Amazon.

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