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.
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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.”
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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.