Home > rant > I am boycotting Amazon

I am boycotting Amazon

May 30, 2014

I have been doing some reading about the Amazon/ Hachette battle and I have come to the conclusion that Amazon has become a huge bully. I also wasn’t impressed by how they treat employees, how they monitor and surveil them, and a host of other problems. For that reason I’m boycotting Amazon for my shopping as well as my blogging habits, so no more direct links.

Update: I’m actually still going to use their EC2 services as part of the Lede Program. Not sure how to avoid that actually, and I’d welcome suggestions.

Categories: rant
  1. KenS
    May 30, 2014 at 7:27 am

    Finally! A writer who recognizes Amazon’s anti-competitive practices! And let’s not forget Jeff Bezos’s disdain for democratically elected school boards. I wish every education blogger would do the same as you and stop posting links to Amazon.

  2. May 30, 2014 at 7:34 am

    Good luck!… I tried that once but eventually caved (same with WalMart) :-((
    …and over time, for good or ill, I’ve come to reluctantly perceive Jeff Bezos as one of the truly prescient geniuses of our time… but hey, FWIW, in spirit I’m with ya!…

    • Josh
      May 30, 2014 at 9:04 am

      Don’t give up. There are alternatives, sometimes superior ones.

      For books, local stores (which Indiebound can help find), Abebooks (which Amaxon links to but you should go directly so they don’t get a cut) can often find excellent copies at lower prices and and as a last resort B&N is similar to Amazon in pricing.

      Even if you do use Amazon on occasion, it can be less frequent.

      • Albanius
        May 30, 2014 at 9:41 am

        bookfinder.com is a site that searches books available on Abebooks, Alibris, Half, and many independent booksellers. It includes ratings of used book condition. I once ordered a book from New Zealand and it came promptly.

        • Guest2
          May 30, 2014 at 11:13 am

          fetchbook.info lists about 140 booksellers and I use it all the time first, for buying and sellling. It is the closest thing to “free market” that I know of.

    • mathematrucker
      May 30, 2014 at 5:00 pm

      Not that Jeff Bezos doesn’t deserve enormous credit (for actually making Amazon happen), but it didn’t take much prescience for an insider to observe that book selling in the early 1990s was hardly efficient. In spring 1993 I was a minimum wage clerk at Texas A&M Bookstore, which was (and probably still is) owned by B&N. Among our various clerking duties was “boxing returns” — packing what appeared to be at least 50% of the store’s inventory back into boxes for UPS to take back to the distribution warehouses. Struck by the obviousness of it all, in April 1993 I approached one of the higher-ups in the school’s administration to see if an arrangement could be set up whereby students would simply check a box when they register for a class, to have their textbook(s) shipped to them via UPS. The charge would then be itemized on their tuition bill. The person I spoke with (I don’t remember his name) was very receptive to the idea. Then Amazon hit the scene.

  3. DJ
    May 30, 2014 at 7:36 am

    Sorry, Cathy, I disagree. There are plenty of very good reasons to boycott Amazon, as you pointed out. Hachette is not one of them. Big publishers have never looked out for either authors or readers. Big publishers have been bullying the buying public for decades with no countervailing force to keep them in check. Amazon is not being a bully here. Amazon is an equal negotiator, something the publishers have not had to deal with for a very long while. Amazon is acting directly and strongly on behalf of consumers, something that nobody in this industry with power has done for a very long time. It’s like calling organized labor a bully just because they have the ability to stand up to employers on equal terms. I don’t agree.

  4. RDBrown
    May 30, 2014 at 7:39 am

    Charlie Stross Amazon: malignant monopoly, or just plain evil?

    TL:DR; Amazon’s strategy against Hachette is that of a bullying combine the size of WalMart leaning on a much smaller supplier. And the smaller supplier in turn relies on really small suppliers like me. It’s anti-author, and in the long term it will deprive you of the books you want to read.

    • DJ
      May 30, 2014 at 7:58 am

      Hachette is hardly a small supplier. They’re one of the big five publishers. Also, the book market is not like the market for groceries or camping supplies. Copyright is a dominant force in the book market and it tilts the equation towards publishers considerably.

      Amazon’s post links to http://www.thecockeyedpessimist.blogspot.ca/2014/05/whos-afraid-of-amazoncom.html which I feel presents the view of most small publishers accurately.

  5. Rob
    May 30, 2014 at 7:55 am

    While I think the Amazon boycott is a bit silly, if you want to go all out and ditch EC2 maybe checkout Digital Ocean.

  6. Albanius
    May 30, 2014 at 8:03 am

    I was a pretty heavy Amazon customer until the Hachette episode. I had heard about exploitation of employees, but I felt that it wasn’t practical to boycott capitalism (except in economic sectors where there is a practical democratic alternative, eg my Credit Union) and Amazon is so damn convenient.
    But bullying use of market dominance in the world of information is SO ABUSIVE that I decided to boycott, hoping enough others would respond similarly that a mass boycott, which can make a difference, would happen.

    • DJ
      May 30, 2014 at 8:07 am

      Media publishers have been exploiting their market dominance for decades through abusive copyright licensing. Elsevier is one of the worst examples but every publisher does it to some degree. Why not boycott them?

      • ScentOfViolets
        May 30, 2014 at 9:24 am

        People do boycott Elsevier. In fact and most prominently, math people. Any other questions?

        • May 30, 2014 at 9:28 am

          Yes and I do too but it’s a heck of a lot easier than boycotting Amazon!

        • DJ
          May 30, 2014 at 9:32 am

          My question was “why not boycott them”, where “them” refers to all abusive publishers, not just Elsevier.

        • ScentOfViolets
          May 30, 2014 at 9:48 am

          Elsevier is widely recognized as being extraordinarily abusive. The other publishing houses? Not so much. So now you’re asking me to find both a) people who think every publisher is abusive, b) further think that in each and every case the abusive practices are so bad (at least as bad as Elsevier) that they should boycotted en masse, and c) a specific subset of those people who actually do so (as if hypocrisy invalidated the point!)

          Bottom line: I delivered, as per your requests; I now you’re moving the goal posts in a rather clumsy, rather silly fashion, rather than admit you’re wrong.

        • DJ
          May 30, 2014 at 10:32 am

          This is Cathy’s soapbox and I’d rather not interfere by posting a huge rant on how the concept of book publishing as it is currently constituted is inherently abusive.

        • ScentOfViolets
          May 30, 2014 at 11:07 am

          Every publishing company is abusive, but Amazon isn’t abusive at all? Okaaaay . . .

        • DJ
          May 30, 2014 at 11:08 am

          I explained this already. Two abusers going up against each other is a more equitable situation than one abuser against a powerless victim. I don’t think it makes sense to boycott one of the abusers in this situation but not the other.

        • ScentOfViolets
          May 30, 2014 at 11:49 am

          And it’s been explained to you already that this is not an equitable situation either. Did you even read the link to Stross’s page? Don’t bother to reply until you have done so.

        • DJ
          May 30, 2014 at 12:06 pm

          Yes I read the link. By the same token, did you read the link that I posted?

          Stross is an author. To the extent that publishers are proxies for authors, I believe authors share some blame for the situation. I disagree with Stross. I will never agree with Stross. That’s OK. We can disagree. Amazon does a lot of things that I despise, but standing up for lower prices against big publishing houses and then passing those savings on to consumers is not one of them.

        • ScentOfViolets
          May 30, 2014 at 1:46 pm

          Since you read the link, you know that a) Amazon is an effective monopsony and b) it’s about twenty times the size of Hatchette. Nevertheless, you stoutly maintain that both entities have the same amount of market power and that an established writer with lots of real experience is wrong.

          Okay, now I know how much your opinion is worth. This conversation is over.

        • May 30, 2014 at 1:47 pm

          Guys please stay respectful

  7. Melissa
    May 30, 2014 at 9:00 am

    Alternatively, your ONLY Amazon purchases could be Hachette books until the dispute is resolved. You wouldn’t be boycotting, but you would be defiant as fuck.

  8. Hortron
    May 30, 2014 at 9:24 am

    I don’t understand the problem. Amazon is trying to force their sales terms with Hachette by either 1) getting customers to pressure Hachette and 2) reducing Hachette’s income via amazon. In the process they are inconveniencing their customers.

    I guess Amazon is being passive about this, stop selling their catalog all together and put a note telling the customers we’re not selling Hachette titles because they won’t agree to pro-customer sales terms *g*.

    But I don’t really think this is bullying, and I don’t think this is primarily anti-consumer. Overall, what Amazon does to remain in its customers’ good graces has to be balanced against all they do.

  9. May 30, 2014 at 9:53 am

    This is worth a read and it’s about how bots are doing human like things and scamming folks who advertise too..bots can be trained to act like humans when companies track you mouse movements on websites..

    http://adage.com/article/digital/bots-scam-advertisers-pretending-human/293428/?utm_source=Digital&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+AdvertisingAge/Digital&utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

    On Amazon, I did read somewhere of late that if you want to quit they will give an employee up to 5k to leave and again I’m sure there’s some parameters to be met to qualify for the 5k as well. We are losing respect for people as “humans” I agree. I blogged the other day about a merger and the “doctors and patients” were referred to as “inventory” that had been transferred to the the other company…sad indeed when that’s how big corporations even publicly refer to us these days.

  10. mathematrucker
    May 30, 2014 at 10:54 am

    Capitalism rewards pathology. This early job ad hints perhaps, at how Amazon would come to view employees 20 years (!) later:

    “Well-capitalized start-up seeks extremely talented C/C++/Unix developers to help pioneer commerce on the Internet. You must have experience designing and building large and complex (yet maintainable) systems, and you should be able to do so in about one-third the time that most competent people think possible.”

    —Jeff Bezos in mi.jobs, August 22 1994 (quote taken from p.186 of “55 Ways to Have Fun With Google” by Philipp Lenssen)

  11. suevanhattum
    May 30, 2014 at 10:59 am

    My favorite alternative to Amazon is Better World Books, which has what they call a triple bottom line ($, social justice, environment). But I often want titles that they don’t have. Then I usually jump to Amazon. I’m happy to participate in an Amazon boycott, and can change that jump to go to bookfinder, which will hopefully point me to other suppliers of whatever books I’m craving.

    The firs time I tried to avoid Amazon was the week they messed with the LGBT books, calling books ‘adult’ that weren’t, thereby messing with their stats, which affect sales. A bookseller who specializes in LGBT books was hurt badly. They said it was a mistake, but they sure didn’t compensate the victims of their ‘mistake’. Having any one company (no matter how well-meaning) control such a huge share of the market is dangerous.

    Of course, if we want to make this effective, we have to take it seriously, and let more people know. How serious about this are you, Cathy?

  12. tdhawkes
    May 30, 2014 at 12:17 pm

    I too have been boycotting amazon for quite some time for the reasons you list. Also, they have a seriously deleterious effect on local businesses, who need to be supported instead of a huge corporate bully.

  13. Mark
    May 30, 2014 at 12:34 pm

    Yeah, this didn’t reach me. And I followed a bunch of the links found in both the post and the comments here as well as links found on those pages. Amazon’s Hachette strategy seems a little stupid and Amazon has been treading way too closely to monopoly status fror a while. But the rest of this is squishy he-said-she-said opinionated stuff. There’s a strong smell of selective outrage in some of the articles. And then there’s just that classic bang your head against the wall conundrum of accepting/rejecting the role of efficiency, economies of scale, market positioning and power in free market economics. Yeah, I totally see the problem. It’s the solution that I’m having trouble with.

    Truth is I had been wondering whether to boycott Amazon, and coming here today convinced me not to – at least for now.

    Meanwhile people keep writing articles about the imminent demise of B&N. So where are they in this? Good grief. I mean seriously, no wonder Bezos is a billionaire. B&N takes the Hachette deal, asks for some short term promotional deals and then sells the books (all of the books from a big five publisher) a dollar under Amazon without delivery delays. Even if that results in thin margins, it’s still just about as close to free money as you can ask for. Doh!

  14. dotkaye
    May 30, 2014 at 2:28 pm

    for books, I have been able to find everything Amazon has, used and new, at Powells.com: an old-fashioned Portland bookshop which treats its employees like human beings. It costs on average about $1/book more than Amazon, which I pay happily.

    Not much hope for replacing EC2. As idlewords observed, “What the cloud is is a big collection of buildings and computers that we actually know very little about, run by a large American company notorious for being pretty terrible to its workers. ”
    http://idlewords.com/bt14.htm

  15. Albanius
    May 30, 2014 at 3:07 pm

    HELP! I want to unsubscribe from this Amazon thread only, but the system wants to unsubscribe me from Mathbabe in general :-(

  16. May 30, 2014 at 5:06 pm

    Avoiding Amazon EC2 is easy – just go with Microsoft Azure, Google, RackSpace or Digital Ocean. They’re in a price war, though, so you may find yourself getting rotten service from any of them including Amazon.

  17. May 30, 2014 at 5:08 pm

    Avoiding Amazon EC2 is easy – Microsoft, Google, RackSpace and DIgital Ocean all offer competing services. However, they’re in a price war and you’ll probably get shitty service from any of them including Amazon.

  18. orthonormal
    May 30, 2014 at 5:58 pm

    Not sure what to conclude, but here’s a contrarian viewpoint I found worth reading: https://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2014/05/26/amazon-v-hachette-dont-believe-the-spin/

    Essentially, the big five publishers used to negotiate as a cartel, but that was found to be illegal, so they’re negotiating one at a time; Hachette is up first. Everything else is a spin war, and the publishers are doing a better job of it than Amazon.

  19. David18
    May 31, 2014 at 10:52 am

    While I’m an Apple fanboy in the case of eBooks, it was Apple, and not Amazon which was the bad guy and sued by DOJ for antitrust violations colluding with publishers to force eBook prices up. While Apple maintains it did nothing wrong, the five publishers settled out of court.

    http://www.macobserver.com/tmo/article/apple-denied-stay-in-ebook-antitrust-damages-trial

    So, it was Apple and the five publishers who were the bad guys trying to make eBooks more expensive and less accessible to readers while Amazon is the good guy trying to make them more accessible to customers.

    While Amazon has almost no profits to speak of, Apple has huge profits and yet they along with the publishers wanted to make the eBooks more expensive, which is definitely not serving the public good. It makes Apple look greedy along with the publishers in their attempt to collude to extort higher than market prices for eBooks.

    If you are boycotting Amazon for trying to make eBook prices lower and more accessible to readers, then certainly you should boycott Apple and the five publishers who, after all, violated anti-trust law to make the eBooks more expensive and less accessible to reader.

    • May 31, 2014 at 11:07 am

      I think it’s a mistake to assume that anything that lowers the price for customers is automatically “good.” Walmart underpays their employees in order to to lower prices to an extreme, and I’d rather pay 1.3% more for the sake of their employees making a living wage, for example. Also, amazon is forcing companies, possibly including publishers, to skimp on quality in order to squeeze out prices.

      If amazon wants to be a reasonable platform, it should let companies “overcharge” for their books and be priced out of the market. Let capitalism work, amazon! Instead, they are control freaks and trying to force market prices to below costs. They are bullies. And they get to be bullies because Wall Street keeps subsidizing their underpricing of items.

      On Sat, May 31, 2014 at 10:52 AM, mathbabe wrote:

      >

      • DJ
        May 31, 2014 at 11:26 am

        There’s no way ebooks are being priced below cost. Hachette’s profit margins are a healthy 4% compared to Amazon’s 0.4%. Walmart, by comparison, also has 4% profit margins — huge in retail.

        Free market capitalism would entail allowing Amazon to distribute or not distribute books based on rational market considerations. I don’t think Amazon has anywhere near a monopoly. There are plenty of other venues for selling books. Monopolies don’t maintain a 0.4% profit margin over a span of more than a decade.

      • David18
        May 31, 2014 at 3:02 pm

        For those who earn little money compared with their family circumstance, for those in the lowest segments of society or for those retirees on a fixed income, literally every dollar counts and so they may not agree with you that the lowest price isn’t necessarily the best. An additional 1.3% means a lot to people in these circumstances.

        At least before the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Walmart and other retailers would not have adequate health insurance with many of their workers on Medicaid which is subsidized by the state and federal governments. Perhaps ACA has fixed things so that Walmart now does pay for health care costs of employees.

        If books were commodities or if there were good substitution (a Hemingway for ?), I might agree with you about capitalism. But this is not the case. What I would endorse is a way for authors to get out of contracts with publishers that are resisting negotiations with major distribution channels (eg, Amazon) and hence harming the distribution of their books.

        I *do* think that Walmart and Amazon, etc. should provide ways for people that wish to pay more for products that would then go directly to wages (in the case of Walmart) would be a good idea. But those who have little money should not be forced into such a program.

        BTW, I never get a chance to shop at Walmart because politics keeps them out of NYC.

  20. May 31, 2014 at 3:36 pm

    I am closing comments on this.

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