Amazon – Threat or Menace?

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A comment to one of the many Amazon posts Passive Guy has made recently included a link to Borderlands Books, a San Francisco fantasy, science fiction and horror bookstore selling new and used books.

Of specific interest was an essay written by owner Alan Beatts entitled Amazon is Nobody’s Friend, Part One 

Excerpts from a much longer piece:

The reason that I’m finally being truly critical about Amazon is two-fold.  First, at this moment a huge number of book buyers are facing a choice.  All the former Borders customers out there have to decide where they are going to get their books now that Borders is closed.  There are three choices:  1)  Barnes and Noble.  2)  Amazon.  3)  An independent bookstore.  At first glance, it will seem that I’m trying to deter customers from shopping at Amazon (and, it won’t break my heart at all if you choose to avoid Amazon after reading this).  But what is more important to me is that I provide you with information so you make as informed a choice as possible.  Your dollars are your economic votes.  Where, how and with whom you spend your money determines what businesses survive and thrive.  Just like any election, I think an informed group tends to makes wiser choices.

. . . .

(A) “Been a deceptive and pervasive influence on ecommerce.”

Amazon is much bigger and more pervasive than one might think.  They have a fondness for buying companies in fields that they are interested in and then continuing to operate them under their original names while changing the back-end and fulfillment over to Amazon’s systems.  Notable web-retailers that they own are: Zappos.com, Diapers.com, Soap.com, Pets.com.

All of those companies are big retailers in their specialties and, by buying them out and keeping the names, Amazon eliminates competition while maintaining the illusion of consumer choice in the marketplace.

. . . .

Another hidden Amazon property is of one of the best ebook reader applications for EPUB format files.  (EPUB is the free and open-sourced ebook format supported by many publishers.  It is not the format Amazon uses for the Kindle nor is it one that is very easy to read on the Kindle.)  Lexcycle makes Stanza, which is a great program that I used to use all the time.  It’s simple, clean, fast and works on Mac, Windows, and iPhone/iPad.  Now it’s 100% owned by Amazon and still the top EPUB reader.  As in the case of companies like pets.com and soap.com, Amazon maintains the illusion of consumer choice while actually owning their own business and their seeming competition.

In a slight variation from their usual habits, Shelfari.com is an interesting case in that here Amazon lets their name be seen associated with the site.  My bet on the reason is that, if you click on a book, you end up on a page with exactly the sort of “buy-now” feature I suggested would work on IMDb.  Hard to hide the company’s involvement with that sort of connection.  Though it is nice and provides some sense of impartiality that Shelfari also provides a link to Abebooks.com, a major used bookselling site with an excellent reputation among collectors . . . or at least it looks impartial.  By owning Shelfari Amazon is also getting one of the benefits that I suggested relative to the IMDb, since Shelfari is all about book recommendations and making connections between books, it’s a hugely valuable source of data for Amazon’s marketing.

. . . .

(B) “Consistently tried to eliminate other businesses to increase their hold on the book market.”

If the foregoing wasn’t a clear enough indication that Amazon is interested in controlling all the good parts of on-line bookselling and ecommerce in general, the pattern of Amazon’s business expansion also indicates that they are trying to fill all the niches in the book business, from publishing all the way down to selling.  There hasn’t been any sign that they are going into the writing business, thank goodness, but there really isn’t any conceivable reason that they would want to do that.  (It’s always been best for publishers to let anyone try to be a writer who wants to and then pick and choose what they want to pay for).

When Amazon started, they used the Ingram Book company as their major supplier.  Ingram is one of the two national book distributors in the US.  They buy books in large quantities from publishers and then sell them to bookstores.  One of Amazon’s early moves was to kick Ingram to the curb and start running their own distribution centers and warehouses.  At that point, the sales chain went from the publishers to Amazon to the customers.

. . . .

(C) “Pricing designed to cripple competition and manipulate its suppliers and customers”

Pricing products is a complex process and the ethics of it are even more complex.  The idea of having “loss leaders” in business (i.e. items that are sold at below cost to attract customers who, one hopes, will buy other items as well) is a well established practice.  I think it falls into a sort of grey area in terms of ethics, though there are places where it’s prohibited — for example, in France is it illegal to sell books, specifically, for less than cost.

However, when a business engages in pricing with the intention of manipulating the market for their long term benefit, when pricing is used to eliminate competition and therefore consumer choice, or when prices are fixed to manipulate suppliers — to my mind, all those cases slip from the soft, dove-gray of well-it’s-probably-alright into the more charcoal-gray of I-don’t-think-that’s-OK-at-all.

Amazon has a big vested interest in moving the reading public towards ebooks.  Aside from the obvious reasons (the size of their market share and so forth) there is a bigger and more compelling one.  Regardless of its advantages, Amazon labors under a huge handicap compared to physical bookstores.  For many readers there is no possible substitute for looking at actual books on an actual bookshelf, just browsing along and looking at whatever catches your eye.  But when it comes to ebooks, there is no difference between looking at them on Amazon’s website and looking at them on any other website.  So, the move towards ebooks eliminates Amazon’s handicap versus physical bookstores.  The other big advantage for Amazon is that ebooks take up no space and they require no investment in inventory.  All you have to have are some big computers and some good data connections, both of which Amazon has more than they know what to do with.

Kindle ebook readers are sold at a loss and always have been.  I honestly wonder if they were ever meant to make money; I’m betting not.  But the Kindle has done exactly what Amazon planned.  It’s caused ebooks to take off in a major way and it’s changing the behavior of consumers.  That’s perhaps not an unethical way to do business but it certainly is ruthless and profoundly manipulative.

Also on the topic of pricing at a loss: Amazon was so committed to building its business that for years and years they lost money at a awe-inspiring rate.  Between 1993 and 2003 they lost 3 billion dollars.  In fact, in 2001 alone they lost 1.4 billion.  But during that time they set a permanent expectation in the minds of consumers that they always had the lowest price.  And during that same period Amazon was responsible for countless independent bookstore going out of business.  And the real reason that those stores closed wasn’t that Amazon was doing a better job at bookselling than they — it was just because they couldn’t afford to lose as much money as Amazon.  It’s interesting to notice that Amazon’s discounts from retail are much smaller and less universal than they used to be.  The preceding is a textbook example of predatory pricing: “predatory pricing is the practice of selling a product or service at a very low price, intending to drive competitors out of the market, or create barriers to entry for potential new competitors”. (3)

$9.99 is a magic number in retail.  It’s a price that makes people think, “That’s cheap, it’s not even ten bucks!”  So it’s no wonder that Amazon decided that was the right price for ebooks.  For quite a while, that was the price that an ebook at Amazon sold for, regardless what it cost Amazon (often, much more than $9.99).  Publishers became concerned that Amazon’s pricing of ebooks was causing a perception on the part of the public that any other price was inflated and unfair.  The question of what an ebook actually costs, compared to a physical book, is a topic for another time, but certainly there are some novel length works of fiction that cost the publishers more than that to produce.  But more importantly, it is the right of the publisher to set the price of their books.  They can blow it, set it too high, and the book won’t sell.  In which case they learn better the next time.  But the publisher is the entity “making” the book.  They can set their costs, decide what sort of quality is needed for what elements (editing, cover art, and so on), estimate what the market will pay and so forth.  They control the process of “manufacture”, if you will, and that means they get to set the price.

But it’s certainly not Amazon’s place to set the price that publishers can charge for books, electronic or not.  They have the right not to buy something if they think it’s overpriced and won’t sell, but that’s about it.  And in this case, Amazon wasn’t trying to set the price for one book or even all the books from one publisher.  They were trying to set the price for _all_ ebooks.  Based on the specific laws regarding price fixing, what Amazon was doing wasn’t illegal since they weren’t collaborating with any other sellers.  But, since they represented around 80% of the ebook market at the time, they really didn’t need to collaborate with anyone.

Regardless of the legality of it, thanks to a risky action on the part of John Sargent, the CEO of Macmillan (one of the six major US publishers), at the beginning of last year, Amazon doesn’t get to set ebook prices for the big publishers at all anymore and neither does any other retailer.  The short version is that Sargent went to Washington state to meet with the folks at Amazon to talk to them about ebook pricing.  After months of discussions regarding publisher concerns that Amazon’s low prices were damaging the public perception of the value of ebooks, Sargent had come with an ultimatum.  He told them that Macmillan was switching to the “agency model” for ebook sales.  What it meant was that publishers would set the price and retailers would take a commission on the sale to readers rather than the old model in which publishers sell to retailers, who then sell to readers at a price that the retailer determines.

. . . .

(D) “Avoiding sales tax a cardinal part of their business model”

I don’t like to pay taxes and I understand that other people don’t like to either.  But if I am going to have to pay them, it’s important to me that they’re applied equally and fairly across the board.  Amazon has made part of their business model the avoidance of sales tax practically from day one.  Jeff Bezos, the founder, has even stated publicly that reducing sales tax was on the forefront of his mind, both when planning the company and when choosing Washington state as a location.  In fact, their systematic avoidance of sales taxes has been so aggressive that employees traveling to California have been issued business cards reading “Amazon Digital Services” (an Amazon subsidiary that doesn’t sell physical products) rather than “Amazon.com” to reduce the threat of California arguing that they were conducting business in the state.  Other tricks have included identifying states that were risky as “red” states and requiring staff to consult with corporate lawyers before traveling there on business as well as conducting employment interviews via video conference rather than in person so that the Amazon representatives weren’t actually in the state in question.  (4)

The theory of sales tax is that it needs to be collected and remitted by businesses that are active in a state.  The usual test for this is whether the business has a “nexus” within the state.  “Nexus” has been traditionally proven by having physical locations or sales staff within a state.  But there are two other underlying parts of the sales tax theory that have been conveniently ignored during the rise of ecommerce.
The first part is that the requirement of “nexus” was originally put in place based on the assumption that a business that is not located in a state won’t be conducting very much business there.  Granted, there have been catalog retailers for well over 100 years but purchasing items through a catalog was always a second-best choice when you couldn’t get something locally and the prices were usually higher (when shipping was factored in) than buying from a local merchant.  But now, that underlying assumption is deeply flawed because of the number of purchases made over the internet and the way that buying on-line is progressively becoming the preferred choice.

. . . .

And that brings us around to the principal of sales tax.  It’s there to support the costs of running the state government.  Which is going to cost just as much regardless of whether Amazon has to collect tax or not.  Moreso, as residents in the state, we’re going to have to come up with the money to pay for that government or the state will go broke.  What’s really happening here is that, to drive sales to their business, Amazon is fighting really hard to maintain their ability to look like they’re giving the average San Franciscan, for example, a 8.5% discount as compared to a local business.

. . . .

(E) “An ebook business model and format that’s bad for the consumer”

Amazon is the most successful ebook retailer in the world, by a fair margin.  Depending on whose figures you believe, they sell in-between 60 and 80% of the ebooks in the US (the percentage in the UK is even higher).  They also produce the most popular ebook reader, the Kindle.  That they are doing so well with ebooks really isn’t a surprise.  They have the best on-line store, their software gives what is arguably the best reading experience, they’ve been in the business the longest, and, perhaps most importantly, they have their existing  market position as the second largest seller of physical books in the world (Barnes and Noble is still #1).

What disturbs me and what I think should bother my fellow readers, is that their ebook format is completely unique and proprietary.  The problem there is that you cannot read an ebook that you bought from Amazon on anything other than a Kindle or a device that has a Kindle application available for it.  Granted, as of now, there are Kindle apps for Mac, Windows, iPad/iPhone, and Android.  But there’s no guarantee that Amazon will keep making them or supporting them.  Given Amazon’s fondness for competition, it wouldn’t surprise me if, at some point in the future, the Kindle apps for the iPad/iPhone vanished.  At that point, all the people out there who bought ebooks and want to use those devices are going to be pretty much out of luck . . . at least until they buy a Kindle.

On the other hand, the three other major ebook retailers — Apple, Barnes & Noble, and Google (plus all the independent booksellers Google partners with) — use some variation of EPUB format which is device agnostic and can be used with all the ebook readers, computers, and smart phones out there (except for the Kindle).  Granted, all three of them use their own sort of copy protection but, each for specific reasons, it is much less likely that ebooks purchased through any of those companies will force you to adopt a new device if you want to keep reading your books.  Also, none of those businesses are as savage about trying to dominate their industry.

Link to the rest at Borderlands Books The article about Amazon is quite a way down the page. Use your browser’s Find command (Ctrl-F on a Windows machine) and type Amazon if you want to go straight to the article.

Where to begin?

First of all, Passive Guy has a general policy of going after big guys and leaving small guys alone. It’s clear that Borderlands Books is not one of the big guys. However, Mr. Beatts’ essay is wrong in so many different ways PG has to make some comments. In light of the small guy nature of his target, PG will not give his comments the full treatment he might for a larger target.

Point number one from Mr. Beatts’ essay is “Amazon has been a deceptive and pervasive influence on e-commerce.”

PG will parse the sentence somewhat. He has no doubt Amazon is a pervasive influence on e-commerce because it is extremely successful. Smart e-commerce companies watch what Amazon does very carefully and copy many of its techniques. Any successful organization is a pervasive influence on the industry in which it operates. Apple is a pervasive influence on the tablet, smart phone and laptop markets. The University of Alabama football team as a pervasive influence on the college football markets. Barack Obama is a pervasive influence on the United States presidential candidate market.

Mr. Beatts’ case that Amazon is “deceptive” is ridiculous. Yes, Amazon has purchased other companies. Yes, in some cases, Amazon has elected to use the brand name of the acquired company. I don’t see how any case can be made that this is deceptive. In the e-commerce world, of all places, the choices for consumers are enormous and widespread. If I don’t like Amazon, I can buy 99% of the products Amazon sells somewhere else online. If I want to boycott Amazon, a 3-second Google search will allow me to see if I’m about to purchase from an Amazon subsidiary.

In making its acquisitions, Amazon understandably chooses companies that it believes will help make it more successful. Passive Guy finds no conspiratorial motivation for doing so.

PG nearly choked when Mr. Beatts talked about Amazon kicking Ingram Book to the curb. The only reason Ingram exists is because publishers have been such inefficient organizations.

A long time ago, PG worked for a law firm representing a small book wholesaler that was later acquired by Ingram.

When PG learned what the business was, he asked the president why the company was able to buy from publishers and sell to book stores at a higher price when bookstores could acquire books directly from publishers. The answer was shockingly simple. This book wholesaler could deliver books to bookstores faster than publishers would deliver books to bookstores. There was no reason at all why publishers could not become more efficient in their shipping and put the wholesaler of the business.

Ingram typically takes 10-15% of the retail price of the book for its wholesaling services. Who pays that price? People who purchase books and, indirectly, authors who write books. PG does not believe Ingram is a friend to either readers or writers. It has simply allowed publishers to offload a task that nearly every other business does on its own – take orders and deliver products in a timely manner.

The reason Amazon got rid of Ingram is Amazon decided it could do what Ingram does for less (probably much less) money. This is one way Amazon can offer lower prices.

Mr. Beatts accuses Amazon of pricing its products in a way designed to cripple competition and manipulate its suppliers and customers.

He states, “Pricing products is a complex process and the ethics of it are even more complex.”

Here is why PG likes Amazon’s pricing practices: Amazon sells at low prices. The ethics of this are clear to PG. He likes paying low prices. He can buy more stuff if prices are low. He can spend $100 on books at Amazon and get more books than if he spends $100 at Barnes & Noble.

What’s not to like?

Mr. Beatts accuses Amazon of pricing its products for its long-term benefit. I’m certain the people who own Amazon are very happy that management does this. Is Mr. Beatts saying that he does not price products for his long-term benefit?

It is not an easy thing to compete against Amazon. It is not an easy thing to compete against any market-leading organization. Ask anyone who competes against Apple. Ask anyone who competes against BMW. Ask anyone who competes against Google. Ask Mr. Beatts.

Does this mean that Amazon is evil because it is a good competitor? Does this mean that Amazon is evil because it is a big company? PG would note in passing that Amazon has not always been a big company. It first went online 15 years ago. It was tiny. Barnes & Noble was much larger than Amazon during the early years. Barnes & Noble told Amazon that it would squash Amazon like a bug if Amazon did not agree to sell itself to Barnes & Noble. Amazon grew large because millions and millions of people liked what it did and how it did it.

Mr. Beatts says “$9.99 is a magic number in retail.” However, he takes great offense at Amazon pricing e-books at $9.99. He is even more upset that Amazon sold books to readers for less than Amazon paid for them. PG has never talked to a reader who was upset at buying a book that normally would cost $20 for $9.99.

Mr. Beatts believes it is a terrible thing for Amazon to decide how much it will charge for books. He believes it is a wonderful thing for publishers to force retailers to sell books at the price publishers specify. In Mr. Beatts’ world publishers are wonderful, intelligent and kind. They always know the best price for books. Just like they know how much an author should be paid.

It is ironic that Mr. Beatts accuses Amazon of price-fixing. As regular visitors to The Passive Voice know, multiple class action suits have recently been filed against big publishers for price-fixing arising from their united action to force Amazon to adopt agency pricing, fixing prices for books across all retailers. How many readers are happy that Amazon is no longer permitted to sell books at a discount from list price? PG doesn’t see many hands being raised.

Since Mr. Beatts sells used books, here’s an idea: Why not have the publishers set the list price for used books? After all, as Mr. Beatts says “it is the right of the publisher to set the price of their books.” Perhaps a 5% discount from the original retail list price would be a great price for used books. Or even better, may be used books should cost 10% more than new books cost. After all, they’re broken in, annotated and are an environmentally responsible form of recycling. From what PG knows of big publishers, he expects they would feel good about that price. Certainly it would support sales of more new books.

Mr. Beatts says Amazon wants to avoid sales taxes. PG likes avoiding sales taxes. PG would bet that if he took a survey of visitors, most people would prefer not to pay sales taxes if they could avoid them.

Amazon does a lot of things to avoid paying sales taxes. Famously, General Electric does a lot of things to avoid paying income taxes. In fact, General Electric did not pay any income taxes during its latest tax year. Amazon did not pay any California sales taxes during its latest tax year. Individuals and organizations are perfectly free to avoid taxes by any legal means.

Passive Guy decided to explore Mr. Beatts’ feelings about sales taxes. He decided to order a book from Borderlands Books. By mail. Borderlands Books uses Biblio to sell its books over the Internet.

PG selected a nice Harry Potter book. PG decided to have it shipped to himself at an address in a state outside of California, where Borderlands Books is located. The state where the book was to be shipped has a state sales tax.

He was about to complete his purchase from Borderlands Books when – gasp – PG noticed that Borderlands was not collecting any sales tax on this sale. He was so persuaded by Mr. Beatts’ condemnation of Amazon not collecting sales tax that he immediately cancelled his order.

PG tried another experiment. He ordered the same Harry Potter book from Borderlands Books and gave a California address. He will spare you his gasp this time. No sales tax on that transaction either.

He concludes Mr. Beatts’ sales tax rule is designed to apply only to Amazon.

What Mr. Beatts again forgets to consider is who ends up benefiting if Amazon is not legally required to collect sales taxes. You guessed it, Amazon’s customers. After all, who pays sales taxes? Is it Amazon? No, it is people who buy from Amazon.

Everybody should pay more taxes. Everybody should pay higher prices. What a wonderful world.

PG has violated his initial intent when he started this response. He will conclude his rant by simply stating that if Amazon had not made indie publishing easy, the number of people making a living and hoping to make a living from their writing would be much smaller than it is today.

This does not mean that Amazon is a perfect company nor does it mean that Amazon will always be a good friend to writers. Today, however, PG suggests that Amazon is an indie author’s best friend.

He can’t say the same about Mr. Beatts.

69 thoughts on “Amazon – Threat or Menace?”

  1. Thank you, PG, you just saved me from writing thousands of words in response to Mr. Beatts. I thought I’d said all (http://jwmanus.wordpress.com/2011/08/15/seriously-indie-booksellers-grow-up/) last month and then this article appears and gives me yet another reason to groan and think, “Go out of business already so I don’t have to hear you whine anymore!”

    I love bookstores big and small, but I am so sick and tired of all the weeping and gnashing of teeth and pointing fingers at Amazon. Seriously, if their business model consists of “Everything is Amazon’s fault!” it’s amazing their doors are still open.

    You know what else I’m getting really sick of? These frippin’ people “educating” consumers. Not that I’m against education. I like to learn at least one new thing every day. It’s the elitist attitude (coming from publishers and agents, too) that book buyers are so ignorant we have to be told what’s good for us.

    I don’t have “feelings” about Amazon. They’re a convenient place to buy reading material. If it ever gets so big the head can no longer see the feet, its competitors will be on it like lions taking down a sick elephant. And then I’ll find someplace else to buy my reading material. That’s how it works in my little world. I imagine that’s how many consumers look at it. Maybe Mr. Beatts should take that into account.

  2. (1) Thank you for the pointer to this essay and the fabulous deconstruction of it.
    (2) May I point out that theoretically, the onus is on consumers who purchase online goods in a state with sales tax to report those purchases to their state and pay the sales tax. All states like California are trying to do is force the retailer to collect the taxes because people – gasp! – don’t want to pay them. That is hardly Amazon’s fault, and I don’t blame them at all for allowing customers to make that decision for themselves.
    (3) I actually just blogged on a tangential topic which is Amazon/ebook revolution as a textbook example of a free market. Competition in business is good for consumer, bad for business. Good for Amazon…for now. They might frak it up someday, in which case…the market will be waiting. But I bet Mr. Beatts isn’t consoling himself with that thought, because he’s the one being outcompeted right now. If anyone wants to read it.
    http://lilywhitelefevre.wordpress.com/2011/09/29/the-ebook-self-publishing-revolution-capitalism-in-action/

  3. Back when B&N and Borders were still the evil enemies for independent book store owners, romance reading bloggers used to point out that independent book stores were evidently too fill-in-the-blank to stock a reasonably current supply of romance novels. If we were lucky, we had one bookcase back in a ill-lit corner. The erotica was better displayed. Readers of other genres complained about the same thing. To deliberately ignore some of the best-selling components of the reading public and then whine that Borders and B&N are eating your lunch is perverse. Now the book store owners are whining about Amazon. How dare the book reading public ignore their stores in favor of a retailer who believes in giving their customers what the customers want.

  4. How on earth DID you decide where to start on this one? Your self-discipline in sticking to chronological order was inspiring.

    I can only say that Mr. Beatts’ rant makes it crystal clear why so very many booksellers will follow publishers down the tubes in the next five years. I hope they’ve followed the advice doled out to authors for so long: I hope they search out and snag a day job. They’re going to need one.

    Well, that’s not really all I can say, but you’ve covered the territory so admirably that I’ll leave it at that.

    Incidentally, I ordered a new Kindle (to replace the one I broke–don’t ask) within an hour of its launch, to be delivered to me in Canada. It was in my hands within 24 hours. The people at Amazon know what they’re doing. That’s good business!

  5. Thanks PG … my feelings towards the article and the person/small retailer were similar to yours. You already stated just about all of my thoughts on the matter except these:

    + The only time you will ever hear of a retailer concerned with a topic like sales tax … is when they have an agenda.

    + Amazon didn’t invent or create the internet, eCommerce, books, bookselling, eBooks or effective business practices within a capitalist system. They simply utilized all of the above to make a profit. Last time I checked, that’s what your supposed to do in a capitalist system.

    + The legacy system of publishing (read: traditional publishing) was fraught with unfair, unreasonable, irrational, and grey-area illegal aspects (agents as doorkeepers, contract provisions that you have constantly exposed, manipulation of retailers, etc.). Speaking to point #2 of Mr. Beatts reason for writing the article “provid(ing) (us) with information so (we) make as informed a choice as possible” … where was his articles about the unfairness of legacy publishing. <– Again, agenda at work.

    + Final point … I was born and raised in a family-owned office supply manufacturing business in the northeast. For 27 years, we were able to overcome cheap labor from abroad, competition from huge publicly-traded company competition, increased cost of doing in business in New York, etc… Then came the STAPLES retail model. No longer did the folks and businesses need to shop in small mom & pop "stationeers" – everyone could just go "online" and order their pencils, folders, staplers … and why don't you buy your coffee there while you're at it.

    Bottom line: Companies like ours could no longer compete. Not only did the small manufacturers close, but so did all of the stationeers. My family faced ruin. Instead, in true American tradition, I decided to change our manufacturing focus from making the office products to making the machinery that makes the office products.

    End result: I closed the largest contract in terms of net revenue in the 27-year history of the company.

    Takeaways:
    + In our type of capitalist system, innovation leads to progress and obsolescence. Those with initiative find a better way, assimilate or move on.
    + Darwin's ideas about evolution apply to business in capitalism. In order for the preservation of the species, the strong must survive while the weak, sick, old must die.

    By the way … now I write novels. If it weren't for STAPLES, I would've never found my true calling! c",)

  6. Sooo glad you added a response to the whine, PG, because I was exploding as I read it and you hit all the points I would have made in response — and then some more. Loved your idea about having publishers set the price of used books. I suspect that’s the best laugh I’ll have all day.

    Those secretive claims had me yelling at the monitor: “So if I buy McDonald’s, should I change the name to Sierra Burgers? Yeah, that’ll work.”

    JWManus, I’m one of those people who do have a special feeling for Amazon. It’s illogical, I know, but I do feel a fierce loyalty to them. I think it dates back to the ’90s when I’d be watching TV at 3am, hear an interesting book mentioned, and learned that I could log onto Amazon and order it that very minute and have it in my hands a couple days later. Since then I’ve relied on Amazon for a vast array of products. My interactions with Customer Service have been pleasant experiences (how often can you say that about a company), and my disappointments in products have been few. When I haven’t been happy, Amazon makes it all better ASAP.

    PG, when I clicked on the commenting link, it said there were three comments here. But when the new page came up, there was one. I’m finding something off about the comments fairly often. I can post something, go away, come back later to see if there are more posts and I see one or two or more posts before mine that weren’t there when I posted.

    • Patricia – One thing I didn’t mention is that Amazon is very important for the many, many readers who don’t have a bookstore anywhere close.

      Thanks for the tip on the comments. I’ll check it out. Let me know if it keeps on happening.

  7. Thank you for that in depth and well considered rant, PG. I loved every bit of it!

    I love bookstores of all types. If I see a book I want locally, I will buy it. Sometimes I can get it at Amazon cheaper, with no sales tax and because I am an Amazon Prime member, I pay no shipping to have it in two days.

    Amazon has opened up a world of possibilities with thier ePub lishing arm, with Associates,etc. There are tons of ways for small store owners, including Mr. Beatts, to increase his market reach by putting used books he has on the Amazon Marketplace. I have made some very good profits this way myself. I have no complaints except when shipping internationally. Amazon does not compensate enough for current shipping costs going outside of the country, alas.

    All in all, Amazon has raised the standard of expectations of consumers. It’s a good business model and a very successful one at that.

    • Mr. Beatts may not be happy with the Internet in general. If he deals in the type of used books once consider “rare” he has probably experienced an Internet-related loss of profit. My father was a rare-book dealer who sold primarily to other dealers, so his shop was a hang-out for a lot of folks in that business. They’d tell each other tales of woe as the Internet became the go-to place for titles. Books considered rare pre-Internet were no longer so rare when dealers all over the country (and world) were listing them for sale. As a result, prices (and, therefore, profits) dropped with a huge thud. The one benefit the Internet gave these dealers was immediate turn-around on much of their stock versus having many books sit on the shelf for years (which was the usual case in the old days because rare books weren’t the only things hard to find; rare-book buyers for specific titles were few and far between; dealers had to wait for the right buyers to wander into their shops or to appear at book shows). The Internet also forced the dealers to learn a whole new pricing (and buying) structure. Harder yet was getting them to accept it.

      • It seemed a very viable way to go, especially when Amazon was smart enough to have purchased ABEbooks.com. It was and is a fabulous world-wide network of independent stores who can all list the books they have in their stores.

        Honestly, what’s not to like – especially if you can find that rare and out-of-print titles? 😉

    • I have been an Amazon shopper since it was just a database of Books in Print. I have a soft spot for it also. But I couldn’t help but be caught by your statement about free 2 day shipping a Prime member– yes, I’m a Prime Member also but that 2 day shipping no doubt pays for itself and isn’t free. If it wasn’t for Prime I would still be waiting until I had $25.00 or more in an order to get the real free shipping. I don’t feel like I’m paying anything. I also love the streaming video that comes “free” with Prime membership.

      Amazon is a very clever beast.

  8. I’m still waiting for another huge e-retailer or online commerce site (I call it the internet mall) to compete against Amazon because competition can be a good thing.

    • I couldn’t agree more. The more competition, the better for purchasers. I wouldn’t mind seeing another gonzo ebook site open up either, because I’m concerned about Nook’s future.

  9. At the end of the day, Amazon could be every bit as evil as Mr. Beatts portrays it (which would make Amazon just about as evil as every other large corporation), Jeff Bezos could be eating fuzzy puppies on a skewer at his desk while cackling about how he’ll crush other book retailers — and indie writers and e-publishers would still be on Amazon’s side. New writers and legacy midlist writers have been squeezed out of the traditional publishing business model, of which Mr. Beatts’ store was one of the final product distribution points. So we find it increasingly difficult to make a living in the business model that includes Mr. Beatts’ store (and of course, readers find it increasingly difficult to find and buy our books in that business model’s outlets). Meanwhile, in Amazon’s disintermediated, low overhead business model, we find it increasingly possible to make a living, primarily because our readers can now find and buy the books of ours that they want to read.

    We might or might not like Amazon personally, and we might have preferred that some other company such as B&N were able to provide competition, but the mutual interest between ourselves and Amazon means that we have an increasing interest in Amazon’s success. The more that Amazon makes the ebook purchasing and reading experience easy and enjoyable, for a rapidly increasing number of readers, the better off new and midlist writers are.

    And if in the process of writers and readers pursuing their own best interests, bookstore owners such as Mr. Beatts are damaged — I don’t know what we can about that, except wish them well. But when midlist writers got squeezed out of the traditional publishing business model, there wasn’t a lot of hand wringing about our fates, and I didn’t see any bookstores refusing to stock and sell James Patterson’s and J. K. Rowling’s books because they thought their customers should buy midlist writers’ books instead.

      • At the same time, let me point out that Borderlands is doing exactly the sort of things that an independent bookstore needs to do in order to survive in these changing times. They do a lot of reader/writer events and community building stuff. So actually they’re not just bitching and whining about Amazon stealing their business. Since they’re here in San Francisco as I am, when I say “wish them well,” I also mean that I’m happy to do what I can to help them.

        • K.W. – I don’t wish Borderlands any ill fortune. However, the guy who apparently owns them is way off-base with some of his ideas.

          • Not disagreeing, PG, but I’m willing to cut the guy some slack on a sympathetic, emotional basis. The changes that had happened to the trad publishing industry over the course of my writing career had left me feeling like someone tied to the railroad tracks with an express train rushing toward me. Then the indie e-publishing thing came along and cut the ropes, which greatly improved my mood. So I know how the guy feels; I just don’t know what’s going to come along to rescue him and other bookstore owners in a manner similar to the way I and other writers have been rescued.

  10. Apparently, I’m confused. I thought Amazon had originally promoted the Kindle with a statement about having $9.99 best sellers available, and then, when many traditional publishers ignored that price point in favor of higher ones, Amazon customers took umbrage and made a lot of noise.

    Whereupon Amazon began pricing at a loss in order to fulfill those customer expectations of $9.99 and traditional publishers threw hissy fits until the agency model was put into play.

    So wouldn’t it be that customers (readers) decided $9.99 was the ‘magic’ price point, and not Amazon itself?

    Or was risking ticking off millions of customers all part of Amazon’s evil plan all along, and I’m just really naive about the behind the scenes motives?

  11. I live in a very rural location and have to send for lots of things I couldn’t enjoy otherwise. Amazon makes it easy. I bought a macro lens for my camera and returned it with no questions asked. I bought chestnut puree from France. Stainless steel chopsticks, a solar radio, a ton of books and sales tax is included in the price of everything. I don’t want to hear about the tax thing, Chuck Schumer is already soaking me for all he can.

    But better than ginger mango chews, after a lifelong career as a writer, most of it being mistreated by traditional publishing, I have experienced an explosion of creativity and enthusiasm impossible before digital publishing. I wrote four books in the past year and finished two others agents and publishers expressed complete disinterest in. (Yes, they’re selling) No one told me I was a victim of my own talent (Thanks Michael Larson) as I went from middle reader to YA to women’s fiction to mystery to a cookbook. This is because of Amazon. I thank them every day for improving my life.

    • Quote: “I have experienced an explosion of creativity and enthusiasm impossible before digital publishing”

      My experience exactly. I cut six weeks out of my schedule, while I’m slogging through a couple trad publishing contracts, and cranked out the first three books in a new thriller series that I’m getting ready to put up for the Kindle. Indie e-publishing has given me a second writing career, which I’m enjoying more than the first one.

  12. The mind it boggles at times. Duh, Amazon is working on their long term benefit.(see: common sense) Duh, people want cheap goods (see: Walmart). Companies pay money to avoid taxes. We all do.

    I do not like that their e-books are not epub. I have a kobo reader and would buy many an Amazon book if I could read them.

  13. Also, re: the proprietary formatting issue.

    Hello, EVERY e-reader has that — Nook, Sony, Kobo, and they are NOT device agnostic formats as Mr. Beatts claims. He’s exposing his ignorance about e-books and readers. And denigrating the fact that you can use apps to read on any device, too. “But those may go away!”

    Not to mention that with the program Calibre (which is free!) readers can sort out formatting for cross-device usage…

  14. Dear Mr. Vandagriff,

    Thanks for your insightful commentary on my article. You raised a number of excellent points but, more importantly, I’m glad that there is an active discussion taking place. The publishing and writing community has been even more helpful in reposting and linking to that article that I had hoped.

    Further, thanks for not giving me “the full treatment he (sic) might for a larger target”. As much as some of your comments stung, I hate to think what that would have been like. I suspect you’re a hell of a good litigator.

    It’s also very gratifying that it’s taken more than two weeks for people to start dismissing it as mere whining on the part of a unhappy bookseller. When I posted it, I was concerned that was going to be the immediate response.

    But, I am disappointed that I didn’t do a good enough job writing it that the more general thrust of that article seems to have been lost in the details. My main point was that, first, Amazon is doing their best to dominate the bookselling and publishing field and, second, that they conduct their business just like many other large corporations (i.e. profits first, all else second).

    On a blog written by an attorney, it would be silly for me to try go into the reasons that monopolies and vertical integration are considered detrimental to consumers. I’m sure that you can address that much more effectively and accurately than I ever could. I don’t know if you agree with the idea that monopoly is not a “good thing”, but certainly enough people have felt that way so that we have the history and laws regarding it that we do.

    But, as a small illustration — one of your commentors was K.W. Jeter. Assuming that there aren’t two writers out there with that name, I’m quite familiar with his work. His excellent first novel wasn’t published for many years (K.W., am I remembering this right? It was ten years, wasn’t it?) because it was considered too extreme and obscene by all the publishers who looked at it. Wouldn’t it be a huge shame if Amazon ended up the only real source for books and they decided it was obscene and, by removing associational links to it, made it almost impossible to find? As they have done in the past with mainstream books containing homosexual content. (BTW, the novel was Dr. Adder. It’s not currently in print but I understand that there are plans for it to be reprinted by Angry Robot. Two of his other novels, Infernal Devices and Morlock Night are both currently in print from that publisher).

    The topic of charging sales tax on mail orders shipped to California is something that I and the store manager have discussed a bunch of times. You’re quite right, we should be charging it and we don’t (under current laws, there is no reason we should charge sales tax in other states since, unlike Amazon, we do not have warehouses or affiliate marketers in any other state).

    To be honest, the reason is that doing so would add an extra procedure to our bookkeeping. For a larger company that might not seem to represent much of a justification but here . . . we have one person who works full time in the “office” — me. The store manager spends about half her time working in the office and half her time working the counter and running events. Among my various jobs, I’m the bookkeeper for the company. Adding extra procedures to the bookkeeping for the trivial amount of money that our California mail order sales tax would be (about 10% of our sales are mail order and only a tiny fraction of those are in California) . . . it’s just not worth it. I already work around ten hours a day, six days a week.

    In closing, thanks again for the commentary and for being part of the larger conversation about Amazon.

    Warm Regards,
    Alan Beatts
    Owner, Borderlands Books

    • Alan – Thanks for coming and sharing your thoughts. Seldom does everybody agree on anything around here.

      You’re always welcome to comment and contribute on any of the topics we discuss here.

    • Quote: “K.W., am I remembering this right? It was ten years, wasn’t it?”

      Twelve years, actually. I’m not exactly the poster boy for the wonderfulness of the traditional publishing industry.

      • I am a reader, not an author, but I can sure relate to this. For a while, it seemed as though it was the kiss of death to an author’s career for me to find a new-to-me writer / series / sub-genre that I really, really liked. Then I would get the word at a SF&F convention that said writer / series / sub-genre was deemed to be not sufficiently commercial. (see Michelle Sagara, Lee & Miller, Pat Hodgell, Martha Wells.) These are the writers that managed to slog on and find subsequent publication but I know that there were others that didn’t, including a few series that ended with cliff hangers.

    • Nice reply, Mr. Beatts. Glad you felt you could comment further! I know the internets can get heated, but I love the discourse that can happen, too. Agreed, a monopoly (by anyone) isn’t a good thing for consumers, either – and we’ve seen Amazon try and flex their muscles there a few times, as well. Thanks for the perspective. 🙂

    • I’m not an attorney, but here is one thing I’m fairly certain of, a monopoly can only exist through governmental collusion and/or coercion. As far as I know, the government hasn’t yet declared Amazon the only book seller allowed to operate in this country. Nor can Amazon force anybody to buy their products. From a consumer’s point of view, Amazon is a good deal. If that changes, consumers will buy from someone else. Trust me, there are countless parties nipping at Amazon’s heels, just waiting for them to stumble. Which is something every business person should always keep in the forefront. When they forget, they go out of business. Seems simple to me.

      I am so frustrated with book stores (not just yours, Mr. Beatts) right now because I am sick to death of the vilification of Amazon, as if it’s some monstrous ogre that’s sprung from the skull of a troll for the sole purpose of destroying book stores. It’s a business. Yes, a large and influential business, but that doesn’t make it an evil entity. As long as you’re putting all your focus on them and wasting your energy blaming them, you’re not doing whatever it is you do best.

    • Further re the example of my novel DR. ADDER. I don’t believe that I had so much trouble getting it published because it was considered to be too extreme and obscene. A big part of my frustration back then was that established sf writers such as Harlan Ellison and Philip Jose Farmer were getting much tougher stuff than mine published. My problem was the nature of my book’s content plus the fact that at the time I had no established track record in the traditional publishing industry. It was almost purely an economic decision on the part of the publishers to pass on DR. ADDER.

      If the indie e-publishing option had been available to me then (1972, actually, when I wrote the book) the way it is now, I could have put the book up for sale online and begun building up my audience then, rather than having to wait for over a decade to do so. Similarly, my “digital original” novel THE KINGDOM OF SHADOWS is now available for the Kindle and the Nook, and I have readers telling me the same thing that all the trad editors who passed on it told me, that it very well might be the best thing I’ve ever written. If I didn’t have the indie e-publishing option, it would still be sitting on my hard drive, unpublished in any form.

      So in general, I’m more concerned about the decisions that trad publishers make for financial reasons than I am about the decisions they make based on supposedly objectionable content. Mr. Beatts makes an excellent point that if Amazon were to achieve a monopoly-like position (which it’s very likely to do), then they could effectively censor and choke off the distribution of certain books. This is a legitimate concern, IMO. As an author, I’m not greatly worried about it, at least as far as my own books are concerned; as a citizen, I do think it could be a problem.

  15. I agree w/ most of your points, PG, although I do think Amazon plays dirty with their extreme discounting wars. When they’re selling at that much of a loss, subsidizing book sales w/ sales in other departments with their deep pockets, stores that sell books simply can’t compete. And Amazon knows that, which is why they do it, I guess.

    • I’m not sure how you define what is extreme discounting, Livia.

      With respect to ebooks, Amazon discounted one of mine, but, under their rules, they paid me the same royalty they would have by selling at my selected price.

      I sold more books, made more money and purchasers bought something they wanted for less than it would normally cost them. I didn’t force Amazon to do this against its will, so I don’t see a boogeyman anywhere.

      If Amazon’s agreement allowed them to cut my royalties and I didn’t like it, I could withdraw my book from Amazon and sell it elsewhere. Amazon didn’t force me to select them to sell my book. That was my choice.

      Every merchant, large and small, uses pricing as an important tool in marketing and sales. How a merchant uses pricing and other marketing and sales tools is up to the merchant. Customers vote with their dollars on which strategies work the best.

      When Amazon started selling books online in 1995, they did so as a tiny company that competed directly with giants Barnes & Noble and Borders.

      I’m certain Barnes & Noble, at least, had a strategy to destroy Amazon once it began to get some traction by luring Amazon’s customers away. My certainty is based on what Barnes & Noble’s top executives threatened Bezos with when they tried to force him to sell out.

      That’s hardball competition. It’s fun to win and no fun to lose. One of the genius features of our economy is that if you lose, you can start over and try something else. When Steve Jobs was fired from Apple, he started two companies, NeXT, which bombed, and Pixar, which didn’t.

      I would bet that Jeff Bezos’ biggest worry for Amazon is that somewhere, a guy just like him is working on a better way of selling things to lots of people. The Amazon of 15 years in the future may not be Amazon, but, instead, a company that only exists in someone’s head today.

      Competition, hard competition, is why you have more computing power in your iPhone than MIT had in its entire computer science department in 1980.

      Extreme discounting is why Amanda Hocking was able to work her way out of a dead-end job as an assisted living peon by selling her books for 99 cents each. If somebody had decided the correct price for a book was $20, she might still be giving sponge baths in Austin, Minnesota.

      Speaking of rural Minnesota, competition is why 2% of the population of the United States can feed the rest of the country plus a lot of other people around the world and billions of people eat better and cheaper than they did when over 50% of the US population was employed growing food.

      Competition is why, in 1945, it required about 14 labor-hours to produce 100 bushels of corn on 2 acres of land and in 2002, that same 100 bushels of corn were produced on less than 1 acre and required far less than 1 labor-hour. There are farmers living not far from Ms. Hocking that can raise over 300 bushels of corn per acre. None of that would have happened if seed and fertilizer and farm equipment companies and farmers had not competed hard to be better and cheaper than the other folks.

      I think there are reasonable legal limits on abusive competitive practices. One of the fundamental purposes of such laws are to protect people against unfairly high prices. When Amazon starts charging high prices, I’ll jump all over them.

      • Admittedly nit-picky detail: Steve Jobs didn’t start Pixar. He bought it from LucasFilm when that genius George Lucas couldn’t figure out any use for it except as an animated business presentation tool. Credit goes to Jobs for seeing the real potential.

        • K.W. – My understanding was that Jobs bought the computer graphics division of LucasFilm for $10 million and turned it into Pixar. I agree Jobs found the billions in value that the people who worked for Pixar could generate.

      • Ah, by extreme discounting I was referring to the wholesale model, not the agency model. I was thinking specifically of the hardcover price competition between Amazon and Walmart a few years back, when both giant retailers slashed prices much lower than independent booksellers could possibly do and stay in business. When an industry gets to a point where the big, established, companies can throw around their weight and stifle the competition, I get a little worried. I guess at some point the government would intervene if Amazon became too much of a monopoly. And depending on whose point of view, that would either be too soon or too late.

        I get what you’re saying about hardball competition. And in a purely fair, competitive market, I would be all for that. However, the reality is that after one player gets extremely powerful, it gets very very difficult for other players to come in, and at that point you don’t have fair competition anymore. It’s like that old saying about capitalism — the guy with the most capital wins. Just to clarify, I have no problem with Amazon’s awesomeness in other ways, or the waya they treat authors. It’s just the fact that they sell at a loss while using their income from other ventures to subsidize it, with the intent of starving out their competition.

        It’s true that Amazon was once in the David position, and kudos to them for being so smart and so successful, but I guess I don’t see that as an argument to say to all the other little people “Suck it up, just do what Jeff Bezos did and be brilliant and you’ll be fine.” That bar is a bit too high for me.

        • Hmm, or maybe what bothers me is this: In this particular competitive tactic, Amazon isn’t winning by being smarter or making things better for consumers or authors, which, as you rightly point out, drives progress. But here, they’re winning solely by having deeper pockets, which decreases healthy competition in my mind.

        • My attitude towards discounting and Wal-Mart in particular is heavily influenced by experience living in a small town and representing poor clients for Legal Aid.

          For somebody working for minimum wage, Wal-Mart’s prices are the difference between making or not. Before Wal-Mart arrived, the only other choices that didn’t involve spending serious gas money for a broken-down car were truly nasty stores with high prices. When the children’s shoes wore out, they kept wearing them because even the cheapest new shoes cost more than the budget could bear. The weekly paycheck from the chicken processing plant bought a lot more food and clothing at Wal-Mart than anywhere else in town and was as good as a raise for poor people.

          And the jobs at Wal-Mart? They were the top of the heap for someone who graduated from high school and like winning the lottery for someone who dropped out. You got paid much better than the chicken factory paid and you didn’t come home after work smelling like chicken innards. One guy I knew who was smart, but barely graduated from high school started as a checker and worked his way up to manager, where he was making more money than half the doctors in town. I lost track of him when he was promoted higher and had to move.

          After we left the area, when Wal-Mart announced it would build an even bigger store, the whole town celebrated. The reason was not just more selection, but the Wal-Mart store brought more people to town, so a client and friend who owned a fast food restaurant got a lot more business.

          The people who compete with discounters have the ability to tell a story more effectively than most of people who need the discounts the most. Whenever I see an anti-Wal-Mart story on television, I notice nobody ever interviews any poor people to ask their opinions.

  16. I’d just like to point out: Ingram exists because of customer choice, not because of “publisher inneficiancy.” In this case the customer was book retailers. Retailers gain significant cost savings and effiiancies by being able to order hundreds of different publishers from a single sorce.

    Stores can restock 2 to 3 times a week. Having to place seperate orders with each publisher would take many more man hours then does placing a single ingram or b&t order. Just setting up an account and getting credit from each individual publisher large and small… each of whom have different payment terms? Nevermind minimum order thresholds, or free shipping thresholds.

    Yeah. Its a labor saving middle man for the retailer… and these middlemen existin every retailing segment… be it books or music, or home video… food… you name it, there’s a middle man supply aggrigator. And the exist because they add value that the retailers like.

    So no… ingram doesn’t exist because of publisher inneficiancy. LOL.
    Thanks for your insight into an industry you don’t seem to know much about.
    🙂

    • Jeremy – Ingram has evolved into what it is today. The man I mentioned in my post, the book wholesaler whose company was acquired by Ingram, told me his company wouldn’t have existed if publishers had bothered to be more responsive to bookseller orders and deliver faster. He built his company by going from bookstore to bookstore, pitching them on the merits of ordering from him instead of ordering from publishers because he could get them bestselling books in 1-2 days instead of weeks in the case of orders placed with publishers.

      Ingram was founded in 1964 and took time to grow into a dominant player. Before that, booksellers managed to get their books ordered from publishers.

  17. I actually agree with Mr Beatts in some points, e.g. the danger of Amazon buying up too many companies and gaining a defacto monopoly or the potential dangers of Amazon refusing to sell a book, because they deem it obscene. There have been cases where Amazon refused to sell certain books by indie authors because the subject matter was deemed obscene, which robbed those authors of the biggest market. And considering how easily something can get labeled obscene or too adult in the US, that’s a legitimate worry.

    However, a lot of Amazon’s business practices, e.g. the sales tax or loss leader pricing, are basically exploiting legal loopholes in the US. And you really can’t fault a company for exploiting legal loopholes to make money. If you have a problem with that, close the loophole. For example, Amazon Germany does not discount books and does not even allow its customers to use discount codes to buy books, because this would conflict with the German fixed book price law. And all European Amazons collect 15 percent VAT/sales tax on every purchase in the EU, because 15 percent is the VAT rate in Luxembourg, where Amazon Europe is based. Which means that every single one of the dozens of books I purchased via Amazon Germany has contributed to running the lovely country of Luxembourg, a place I haven’t even visited in almost 20 years.

    Besides, there is one big factor that annoys me about all of those “Boycott Amazon” cries, whether it’s over selling dog-fighting manuals or delisting GLBT books or making it impossible to buy Holtzbrink/MacMillan titles. “Boycott Amazon” is very easy to say when you live in San Francisco and can go to Borderlands Books or when you live in Oregon and can pop in at Powell’s every two weeks or even if you live somewhere else in the US and Barnes & Noble will actually sell books to you.

    But for those of us living outside the US, particularly in countries where English is not the majority language, Amazon is often the only way to get English language books (well, there is also the Book Depository, recently purchased by Amazon). In the pre-Internet/pre-Amazon days, my selection of English language books was limited to the small foreign language section at my local bookstore (and I was lucky enough to live in a big enough city that the bookstores had foreign language sections). I could also special order a book from the big “Books in Print” catalogue, provided I knew the book existed. The university bookstore would even order directly from university presses and smaller publishers for me. Getting the books always took ages and was very expensive. For me, an American mass market paperback costs as much today as it did twenty years ago, when I first started buying them. For a while, after Amazon arrived on the scene, the price actually dropped.

    That’s not to say that Amazon always treats international customers well, because it doesn’t. There’s the two dollar e-book surcharge or the fact that Kindle Fire and Touch won’t be available at Amazon Germany and UK at all and that the regular Kindle costs significantly more than in the US. There’s the fact that I can’t buy e-books from Amazon.com or that Amazon US won’t sell many items to international customers, including things as innocuous as tableware. But compared to how other retailers treat international customers, Amazon is a prince. Barnes & Noble won’t even let non-Americans open an account, let alone use their Pubit platform. Plenty of other big US retailers won’t ship to countries outside the US, e.g. K-Mart won’t sell me spare parts for something I bought at one of their physical shops years ago.

    So while Amazon is far from ideal, they are better than much of the competition in many ways.

    • Dear Cora,

      Well said.

      My brother and his family live in Japan. And Amazon (and their Prime program) is their only reasonable, cost effective way that they have to get english language books. And, as you might expect, they are very avid readers.

      I would be one of the last people in the world to say that Amazon is all bad or even mostly bad. They provide hugely valuable services for both readers like you and my brother and authors like K.W. And I also wouldn’t call for a boycott of Amazon.

      But I’m very concerned that, based on their track record, they don’t just want the whole pie, if you will — they’d like the plate, knife and the table it’s sitting on too. And, as K.W. pointed out, as a citizen and as a reader, that worries me.

      Warm Regards,
      Alan

  18. BTW, if you want to know what companies Amazon owns, you don’t even have to spend any time googling. Just go to Amazon’s front page, and scroll down to the bottom.

    • Sherri – I hadn’t noticed that. I either click on the search box or the My Account link. I don’t think I’ve ever made it to the bottom of the front page.

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