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Amazon is worse than Walmart

31 July 2013

From Salon:

President Barack Obama will visit an Amazon warehouse in Chattanooga, Tenn., today to talk  job growth — but the speech comes at a particularly awkward time for the government to embrace the company. Or perhaps there’s no more apt time: a time when we need to ask whether Amazon’s growth will lead to the kind of economy or culture we actually want to have.

. . . .

But this visit comes at a time when Amazon’s clout in the book world, in Washington and on Wall Street seems increasingly unstoppable. Obama’s speech is the exclamation point on a whirlwind several weeks in which Amazon has consolidated its position. Barnes & Noble looks increasingly shaky. Amazon lost $7 million in the second quarter, but Wall Street yawned again, sending Amazon shares higher.

And Amazon felt confident enough last week — with Wall Street satisfied, bookstores reeling and the Justice Department going after publishers — to radically slash prices on many best-selling hardcovers to nearly unseen levels: $9.09 for Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In,” $11.65 for Dan Brown’s “Inferno.” That’s less than most paperbacks, and led one bookseller to call it a brazen “declaration of war.”

. . . .

Amazon is evidently seen, by Obama and his administration, as the sort of American job-creating corporation that underpins the economy. However, unlike, for example, Walmart, a company with many deplorable practices but a massive ability to generate profit, Amazon uses everything (cheap, cheap books; distribution centers; the Kindle) as a loss-leader for everything else. Profits dropped again last week, though the company’s stock didn’t appreciably drop.

“Our discount cannot compare to what Amazon was setting their prices at, even before they started selling their books at 60 percent off,” said Carson Moss, the buyer for Strand Bookstore in New York. “There’s frustration that a company that hasn’t turned a profit continues to be rewarded with higher stock prices and they can make seismic shifts in this industry.”

Link to the rest at Salon

It’s amazing how many people in the book business have all of a sudden become experts on Amazon’s share prices and financial statements and how the two just don’t make sense.

The problem with the jobs Amazon creates is that they’re not the right kind of jobs.

First, they’re in places like Tennessee.

Second, they involve people who may not be English majors and certainly did not attend an Ivy League university.

Third, what sort of culture do they have in Tennessee? Country-western, trucks and beer, of course.

Fourth, we know how people who aren’t English majors and who live in Tennessee and who listen to country-western music feel about social issues. We just can’t encourage that sort of thing.

And books priced so ordinary people can afford to buy them! Where will that lead? Certainly nowhere fashionable.

Amazon, Big Publishing, Bookstores

37 Comments to “Amazon is worse than Walmart”

  1. Barnes and Noble starting salary is $8.40.
    Wonder what pay and benefits most indie stores offer?

    And don’t get me started on the average advance for a first time author from the Big 5. With zero benefits.

    Whining is not a good business model.

    • Bob, you forgot that in the 80s, when multinational conglomerates bought up all the publishing houses, they dropped most of the full-time staff editors and replaced them with freelancers. There isn’t an in-house copy editor to be had for love nor money at a tradpub house, I believe.

      Also, I was freelance copy editing, and there were no benefits and no salary increases. Flat fee, per page, depending on if I were editing tech books or fiction. I chose tech, as it paid several dollars an hour more.

  2. Elitists–telling the rest of us how to live because we’re too stupid to figure it out for ourselves.

    • Nah – Elitists are telling the rest of us how to live because they’re too stupid to figure it out.

  3. I think what I like most about this current anti-Amazon hysteria is that it really gets under PG’s skin, and he’s willing to vocalize it with gusto. 😀

  4. The term I’ve seen columnists use is “oikophobia,” a fear of the common man. I’m under the impression the guy at Salon thinks there should be sumptuary laws for books. A world in which his kind is miserable is a marvelous place indeed. Forgive me for the schadenfreude.

    • Sumptuary laws, aye. Hie thee back to the 14th C. What with open sewers in the gutters, rats, fleas, and the Pestilence, they’ll do just fine.

    • I’ve found that the left love the common man.

      They just wouldn’t want their daughter to marry one.

  5. You forgot NASCAR. And college football. Also, barbecue.

    An Amazon warehouse opened in my county in central Virginia. It was welcomed with wide-open arms. We’re too busy being grateful for the job opportunities to remember we’re supposed to hate Amazon.

    And we also have great BBQ. My expanding waistline will attest to that.

  6. Fourth, we know how people who aren’t English majors and who live in Tennessee and who listen to country-western music feel about social issues. We just can’t encourage that sort of thing.

    And books priced so ordinary people can afford to buy them! Where will that lead? Certainly nowhere fashionable.

    Bwahahahahahaha!

    “The people are revolting.”

    “You said it! They stink on ice!”

    Gee, what ever shall we do if they learn to read? They might begin to think for themselves! We can’t have ‘common’ people assuming they can make better decisions than the government. *Shudder* *Gasp*

  7. I find the quote from Carson Moss of Strand Book Store amusing. I was there in late January (a notoriously slow month for retail sales), and the place was packed. I couldn’t move through the store without someone else having to move out of the way. Also, though I cannot speak for the percentage discount offered on most or all of their books, I bought mine at an average discount of about fifty-seven percent.

    I’m sure the rent in Union Square is stout, but Strand Book Store is doing well, I’d bet. At least, they’re not dying. It’s a great bookstore, and I think they’ll be around for quite a while.

    Relax, Carson, and take a deep breath.

  8. Could somebody ‘splain this to me? As I understand it, Amazon paid either distributors or publishers for books, and that is the basis on which royalties and publisher profits are calculated. Am I close?

    So, if Amazon wants to sell a book — Amazon’s property, mind you — at a price below its cost of acquisition, whose business is that? What are these morons on about?

    You’d think Amazon STOLE the books and was unloading them on the black market or something.

    M

    P.S. If you’re being paid by the hour, you’re not on salary. That’s called a wage. I bet the whiners in New Yawk Citteh have never worked for hourly wages in their lives.

    • They’re argument is basically the same argument that’s often made regarding Asian corporations dumping semi-conductors, electronics, etc. onto the market at below cost prices in order to force competitors out of business.

      I have no insight into applicable laws regarding such practices though. Sorry.

    • “I bet the whiners in New Yawk Citteh have never worked for hourly wages in their lives.”

      People making an hourly wage can’t afford to live in the city. Unless they live with their parents, or they’re lucky enough to get a rent-controlled apartment.
      😉

  9. “You’d think Amazon STOLE the books and was unloading them on the black market or something.”

    No good Sir, but according to Bar member and Authors Guild President Turow, Google acts criminally for “directing” people to illegal pirate sites.

    It’s hard sometimes to keep track of which disruptive tech company’s HQ is the bigger wretched hive of scum and villainy.

  10. Imagine that. People complaining about a corporation that’s NOT singularly focused on share price and maximizing profits.

    What happened to that old slogan, PEOPLE NOT PROFITS!

  11. Only the best snark.

  12. Aside from the random slander that’s usual in Amazon hate articles, I noticed these gems.

    “Amazon’s also been painted as a pretty terrible place to work: A report on Gawker describes a Tennessee warehouse where employees take forced overtime and perform monotonous work with minimal break time, while a 2011 newspaper report on Amazon’s warehouse in Allentown, Pennsylvania, told of over 100-degree temperatures and ‘a pace many could not sustain.'”

    -Try working in a factory. I once worked in a factory, for about a month. Sweated like mad every day, had to bust my hump just to keep up with the veterans. All at minimum wage. I guarantee everyone in that place would have loved to work at Amazon instead. 100 degree temperatures? Please. Our machines were baking a powder coating onto metal parts. It got hot. This is how people live when they do manual labor.

    And overtime? Guess what? Most people who worked at the factory wanted overtime. Our hours were being cut, in fact, down to about 30-35 hours a week, and there was a lot of complaining. A most people would have been glad to do an extra two hours every day, at minimum wage. If you had offered them a higher wage AND overtime, they’d have thought they were in workplace heaven. Maybe all of this would be looked at with disgust by folks at Salon. “People should have more dignity; they shouldn’t have to live such a tortured existence,” they might say. But people do. People have to scrape and scratch to survive, sometimes. Amazon is making that a lot easier and less strenuous for a lot of people.

    “But the investment in Tennessee that Obama is hailing is particularly notable, coming as it does as the result of an agreement between the corporation and Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, by which Amazon is exempt from having to collect sales tax until 2014 but has to create “at least 3,500 qualified jobs.” The agreement, struck in spring 2012, allows Amazon some twenty-one months of material advantage over bricks-and-mortar retailers in the state, bound to collect sales tax and thus charge higher prices for books.”

    -Now, I’m a Tennesseean, and I can tell you this writer has no idea what was going on in TN at the time this deal was signed with the governor. Back in 2012, Amazon was already refusing to collect TN state sales taxes, just like every single other online retailer, and there was no law to force them to do so. The laws on the books still state that the buyer carries the responsibility to report their purchase to the state government and pay the tax themselves. This agreement has nothing to do with a tax break for Amazon. It was an agreement for Amazon to BEGIN collecting taxes. I guess that doesn’t fit the narrative, though. Oops.

    • Yeah, but elitists don’t give a crap for that argument. If THEY wouldn’t do the job, NOBODY should do the job. They live in an airy-fairy land where money comes out of unicorns’ asses and pays everyone a living wage for doing menial work.

      And then, Detroit happens.

  13. Third, what sort of culture do they have in Tennessee? Country-western, trucks and beer, of course.

    Fourth, we know how people who aren’t English majors and who live in Tennessee and who listen to country-western music feel about social issues. We just can’t encourage that sort of thing.

    And books priced so ordinary people can afford to buy them! Where will that lead? Certainly nowhere fashionable.

    This sounds like leftist social bigotry. You said yourself that you don’t know if there are any English majors working there, but then you go on to assume that they’re uneducated. Obviously, you think conservative people are prosaic and disagreeable when it comes to your p.o.v. But you really can’t assume they’re somehow going to choose the wrong kinds of books or edit, in the case of publishing, poorly. Do you think amazon wouldn’t hire people with the right qualifications? Do you assume there aren’t any educated people, whether liberal or conservative in Chattanooga?

    I’m not saying that I’m a fan of everything amazon does, but you sound like the people in the publishing industry in New York, who seem to think they know better than us rubes who live elsewhere in the U.S. I live in Columbus, Ohio, a well educated city, but Ohio tends to be conservative as a whole, so I guess according to your “standards” we’re all maladroit simpletons.

  14. Kathlena Contreras

    Jeeze, gang. Can’t we get away from politics even here? People on the other side of the political fence aren’t the enemy, for godsake. They just have a different set of values and a different perspective. We’re writers. We’re SUPPOSED to be able to get into different heads.

    Please. 😛

    • Apparently the anti-Amazon craziness is a liberal-driven thing. I just figured it was driven by publishers whose bottom line is threatened. Shows you what I know.

  15. As a truck-driving, beer-drinking, C&W-listening, denizen of Tennessee, I find your observations apt (as always). Alas, I suppose I’m doomed by demographics and should abandon all hope of ever getting a byline in Salon. 🙁

    On a more positive note, I suppose I can always hope for a cameo on Duck Dynasty. I do have a beard.

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