13 Secrets of Amazon Warehouse Employees

24 January 2015

From Mental Floss:

In 2014, Amazon sold two billion items worldwide. All those products, from phone cases to car seats, are stored inside Amazon’s fulfillment centers and then sorted and wrapped by warehouse workers. In the U.S. alone there are more than 50 of these gigantic buildings with 40,000 workers toiling away inside them, and that’s not counting the tens of thousands of part-time workers who join during busy seasons.

. . . .

We spoke to a few of these employees about what it’s like to be part of the Amazon machine.

. . . .

1. Not Everyone has a Horror Story

There have been dozens of stories portraying Amazon warehouses as inhumane, hellish workplaces, and while some workers may have been subject to these conditions, the ones I spoke to hadn’t. “It is certainly hard work,” said Brant Ivey, who spent six months in one of Amazon’s hubs lifting oversized objects. But “the conditions at the warehouse were on par or better than most other warehouses that I have been in.” One of the biggest complaints is that the warehouses are too hot. In 2012, after a lengthy expose revealed brutally hot summertime conditions, Amazon announced plans to spend $52 million to install air conditioning in its U.S. warehouses.

One Reddit user put it bluntly: “The work does suck, but all warehouse work sucks. I have experienced FAR worse conditions and been treated terrible by other Fortune 500 companies.”

. . . .

5. And They Walk a Lot.
Amazon fulfillment centers are colossal. One warehouse in Baltimore covers one million square feet, or roughly 23 acres. That’s a lot of land to cover on foot. One employee, who worked in Amazon warehouses for 14 years, told us he walked 13 miles a day when picking. “That’s over a 10 hour period, so its like 1.3 miles per hour, which isn’t bad,” he says. “But doing it for 10 hours straight, by the third or fourth day your legs are almost like jelly.”

. . . .

12. “Problem Solver” is a Warehouse Job
It’s their responsibility to fix other people’s mistakes. If a warehouse packer screws up on the assembly line, the Amazon machine knows it. Scales weigh each package, and if the weight is off, the box gets pulled and a “problem solver” is called over to inspect it. “If there is an error during any stage of the process, I find it, correct it, and provide the feedback to the person or cause of the error,” explains one problem solver.

Link to the rest at Mental Floss and thanks to Al for the tip.

PG says Amazon warehouse work doesn’t involve shoveling manure while standing knee-deep in it or tossing 50-75 pound objects around all day in the blazing sun or pulling the internal organs out of chickens on a stinking disassembly line or crawling inside a cement truck barrel with a sledgehammer to beat off pieces of rock-hard concrete.

PG suspects that most of the people who write about how hard it is to be an Amazon warehouse worker have never held a job that required serious manual labor.

Amazon Launches Kindle Textbook Creator

22 January 2015

From the Amazon Media Room: today announced KDP EDU, a new segment of Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) designed to help educators and authors easily prepare, publish, and promote eTextbooks and other educational content for students to access on a broad range of devices, including Fire tablets, iPad, iPhone, Android smartphones and tablets, Mac, and PC. Educators and authors can use the public beta of Amazon’s new Kindle Textbook Creator tool to easily turn PDFs of their textbooks and course materials into Kindle books. Once the book is ready, authors can upload it to KDP in just a few simple steps to reach students worldwide.

. . . .

Books created with Kindle Textbook Creator offer features for students and other readers that enhance the learning experience, including:

  • Multi-Color Highlighting—Highlight and categorize key concepts for easy reference.
  • Notebook—Capture key passages, images and bookmarks and automatically add them to the notebook. Students can add their own notes and easily access them from one location.
  • Flashcards—Create flashcards and study important terms, concepts, and definitions in each chapter with a simple, easy-to-use interface.
  • Dictionary—Find definitions and Wikipedia information for difficult terms to improve retention.
  • Buy Once, Read Everywhere—Read eTextbooks on the most popular devices students use, including Fire tablets, iPad, iPhone, Android tablets and smartphones, Mac, and PC.

. . . .

With KDP, authors can earn royalties of up to 70%, while keeping their rights and maintaining control of their content.

Link to the rest at Amazon Media Room

Amazon Is Not the Reader’s Friend, Says Debate Audience

21 January 2015

From The Authors Guild:

A lively audience of readers gathered last Thursday evening at New York City’s Kaufman Center to hear a panel of four authors hash out the contentious proposition that “Amazon is the reader’s friend.”

. . . .

The IQ2 debates declare a winner by polling the audience at both the beginning and the end of the arguments, and comparing the results. The side that sways more people takes the cake. Before the debate, 41% of the audience voted for the proposition that Amazon is the reader’s friend, 28% voted against it, and 31% were undecided. At evening’s end, there was a clear victor: the Amazon apologists managed to increase their backers by a mere one percentage point, while Turow and Foer earned a 22% spike, overwhelmingly capturing the undecided vote.

Throughout the evening, Yglesias and Konrath largely stuck with the appealing arguments that Amazon’s low prices for readers and higher royalty rates for its self-published authors are benefits without downsides. But Turow and Foer’s effectiveness lay in taking a position that honored the diversity of the literary ecosystem. Left unchecked, they suggested, we may end up with a book world controlled by Amazon. The better option by far is a competitive plurality of publishers and distributors.

Turow agreed that self-publishing works very well for some authors in some publishing sectors. He was clearly encouraged, for instance, that self-publishing gives voice—and a second chance—to authors overlooked by traditional publishers. “I am not against self-publishing,” said Turow, before homing in on Amazon’s deliberate attempt to eliminate publishing houses, “but if we do away with traditional publishers, there will be a great loss to literary culture.”

. . . .

Foer also pointed out that a loss of publishers could mean a loss of the nonfiction works requiring “deep reporting,” work which is time-consuming and expensive, and which can only be sustained by an advance from a publisher. It would also mean the loss of the committed editorial investments provided by publishers. “Writers are the people in the world who are least able to see the flaws in their own work,” he said.

. . . .

Foer had the last word. Alluding to the arrogance of the tech industry’s self-styled “disrupters,” he noted that Americans have made “disruption . . . our secular religion.” This particular brand of optimism might well lead us to a future “that could be wonderful, or it could be a dystopian hell.”

Link to the rest at The Authors Guild and thanks to John for the tip.

Amazon Web Services to Use Wind Farm Power to Supply its Datacenters

20 January 2015

From the Amazon Media Room:

Amazon Web Services, Inc. (AWS), an company, today announced that it has teamed with Pattern Energy Group LP (Pattern Development) to support the construction and operation of a 150 megawatt (MW) wind farm in Benton County, Indiana, called the Amazon Web Services Wind Farm (Fowler Ridge). This new wind farm is expected to start generating approximately 500,000 megawatt hours (MWh) of wind power annually as early as January 2016 – or the equivalent of that used by approximately 46,000 US homes in a year.

. . . .

In November 2014, AWS shared its long-term commitment to achieve 100 percent renewable energy usage for the global AWS infrastructure footprint.

. . . .

“Amazon Web Services Wind Farm (Fowler Ridge) will bring a new source of clean energy to the electric grid where we currently operate a large number of datacenters and have ongoing expansion plans to support our growing customer base,” said Jerry Hunter, Vice President of Infrastructure at Amazon Web Services.

Link to the rest at Amazon Media Room

PG wonders when we’ll hear Big Publishing announce their renewable energy plans.

How Amazon Tricks You Into Thinking It Always Has the Lowest Prices

19 January 2015

From re/code:

Amazon is known for having low prices. But a study conducted by a startup calledBoomerang Commerce reveals that Amazon’s pricing strategy is much more nuanced than simply undercutting the competition.

Boomerang, founded by Amazon veteran Guru Hariharan, makes software that tracks prices on shopping sites that compete with its clients, then recommends price changes dynamically. Those changes are based on rules its clients set about which products to match prices on and which to boost higher or drop lower than a competitor’s to boost profits or sales, respectively.

The study of Amazon’s pricing uncovered some interesting tactics. First, Amazon doesn’t have the lowest prices across the board, which may not surprise industry insiders but might surprise Amazon shoppers.

Instead, according to Boomerang’s analysis, Amazon identifies the most popular products on its site and consistently prices them under the competition. In one example, Boomerang observed Amazon testing price reductions on a $350 Samsung TV — one of the most popular TVs on Amazon — over the six months leading up to Black Friday. Then, on Black Friday, it dropped the price to $250, coming in well below competitors’ prices.

But when it comes to the HD cables that customers often buy with a new TV, Amazon actually pushed up the price by 33 percent ahead of the holidays. One reason is that the cables weren’t among the most popular in their category, meaning that they have little impact on price perception among shoppers. Secondly, Amazon most likely figures (or knows) it can make a profit on these cables because customers won’t price-compare on them as carefully as they would on more expensive products.

Link to the rest at re/code

Is Amazon’s game totalitarianism?

17 January 2015

From author John Brown:

Is Amazon in the process of ushering in a totalitarian book economy?

Is Bezos, as Hitler was in the 1930s, biding his time, playing a long game, one that will lull the masses into a false sense of bookish security? Are we appeasing him, letting him take over the continent bit by bit? Is the blitzkrieg less than a decade away?

If you listened to a recent Intelligence2 debate, you would have heard Franklin Foer and Scott Turow claim that, yes, that’s exactly where we are headed. On the other side of the debate were Joe Konrath and Matthew Yglesais, arguing that Amazon is the reader’s friend.

. . . .

Well, [Foer and Turow] argument went like this.

  • Amazon right now provides an amazing service that’s far and above anything any other bookseller currently provides. They have made more books more accessible to more readers than anyone else ever in history. Readers, of course, love this. But this is a bad thing.
  • It’s bad because Amazon is becoming a monopoly–it already has 41% of all new book and 67% of all e-book sales, and in many divisions of those markets it has even more.
  • If Amazon were an enlightened ruler like Aslan, okay. But Amazon is a business, and as a business it only cares about its profits. And the way to make profits is buy low and sell high. So when Amazon finishes consolidating its hold on the market, it will force publishers and authors to take less of the pie.
  • In fact, Foer-Turow claim Amazon wants to not just reduce the share of the pie publishers get, it wants to kill off the publishers and take their share of the book pie completely. In addition to being very poor manners, this is bad for three other reasons.
  • First, authors of non-fiction books that take a long time to research will never be able to get the money they need to do that research. Publishers are the only ones who can give them that money, which they do in the form of an advance.
  • Second, few authors of fiction will be able to afford good editing, marketing, and book design, and so the many voices that could have been heard will be stifled, or never rise out of the crap to their true potential.
  • Third, and this is the nefarious Nazi part, if Amazon is the only place you see books, they can control which books you see, which means they will exert enormous control over our culture because they will be able to suppress some books, and therefore the ideas in those books, and promote others. Foer-Turow claim Amazon has already done this.
  • Finally, because it’s a business and has a goal of profit, when Amazon covers the land, it will probably eventually charge readers more. In fact, it may charge them a lot more. It can’t avoid it; it’s a business.

. . . .

You need to know I’m not an Amazon groupie. Nor am I a hater of publishers. I am a businessman. I’m looking for good partners. And I recently wrote a post pointing out that it’s delusional for authors to think Amazon is their BFF with pinky rings. They are just, at the moment, a great indie partner. But their interests and mine are not perfectly aligned. Our love is definitely not written in the stars.

. . . .

But has the government given Amazon a legal monopoly?

Um, nope. No charters here to be the only fur trappers in the West.

Does Amazon have an army of thugs who are going to beat people up and make them join Amazon Prime?

No. Well, maybe that’s what the drones are for, but they haven’t rolled them out yet.

Do they own something nobody else can get, like a piece of land? Are they sitting on the world’s largest reserves of cheap book oil?

Nope. They’ve got a great website and excellent logistics. But websites really aren’t that hard. And if we’re talking ebooks, you don’t need logistics.

. . . .

What about the barriers to entry?

The big advantage Amazon has is that they usually have the lowest book prices around, the biggest selection (you can find almost any book you want there in any format it’s available in), and are incredibly convenient, providing samples, reviews, recommendations, and easy checkout. And they have the crowds.

It’s hard to get crowds. It’s hard to get all that content. It’s hard to beat their prices. Those are some dang good barriers that keep new guys out.

And Foer-Turow figured that’s all set. In stone.

. . . .

So is Amazon going to kill publishers? Only if the humans have left the building.

Will they kill authors? Only if authors let them.

Will they gouge readers? Not when other folks see there’s money to be made by undercutting them.

Amazon is playing in a global market with the likes of Alibaba, Google, Apple, Walmart, etc. Amazon is playing in an internet economy where college students can come up with an idea and become billionaires. Equally important, Amazon owns nothing that somebody else can’t recreate. They have no legal monopoly. They have no army of thugs. What they have is a lot of content, a well-known URL, logistics for the hard copies, and good prices.

But what they do not have is a marketplace where everyone else involved is absent a brain.

Link to the rest at John Brown

Here’s a link to John Brown’s books

Amazon’s Grandinetti: ‘Room for Growth’

15 January 2015

From Shelf Awareness:

Calmly and unapologetically, with few surprises but many insights, Russ Grandinetti, Amazon’s senior v-p in charge of all Kindle operations, made a rare public appearance yesterday at the Digital Book World Conference and Expo.

. . . .

Cader led off the discussion by touching on the stand-off between Amazon and Hachette that began early last summer and lasted into November. Cader wanted to know how those at Amazon reacted after Authors United, a group of more than a thousand writers led by mystery writer Douglas Preston, came forward to protest the company’s tactics and what, if anything, Amazon has done to rebuild some of those bridges.

Grandinetti did not point to any new, specific initiatives on Amazon’s part but did reiterate the company’s oft-repeated intentions to support authors as widely and in as many formats as possible. He also cited Goodreads and Author Central, among other programs, as examples of Amazon’s dedication to helping authors both directly and indirectly.

“Disagreements between retailers and suppliers in the bookselling business are not new, but rarely it becomes so public,” added Grandinetti. He, and others at Amazon, were happy finally to reach “new terms and happy to focus on growing the business” again and for the next several years.

. . . .

“We’re incredibly motivated to make this work for that community [independent authors],” said Grandinetti. Given how short KDP Select contracts are compared to conventional contracts between authors and traditional publishers, he argued, Kindle authors have Amazon’s “feet to the fire” in terms of creating a robust, beneficial service, since they can elect to walk away so quickly. “We only have to make it work for three months. Let’s imagine for a moment that authors could change publishers every three months.”

When asked about the ambitions of Amazon’s publishing division, Grandinetti said that in his view, more publishers–and thereby more choices for authors–was a good thing for the business. And “historically speaking, the idea of a company that publishes and sells books is not new,” he asserted, citing Doubleday and Scribner in the past. “With things like Amazon Publishing, there might be publishers who say, I wish they wouldn’t do that. Ultimately I think it’s great for the business. That’s my sense about it.”

. . . .

Toward the end of the discussion, Shatzkin asked Grandinetti if Amazon viewed what constitutes “fair trading terms” (a major sticking point in last year’s dispute) differently in the print book market compared to the e-book market. In other words, was asking to keep 30% of the cost of an e-book fair on the part of Amazon?

“Just looking at the way print has worked for a long time, booksellers keep in excess of 30% of the money a customer gives them for a book,” said Grandinetti. The view at Amazon, he continued, is that as a retailer, the company’s investments in digital books are as substantial as the company’s investments in print. A retailer keeping on the order of 30% of sales for an e-book seemed “absolutely appropriate” to Grandinetti.

“I’d just add that 30% of sales was what publishers wanted to give us in the agency model,” he said.

Link to the rest at Shelf Awareness

Amazon exec: Here’s why it pays to make your ebooks exclusive to us

15 January 2015

From Gigaom:

Amazon’s ebook subscription service, Kindle Unlimited, has attracted criticism recently, with some self-published authors complaining that the service devalues their work and chafing at the requirement that they make their ebooks exclusive to Amazon in order to participate.

But Russ Grandinetti, Amazon’s VP of Kindle Content, suggested at the Digital Book World conference in New York on Wednesday that the vast majority of authors participating are satisfied with Kindle Unlimited — and he said that the program is helping them achieve earnings that have doubled since the program’s launch in July.

Authors who want their books to appear in Kindle Unlimited have to enroll in KDP Select, a program that requires them to make their ebooks exclusive to Amazon for three-month periods. “Every month authors have renewed availability of titles on KDP Select in excess of 95 percent before and after the launch of Kindle Unlimited,” Grandinetti said — suggesting that they are satisfied with the program despite a few high-profile complainers.

Furthermore, in the six months since Kindle Unlimited launched, “à la carte sales of authors in KDP Select are growing faster than KDP at large and Kindle at large,” Grandinetti said. Combine that à la carte income with “the money that authors earn or have earned from the subscription service as well as the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library,” and “sales from August to December 2014 are more than double what they were in 2013.”

“I do think there will be ways that we tweak it over time,” Grandinetti said, but “overall the system’s pretty healthy. We’re incredibly motivated to make this work for that community. They only have to participate for three months.”

Link to the rest at Gigaom

Kindle Head Russ Grandinetti Offers the View from Amazon

15 January 2015

From Digital Book World:

Joining publishers at Digital Book World 2015 in New York City this morning, Kindle SVP Russ Grandinetti offered a frank explanation of Amazon’s perspective on the book business.

. . . .

  • The Hachette dispute: Disagreements between publishers and booksellers are nothing new, but Amazon’s battle with Hachette was unusually public. “Our goal is to keep it rare,” says Grandinetti.
  • Authors: “We treat authors the same way we treat buying customers,” and Amazon is “highly motivated” to make its publishing services work for them. The indie community, Grandinetti says, is “incredibly vibrant” and vocal. “They like CAPSlock a lot when they tell us what’s going on.” Amazon finds that KDP Select remains very popular, more than doubling authors’ earnings through the platform in August–December last year over the same period in 2013.
  • Kindle Unlimited: Amazon is working to address authors’ concerns that the subscription-based program is diminishing their revenue, asking for patience in the meantime. “It’s only been six months,” Grandinetti adds. On the subscription ebook model overall, Grandinetti says, “More approaches to publishing is pretty healthy” and reminds publishers they weren’t happy at first when bookstores began selling used books. “In every single digital media category, subscriptions are succeeding at some level,” and books won’t be an exception.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World and thanks to Jan for the tip.

Amazon to take over textbook sales at UMass Amherst

13 January 2015

From The Boston Globe:

The campus bookstore, a seeming anachronism in the digital age, will soon become history at the University of Massachusetts.

Starting next fall, students at the flagship Amherst campus will buy almost all textbooks from The online retail giant has struck a deal with UMass to replace an on-campus “textbook annex” run by Follett Corp. with a smaller Amazon distribution center.

UMass officials hope the arrangement will save students money.

“We really recognize that textbooks and course materials are a major expense for students, and those have continued to go up over time,” said Ed Blaguszewski, UMass spokesman. “This is about convenience and saving money for students.”

Amazon told UMass that it could save students an average of 31 percent, or $380 annually, compared with prices at the old store.

The Amazon system will offer students access to digital textbooks and, for old-fashioned ink-and-paper texts, free one-day delivery to addresses on campus and apartments in nearby towns.

. . . .

The Amazon system will also be integrated into the school’s course-selection software, letting students see exactly which books they need to buy for each class they are registered to take.

. . . .

The company said it is negotiating similar contracts with a number of other universities and colleges.

“Many schools are feeling pressure to control the cost of education, and textbooks contribute to that,” said Ripley MacDonald, Amazon’s director of student programs. “Many are also seeing revenues in their bookstores flat at best, or even going backward, so they’re looking at ways to stem that trend. We’re trying to reinvent the bookstore experience.”

Link to the rest at The Boston Globe and thanks to LeVar for the tip.

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