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Amazon from A to Z
April 3, 2012 10:56 PM   Subscribe

The Seattle Times has just published a largely unfavorable four-part series about Seattle-based Amazon.com. In Part 1, the newspaper questions how much Amazon is doing for the local community. Part 2 suggests that Amazon is damaging the publishing industry. Part 3 asks if Amazon's tax-free status gives it an unfair advantage. And Part 4 wonders whether Amazon is bad for its own workers.
posted by twoleftfeet (145 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite

 
Not enough, it is, it does, it is.

What's my prize? Amazon credit?
posted by Mister Fabulous at 11:20 PM on April 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


Forever when I think of Amazon I will remeber the previous thread that devolved into an argument between someone who buys paper towels online and someone who finds that repugnant.
posted by wcfields at 11:33 PM on April 3, 2012 [37 favorites]


They need a master overview page for all 4 parts. much more shareable that way
posted by Bwithh at 11:38 PM on April 3, 2012


Oh here it is. Too brief though
http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/businesstechnology/2017883596_amazonintro25.html
posted by Bwithh at 11:40 PM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can I get this for my Kindle?
posted by dhartung at 11:40 PM on April 3, 2012 [12 favorites]


So let me get this straight: The Seattle Times, like all newspapers, faces shrinking readership, reduced income, and likely eventual commercial extinction. Amazon is one of the most successful businesses in the US, and is growing and creating jobs.

And so, the Seattle Times is offering Amazon advice on how Amazon should be running their business. Is that what's happening here?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:44 PM on April 3, 2012 [33 favorites]


Is this one of those things where I need to consider the source? Or is this 4-part series being done out of true journalistic integrity and exposure of light to dark corners instead of some kind of background motive?

Real question -- I don't know that much about the Seattle Times and what (if any) its agenda might be.
posted by hippybear at 11:45 PM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


dhartung: "Can I get this for my Kindle?"

Yes, you can.
posted by arcticseal at 11:50 PM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


News flash! Successful company gets rid of workers who don't do what they are paid for. Said workers complain to newspaper about how unfair life is. Print media continues slide into oblivion.
posted by acetonic at 11:51 PM on April 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Amazon moved in and started building high buildings right next to the Times, ruining their view of Lake Union.

Joking aside, the Times is locally owned and has local scope. As far as i know, they arent part of a vast conglomerate. Kind of interesting that they are pissing on their next-door neighbor like that.

Seattle chill, maybe?
posted by b1tr0t at 11:52 PM on April 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


How many people "in the community" does Amazon employee versus how many people "in the community" has the Seattle Times laid off does the Times employee? Or does the Times not consider employment doing something?

Give me a break. Newspaper hand-wringing fatigue.
posted by xmutex at 11:52 PM on April 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Seattle chill, maybe?

lol
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:56 PM on April 3, 2012


What I don't understand is that there is at least a fair amount of backlash (especially among people who consider themselves liberal) against shopping at Wal-Mart for ethical reasons, but those same people will buy from amazon without thinking twice. Most of the arguments against Wal-Mart are even more appropriate against amazon.
posted by Violet Hour at 12:00 AM on April 4, 2012 [45 favorites]


The tax thing is bullshit, Amazon knows it and will continue to milk it as long as they can buy off politicians (so probably a long time.) And I like my tax free online purchase and I love me some amazon prime. But really, the tax free internet purchases is hurting everyone and needs to stop.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 12:02 AM on April 4, 2012 [13 favorites]


I paid sales tax on something via Amazon a couple of weeks ago, it was going to Tennessee I think. Not sure what that's about.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:04 AM on April 4, 2012


$52 billion in lost sales tax due to Quill Corp v. North Dakota? Sheesh. And Paul Ryan can't find any tax loopholes to close?
posted by mek at 12:07 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Times is the sole daily paper survivor and is independently run and owned by a family, the Blethens, who are (or perhaps were) regarded as very, well, Old Seattle. As is Bill Gates' family.

The Times harrumphing about Amazon can be seen as harrumphing about the personality, outlook, and philosophy of Jeff Bezos, as he is not culturally a part of Old Seattle. Basically, if Bezos embraced taxes and philanthropy (that did not involve raising rocket engines from the seabed, that is) the paper would not have run the stories. IMHO, obviously.

Before the Blethens provoked the closure of the Hearst-owned P-I (again, IMHO), and as long as I can recall before that, the Times was perceived as a kind of high-table paper, a bit stodgy and aiming for an upper middle class readership. In the 1970s my Eastern Washington grandfather took the P-I because it was more conservative, but in the 90s he took the Times.

It is my impression, possibly mistaken, that during the late 1960s and early 1970s the paper allied with younger politicians and writers and was effective in helping clean up both Seattle and Washington politics and law enforcement to some extent.

Hope that gives a historical and area context for non-locals.
posted by mwhybark at 12:15 AM on April 4, 2012 [24 favorites]


"What I don't understand is that there is at least a fair amount of backlash (especially among people who consider themselves liberal) against shopping at Wal-Mart for ethical reasons, but those same people will buy from amazon without thinking twice. Most of the arguments against Wal-Mart are even more appropriate against amazon."

Personally, I think almost all the reasons for this reflect badly on those who conform to your characterization.

One big part of it is a class difference — Wal-Mart represents savings and convenience relative to the alternatives for the upper-lower-class and lower-middle classes. Amazon represents savings and convenience for the middle-class and lower-upper classes.

Another part is that Wal-Mart is associated with sinophobia, that they're selling cheap Chinese junk to American consumers who are too stupid to know better than to protect their own interests (jobs) while, in contrast, Amazon is largely selling books and music and dvds that, gosh, isn't it great to get them less expensively and delivered to one's door?

Yet another part is that especially with younger, internet-centric people like those here and elsewhere, the trend that Amazon represents seems like a natural and efficient and convenient technological evolutionary improvement, while big-box stores don't (even though they very much are exactly comparable).

The latter probably has something to do with the one thing that should be seen equivalently in both examples by this group: that they each are killing off local, small businesses. Especially this should be objectionable to the group we're talking about with regard to Amazon and independent bookstores and, indeed, it's the one thing that is most often criticized. Even so, this group has personal experience of being able to get whatever book they are looking for from Amazon when, in contrast, they've experienced not being able to find what they want at their local independent bookstore. So, again, convenience.

It's easy to be socially critical of something like Wal-Mart when it doesn't have any personal appeal to oneself. It's harder when it does, as Amazon does to many of the group you're discussing.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:24 AM on April 4, 2012 [31 favorites]


Kind of interesting that they are pissing on their next-door neighbor like that.

It is interesting. The Seattle Times is the only remaining daily newspaper in Seattle, a relatively large metropolitan population. Historically that newspaper has been a major booster of local business (Boeing, Microsoft, etc.) and it's quite unusual for it to criticize something like this.

I don't want a future where big global corporations get to have all the say. I don't know how to make it possible for small local organizations to have an equal say, but it matters to me because I'm actually living the moments of my life locally.
posted by twoleftfeet at 12:24 AM on April 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Historically that newspaper has been a major booster of local business (Boeing, Microsoft, etc.) and it's quite unusual for it to criticize something like this.

Funny, companies like Microsoft or Boeing aren't the first thing which spring to mind when I think of "local businesses". I tend more to think of non-chain restaurants or specialty stores or even mom-and-pop corner markets. Certainly not global power-players like the dominant OS supplier or one of the two makers of large aircraft on the planet.
posted by hippybear at 12:29 AM on April 4, 2012


Amazon knows it

They do, and they are holding out as long as they can. But the real tax revenue story is global in scale, where revenues are moved from haven to haven. The reportage here is good but it only touches the surface on that subject, focusing on the scraps that states are fighting over.

There's a real scandal to report on, right there, but I suppose as a lot of American companies are doing it, it's too big to dare to shine too much light on — and not just for the Seattle Times, but for American media as a whole. Because in another line of work, in another light, what these guys do might just come close to money laundering. But that's not something reputable Fortune 500 companies do...
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:31 AM on April 4, 2012 [8 favorites]


The articles have diddly to do with the fortunes of news, and quite a bit to do with how Amazon treats its warehouse employees, which is rather poorly. See the previous Metafilter thread on their Allentown warehouse and workers being fired for failing quotas due to heat exhaustion.
posted by zippy at 12:33 AM on April 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


I like my tax free online purchase

If you live in California (or many other states), you still owe the tax; Amazon just saves itself the trouble of collecting it. Then again, you don't HAVE to pay it to the state on April 15th as long as the state can't afford to go after all the small-scale evaders. Good for you, good for Amazon, shit for your state.
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:34 AM on April 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think most states require you to self-report out of state sales tax, but I've never heard of a person actually doing it.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 12:39 AM on April 4, 2012


(Which is why I think online retailers need to collect it. No one will start doing it on there own, but it's an open secret any many etailers even advertise the tax free nature of there sales.)
posted by [insert clever name here] at 12:42 AM on April 4, 2012


Funny, companies like Microsoft or Boeing aren't the first thing which spring to mind when I think of "local businesses".

I just meant "local to Seattle". It could be a company town where nobody criticizes the company. (Except in Seattle there are many companies. But Boeing and Microsoft and Amazon are near the top.)
posted by twoleftfeet at 12:42 AM on April 4, 2012


and many . . .
posted by [insert clever name here] at 12:43 AM on April 4, 2012


And so, the Seattle Times is offering Amazon advice on how Amazon should be running their business. Is that what's happening here?

This is a bit disingenuous, when Amazon experiences a tectonic shift in the way humans consume information I'm sure someone will be be around offering advice on how to doi business. But that's not even what Seattle times is doing, a journalist is pointing out that unlike similar sized businesses, Amazon is being somewhat tightarsed. Calling a corporation on trating employees like shit isn't really something that a news paper has no business doing.
posted by mattoxic at 12:58 AM on April 4, 2012 [10 favorites]


It should be noted that Boeing actually relocated corporate HQ to Chicago several years ago, in a move that provoked chest-beating and tooth-gnashing from both the P-I and the Times. The stated reason (iirc) was to place the decision-making staff equidistant from manufacturing in St. Louis, Wichita, and Seattle, and to emphasize the company's then-newly embraced outsourcing of parts manufacture.

My personal perception was that it was intended to keep management-track Boeing people from becoming a part of Washington State political culture, which is capital-D democratic. Keeping Boeing MBAs non-Washingtonian would therefore ease defense contracts and minimize management contacts with Boeing union leadership. Again, IMHO. The move is (locally, at any rate) credited with profoundly screwing up the supply chain, leading to months of Seattle-area remanufacture of improperly fabricated parts.

That said, it was the Times that won a Pulitzer for investigative reporting on the fatality-causing jack-screw rudder issue in 737s. So yeah, the paper is a booster, but they can actually do their job.
posted by mwhybark at 1:13 AM on April 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


The Times is conservative and stodgy; the PI, its former competitor, was fairly liberal and somewhat forward-thinking. Guess which one died. The PI still exists online-only, but I have no idea how that experiment is going.

I shop via Amazon a fair amount; it fills the same function that the Sears catalog filled for my parents. I live on an island which makes getting into a place with real stores a several hour adventure in driving and ferries. Fun every once in awhile, but when I need something I cannot find in the small local stores I often just order it via Amazon. With gas at $4 and above, it costs me $20 in gas and $10 on the ferry to get anywhere.

All that said, I would gladly pay "real" prices from Amazon if they seemed to give a shit about their workers. So I feel bad about that, and do not order from them as often as I might.
posted by maxwelton at 2:36 AM on April 4, 2012


I love the liberal assumption in the first part, never questioned: that businesses should be giving to charity in the first place.

See

http://www.colorado.edu/studentgroups/libertarians/issues/friedman-soc-resp-business.html
posted by gnossie at 2:57 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think most states require you to self-report out of state sales tax, but I've never heard of a person actually doing it.

I have, for the past few years.

shit for your state.

...and this is why.
posted by MikeKD at 3:07 AM on April 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


The Times harrumphing about Amazon can be seen as harrumphing about the personality, outlook, and philosophy of Jeff Bezos, as he is not culturally a part of Old Seattle.

No offense, but what you are saying is complete bullshit. Not just ordinary bullshit - the fragrant turds extruded from bull anuses - but a stinkier and less cohesive form of shit. What you are saying is such a perfect form of bullshit that even the bull is saying "that wasn't me!"

You've dismissed genuine concerns and worries about life in a way that suggests that all this is some stupid power play between a few people. It makes a great story, but you know it's extra-dense bull doodoo.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:21 AM on April 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


"No offense, but what you are saying is complete bullshit. Not just ordinary bullshit - the fragrant turds extruded from bull anuses - but a stinkier and less cohesive form of shit. What you are saying is such a perfect form of bullshit that even the bull is saying 'that wasn't me!'"

This is a good example of the rule about starting a sentence with no offence, but….
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:36 AM on April 4, 2012 [12 favorites]


Part 2 suggests that Amazon is damaging the publishing industry.
The question is whether or not that's bad after all, writers write the work, readers read it -- what do you need a publishing industry for?

As a filter? Well, Amazon has it's "If you liked those you'll love these" algorithms. Clearly, they've illustrated that lots of people like crap*. So the filtering effect isn't really that worth the cut that publishers are taking.

The problem, IMO is that Amazon isn't disintermediating enough They still take around a 30% cut and more if you sell at 99¢ They still control what goes on the market and they control the hardware.

Some authors will say they get services from publishers, they don't want to deal with whatever random crap and concentrate on writing. But the relationship should be reversed, rather then submit manuscripts to publishers and wait months for rejections slips, they should be the customers, selecting which service provider they want.

From what I can see, the services authors need are:

1) Marketing. This can be done by amazon's recommendation system, but there are probably lots of things professional marketing can do generate buzz, etc.

2) Actual distribution, pretty much free with e-books but, obviously more expensive with physical paper copies.

3) Billing, actually not that simple with e-books. It's easy to transmit data on the internet but it's a pain in the ass to collect money on the internet, especially at small scales. This is something amazon does well.

IMO, Amazon is taking too big of a chunk as it is, but the fact that they own the kindle platform can recommend things to millions of people who would actually be interested in them is huge. Selling a book on Amazon compared to trying to sell it yourself online with no intermediary is going to make you way, way more money for now. But, ideally it would be better if there were more competition, and that people could buy any device and buy books from any distributor.

*I mean this book that started out as twilight fanfic is getting mass published, but it started out as mostly a eBook downloads (the published work is essentially an anonymized version with references to the character names stripped out, from what I understand)

Also, the labor situation is terrible. They should really fix that.
posted by delmoi at 3:40 AM on April 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Someone at the newspaper is more than a little upset that they didn't get in on the stock offering.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 3:50 AM on April 4, 2012


i have put Dummies Guide To Ad Hominem on my wishlist
posted by fightorflight at 3:52 AM on April 4, 2012


One big part of it is a class difference — Wal-Mart represents savings and convenience relative to the alternatives for the upper-lower-class and lower-middle classes. Amazon represents savings and convenience for the middle-class and lower-upper classes.
There is a ton of really cheap crap on Amazon, lower income people could probably find the same deals on amazon that they could at walmart. You can get toilet paper there and diet coke and razor blades and super cheap netbooks. The selection is way better.

But, the fact Amazon started as a bookstore, and that's probably what most people primarily think of it as probably makes them think of something hip and liberal, like a starbucks, or all the bookstores they used to hang out at before Amazon put them all out of business.
posted by delmoi at 3:58 AM on April 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's kind of funny that the Seattle Times is criticizing Amazon for avoiding taxes when it's billionaire publisher, Frank Blethen, was one of the pioneers of the bush tax cuts. According to this http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/post/revisiting-the-cost-of-the-bush-tax-cuts/2011/05/09/AFxTFtbG_blog.html, those cost the US $2.8 trillion from 2001 to 2011. That's 54 times greater than the $52 billion number for the last 6 years lost to online sales.

http://www.citizen.org/documents/EstateTaxFinal.pdf -- Starting on page 11.

This doesn't make what Amazon does right, but yeah, he who casts the first stone.
posted by SouthCNorthNY at 4:01 AM on April 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


I personally find it odd that a newspaper reporting how a large corporation may have negative effects on communities, workers, etc is greeted with such skepticism on metafilter, in many cases without addressing the content of the articles. This is doubly surprising when compared to the previous post about warehouse worker conditions.
posted by snofoam at 4:22 AM on April 4, 2012 [25 favorites]


And so, the Seattle Times is offering Amazon advice on how Amazon should be running their business. Is that what's happening here?

Since when is journalism about giving advice to businesses?

I'm sure everything will be better when the Seattle Times is gone and we can just claim to be blissfully unaware...
posted by sriracha at 4:26 AM on April 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


I do think it's interesting how up in arms people get about the sales tax issue. The only difference I see between Amazon structuring their business to avoid sales taxes and the income tax avoidance which is common in nearly all large companies is that the tax burden Amazon avoids falls directly on the poor and middle class, while the tax burden GE avoids falls on the rich. It should surprise no one that the tax avoidance that mostly benefits the rich is not being seriously challenged.
posted by Nothing at 4:56 AM on April 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


My personal perception was that it was intended to keep management-track Boeing people from becoming a part of Washington State political culture, which is capital-D democratic.

So they moved to Chicago?

(OK, admittedly the Democratic Machine in Chicago was maybe more capital-D Daley or capital-G Graft then Democrat, but still. A pretty healthy liberal base, especially in the city.)
posted by kmz at 5:08 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


There is a ton of really cheap crap on Amazon, lower income people could probably find the same deals on amazon that they could at walmart. You can get toilet paper there and diet coke and razor blades and super cheap netbooks. The selection is way better.

There are a lot of prerequisites to shopping at Amazon that people don't necessarily have, though. Internet access, but you can get that at the library, though you might have to wait. A credit or debit card. Not buying your food with EBT. Somewhere/someone to get the packages if you're out.

Around here, it's not uncommon to see people hauling their shopping back on the bus from the Wal-Mart that's 45 minutes away. There are at least two Targets that are closer. It seems like a pretty decent assumption that people aren't stupid and don't like epic bus journeys for the hell of it.
posted by hoyland at 5:25 AM on April 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


I think most states require you to self-report out of state sales tax, but I've never heard of a person actually doing it.

I do, every year. Even though I sometimes get mocked for it. Nor do I begrudge the process, except that it makes me do an irritating amount of bookkeeping. I would kind of like to see a Federal sales tax on online purchases that is easy for retailers of all sizes to collect, saves the time of the user, and could be disbursed to the states if we want to insist that sales taxes are a state- and local-level thing.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:58 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


What I don't understand is that there is at least a fair amount of backlash (especially among people who consider themselves liberal) against shopping at Wal-Mart for ethical reasons, but those same people will buy from amazon without thinking twice.

It's easy to avoid Walmart. There are usually three other stores within a 5 minute drive that sell the same thing for the same price with the same shopping experience. The difference between the experience of shopping at Walmart and shopping at Target is negligible. (Whether any of those stores are much better ethically is a different discussion).

With Amazon, there isn't an obvious alternative that will provide a nearly identical experience.
posted by diogenes at 6:05 AM on April 4, 2012


I would kind of like to see a Federal sales tax on online purchases that is easy for retailers of all sizes to collect, saves the time of the user, and could be disbursed to the states if we want to insist that sales taxes are a state- and local-level thing.

Realistically, Congress will never pass a tax that they don't get benefits from.
posted by smackfu at 6:10 AM on April 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


"I would kind of like to see a Federal sales tax on online purchases that is easy for retailers of all sizes to collect, saves the time of the user, and could be disbursed to the states if we want to insist that sales taxes are a state- and local-level thing."

Might that not require a constitutional amendment? Do you think that's currently possible under the Commerce Clause? Congress can certainly regulate, but can it tax interstate commerce?
posted by Toekneesan at 6:14 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


So let's see. A union-busting megacorporation that regularly has workers carted off to the hospital because that's cheaper than air conditioning their warehouses, that evades taxes, and that fires its employees if they are injured on the job -- is called on it by a newspaper.

Obviously, we need to fall all over ourselves to be the first to question the motives of the paper. Because unlike that paper, our motives are pure, pure as the driven snow, and our response has nothing to do with how easy it is to buy our tax-free shit without moving from our couches.
posted by Killick at 6:23 AM on April 4, 2012 [25 favorites]


Yes, it is remarkable how badly newspapers have managed their reputations.
posted by smackfu at 6:25 AM on April 4, 2012


The notion that Amazon hurts the publishing industry is absurd, just on its face.

They've created a service by which, with one click!, you can instantly have essentially any book winged to your doorstep in two days. They created a device that does the same thing, only instantly. All this handwringing about payments to authors and publishers misses the forest for the trees; without Amazon, there would substantially be no real market in which to sell niche books.

Amazon is the biggest, most beneficial thing that's happened to the publishing industry in decades, and it's maybe the best thing that's happened to literary culture since the printing press.
posted by downing street memo at 6:32 AM on April 4, 2012 [7 favorites]


Internet access, but you can get that at the library, though you might have to wait. A credit or debit card.

I think it would be a very bad idea to enter your credit-card information into a public computer.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:34 AM on April 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


how easy it is to buy our tax-free shit without moving from our couches

Taxes aside, you are aware that Amazon's dead-simple buying process(es) are enormous net social goods, right? The time they save me, for instance, is non-trivial; Subscribe and Save has eliminated just about all of my regular errand-running save grocery shopping, and as soon as they launch that in DC it'll solve that problem too.
posted by downing street memo at 6:35 AM on April 4, 2012


The notion that Amazon hurts the publishing industry is absurd, just on its face.

The bad news came to McFarland & Co. in an email from Amazon.com Inc. The world’s largest Internet retailer wanted better wholesale terms for the small publisher’s books. Starting Jan. 1, 2012 — then only 19 days away — Amazon would buy the publisher’s books at 45 percent off the cover price, roughly double its current price break.

For McFarland, an independent publisher of scholarly books situated in the mountains of North Carolina, Amazon’s email presented a money-losing proposition.

posted by sevenyearlurk at 6:37 AM on April 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


I read the article. Picking out one dude who doesn't like Amazon's terms doesn't prove that Amazon "hurts the publishing industry" (and, it doesn't prove that "the publishing industry" isn't something worth hurting).
posted by downing street memo at 6:40 AM on April 4, 2012


The notion that Amazon hurts the publishing industry is absurd, just on its face.

Amazon does hurt the publishing industry. Just the fact that there are significantly fewer bookstores in the US is really all the proof needed. I think you're conflating your own personal benefit with benefits to authors and publishers. One need only look at the publishers and authors of IPG to see that Amazon isn't really benefiting publishers or authors. It is benefiting self-publishers and established, popular authors, but not most publishers, or authors who use publishers.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:41 AM on April 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


By the way, if you're like me and buying books online has forever spoiled you for brick and mortar stores, you can use Alibris as a guilt-free alternative. It's a middle-man between independent book stores or individual sellers and customers. Sure, it's a middle-man, but at least the stores themselves make money. I've found it very useful for tracking down some rare and out-of-print books as well. (This isn't link spam. I really adore Alibris and probably give them hundreds of dollars every month.)
posted by deathpanels at 6:43 AM on April 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wal-Mart and Amazon are not comparable businesses. Wal-Mart historically has built businesses that undercut local businesses by replacing locally-owned physical infrastructure with Wal-Mart-owned local physical infrastructure. The deracination of smaller more widely distributed businesses and the growth of a single, centralized business changes the travel patterns of local consumers. Such centralization also often attracts consumers from more distant regions where before those consumers would either purchase goods local relative to their residences or not purchase at all.

All of this centralization keeps in place the massive waste associated with independently-owned vehicles and blighting massive urban infrastructure (Wal-Marts in the middle of nowhere particularly noteworthy as post-industrial excrescences).

Because Amazon has dematerialized warehousing, make consumer supply chains more efficient, and utilizes existing durable and transient infrastructure, their business model improves local geographic characteristics. Amazon does not generate wasteful physical infrastructure.

That's one big difference between Wal-Mart and Amazon.

Another difference, as mentioned upthread, is that Wal-Mart sells inexpensive good of poor quality. These (overwhelmingly) low quality goods require frequent replacement and are often inadequate for the functions they ostensibly fill. Amazon also sells low quality items but also carries high-quality durable goods that not only function well but also cannot be obtained by individual consumers by any other practical means. People who do not live within an hour of a major metropolitan center or any other form of urban infrastructure (read Wal-Mart) have access to such items through Amazon.

Finally, Wal-Mart and Amazon are both implicated in labor exploitation. After reading Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed, I have a better understanding of Wal-Mart's problems than I do of Amazon's, mainly because Amazon's warehouse employment practices have not received the same kind of treatment as Wal-Mart's. My sense is both companies have quite a ways to go on compensating their employees and (in Amazon's case) ensuring their contracted employees are also equitably treated.

But I really hate Wal-Mart's anti-union stance and their saccharine exploitation of workers with disabilities and advanced age (i.e. elderly). The nonmaterialization of local infrastructure in Amazon's case is, in my opinion, a benefit. While Wal-Mart does employ (exploit) some local workers, Amazon dispenses with all the waste generated by parking lots, increased traffic, and unrecyclable materials required by physical presence.
posted by mistersquid at 6:44 AM on April 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


Just the fact that there are significantly fewer bookstores in the US is really all the proof needed.

No, not really. "Bookstores" != "publishing". The decline of "bookstores" - at least in terms of number of outlets - has more to do with the development of book superstores like B&N and Borders, a trend that predated Amazon.
posted by downing street memo at 6:46 AM on April 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


Amazon does hurt the publishing industry. Just the fact that there are significantly fewer bookstores in the US is really all the proof needed.

Is the bookselling industry really the same as the publishing industry? Publishers don't really care if the books are sold by Amazon or by the local shop as long as they get their price.
posted by smackfu at 6:47 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


You are simply wrong about publishers preferring Amazon to Bookstores. I work in the industry and I have never met a publisher who thought that. Publishers understand that value bookstores bring, especially to new writers. And none of our communities benefited from the shuttering of Borders which resulted in pulling millions of books out of our communities. Bookstores, like libraries, are important cultural disseminators. No one benefits when a bookstore closes.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:51 AM on April 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's easy to avoid Walmart. There are usually three other stores within a 5 minute drive that sell the same thing for the same price with the same shopping experience.

Here in Massachusetts, that is true. (Well...I can't vouch for the price part; I don't shop at Walmart.) But it isn't at all true in some other places.
posted by cribcage at 6:52 AM on April 4, 2012


Well, Amazon is set for a big win against the big six publishers (and Apple) if the antitrust thing is settled in their favor, which it's looking like it will be.

TBH I was wondering if the timing of this series of articles had something to do with that.
posted by Artw at 6:53 AM on April 4, 2012


Amazon also sells low quality items but also carries high-quality durable goods that not only function well but also cannot be obtained by individual consumers by any other practical means.

This is not true. I stopped using Amazon when their warehouse-labor practices came to light, and have never been unable to find an item I wanted elsewhere. Usually, I can find the item at a price lower than what Amazon charges. I am an individual consumer, and the methods I use to make these purchases are practical. It would sometimes be more convenient to buy from Amazon, but not hugely so.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:54 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


And none of our communities benefited from the shuttering of Borders which resulted in pulling millions of books out of our communities. Bookstores, like libraries, are important cultural disseminators.

I think my community benefited from Borders' closing. Because I can get a) a cheaper price b) an orders-of-magnitude bigger selection and c) a much better customer experience from Amazon, I was happy to see the enormous Borders' space in my area put to more productive use (it's now an art gallery, IIRC)
posted by downing street memo at 6:54 AM on April 4, 2012


Again, you're conflating your personal benefit with that of your community. They are not the same thing.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:56 AM on April 4, 2012


Since the whole community has access to the much better product Amazon has, I'm not sure how my personal benefit doesn't align with the rest of the community's in this case. Care to explain?
posted by downing street memo at 6:59 AM on April 4, 2012


Digital divide.
posted by Toekneesan at 7:00 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think my community benefited from Borders' closing. Because I can get...

I think you're confusing your personal preference with benefit to your community again. You could do all those things you like before the Borders closed, so its closing had no effect on your a), b), and c). You prefer to have the space used for an art gallery, but the people who used to buy their books at Borders probably don't share that preference.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:00 AM on April 4, 2012


Presumably if you bought from Borders it didn't involve warehouses at any point.
posted by Artw at 7:00 AM on April 4, 2012


Since the whole community has access to the much better product Amazon has, I'm not sure how my personal benefit doesn't align with the rest of the community's in this case. Care to explain?

a) The product is not much better.
b) The whole community does not have that access.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:01 AM on April 4, 2012


Folks, if the people who preferred to buy their books at Borders outnumbered the people who could switch to other options, the Borders either a) wouldn't have closed or b) would have immediately been replaced by another bookstore. It wasn't.

Addressing the digital divide is a function of libraries, not necessarily a function of profit-making businesses. You want to amp up library-funding, I'm all for it.
posted by downing street memo at 7:03 AM on April 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Presumably if you bought from Borders it didn't involve warehouses at any point.

Of course it did. Not all warehouses are created operated equal. If you have evidence that workers at Borders warehouses were abused in ways similar to what goes on at the Amazon warehouses, your point is valid. Otherwise, not.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:05 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


a) The product is not much better.

In your judgment; but if the product wasn't better, why did Borders declare bankruptcy, and why is B&N relegated to being a place where teenagers hang out before movies?

b) The whole community does not have that access.

A fair point, but I doubt most of those folks were making regular trips to overpriced Borders, anyway. In any case, I'm all for giving libraries extra funding, particularly now that information literacy is so important.

It's not Borders' job to stay open to address social problems.
posted by downing street memo at 7:05 AM on April 4, 2012


The notion that Amazon hurts the publishing industry is absurd, just on its face.

They've created a service by which, with one click!, you can instantly have essentially any book winged to your doorstep in two days. They created a device that does the same thing, only instantly. All this handwringing about payments to authors and publishers misses the forest for the trees; without Amazon, there would substantially be no real market in which to sell niche books.

Amazon is the biggest, most beneficial thing that's happened to the publishing industry in decades, and it's maybe the best thing that's happened to literary culture since the printing press.
This is a very nice metaphor and all, but it doesn't really describe what Amazon is actually doing.

The operative word here is "niche". Amazon offers a distribution system for books that might otherwise not find an audience. If I write a book about the finer details of Faberge egg-painting, but I don't know how to find the egg-painting community, Amazon will find it for me through search queries. Fine.

But let's say you are anyone else. Anyone writing a book for an established audience. You know your demographic, you've done your homework, you will probably sell between X and Y copies and now it's just a matter of getting your book on the shelf – or, more likely, you're a publisher trying to get somebody else's book on the shelf. Negotiating price is always going to be part of that. Book sellers need to make a profit, so they have to jack up the price a bit to take a cut, but if they charge too much, they won't sell any, because Alternate Bookseller across the street is less greedy and knows that they'll make more money selling more books at a lower price. As the publisher, you probably have worked out the optimal arrangement so that book sellers are happy and your book sees the light of day, gets noticed, and hopefully goes on to sell a ton more than your conservative estimates projected.

Now, let's say that instead of hundreds of book sellers, there is one monolithic bookseller. 80-90% of people that buy your book will be buying it at Gigantocorp Books Inc. This bookseller has much more power over the market, so the negotiations are more one-sided. Gigangocorp can say, "Hey, you know that your book isn't going to sell more than X copies unless we put it on our e-shelves, and we won't do that unless you agree to our terms." The terms, unsurprisingly, put more money in the pocket of Gigantocorp and leave less for the publisher. Which also means less for the author, who wrote the damn thing.

This is how Amazon hurts publishing: by strong-arming publishers into accepting lower profits and less money for their authors. Yes, we can point to a few shining stars who became instant hits through online self-publishing, but this is the exception that proves the rule. What is the impact on average authors who already have an audience, but a limited audience? Will they continue writing, knowing that their income from each book will be slowly dwindling because Amazon's profit model depends on lower prices? If book prices continue to decline, the market will force out middle-ground authors who are neither superstar celebrities nor niche authors desperately seeking an audience.

When I hear "Amazon is saving literature!" my ears start bleeding. Literature doesn't need saving. People are not illiterate simply because they're too lazy to go spend an extra five dollars at the local bookstore. E-readers and online book sales can be a fine addition to the marketplace, but they're not the Messiah. Literature is a conversation. There is a business to it, too, and we can accept that business as useful in fostering that conversation, but only as long as the business doesn't harm an author's ability to keep writing.
posted by deathpanels at 7:06 AM on April 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


Toekneesan: "No one benefits when a bookstore closes."
That's a fairly worthless statement. You could say the same about most businesses, unless they pollute a lot I guess.
posted by brokkr at 7:07 AM on April 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


When I hear "Amazon is saving literature!" my ears start bleeding. Literature doesn't need saving. People are not illiterate simply because they're too lazy to go spend an extra five dollars at the local bookstore.

The question isn't illiteracy but the set of competing entertainments. Amazon has re-elevated the book in that set; the Kindle allows for books to compete with trashy CBS crime dramas, web surfing, writing political rants on Facebook, and everything else that has come to compete for our attention in the last 20 years or so.

I'm not concerned about publishers getting the squeeze - the handwringing around this is wrongheaded. If Amazon is systematically screwing their business partners, there are any number of other platforms they can migrate to, and we know that success in the tech-space is often short-lived. Amazon's future isn't guaranteed.
posted by downing street memo at 7:14 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


... if the product wasn't better, why did Borders declare bankruptcy, and why is B&N relegated to being a place where teenagers hang out before movies?


a) For the same reason that Woolworth's, K-Mart, Kresge's, and thousands of small local retailers did - they could not force their suppliers to grant them wholesale pricing as favorable as Amazon or WalMart could, so they had to charge their customers more.
b) If you buy all your books from Amazon, how do you know that B&N is being so relegated?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:20 AM on April 4, 2012


I oppose efforts to collect sales tax on internet sales, but not because I order a lot of things online. I oppose it because sales taxes are regressive, and I want states to make up for the revenue shortfall via progressive income taxation rather than chasing sales taxes. There should never have been a sales tax in the first place (excise taxes on tobacco and alcohol are a different issue), so anything that pushes states to raise revenue in more progressive ways is fine by me.
posted by jedicus at 7:21 AM on April 4, 2012 [7 favorites]


The question isn't illiteracy but the set of competing entertainments. Amazon has re-elevated the book in that set; the Kindle allows for books to compete with trashy CBS crime dramas, web surfing, writing political rants on Facebook, and everything else that has come to compete for our attention in the last 20 years or so.

Ow, my ears.

Seriously, you think that e-readers are necessary for books to compete with television and social media? Maybe we're just wildly different readers, but I don't say to myself, "I'd like to be entertained today. Entertainment systems, engage! Oh, what's this flimsy paper thing? Why, it doesn't even try to grab my attention. I suppose I'll just watch Dexter instead."

This is a totally backward and weird argument. E-readers might make it easier to get a wider selection of books, and they're definitely easier to carry, but they're not going to pry someone away from their TV just because they're technology, and technology is good.
posted by deathpanels at 7:22 AM on April 4, 2012


Seriously, you think that e-readers are necessary for books to compete with television and social media? Maybe we're just wildly different readers, but I don't say to myself, "I'd like to be entertained today. Entertainment systems, engage! Oh, what's this flimsy paper thing? Why, it doesn't even try to grab my attention. I suppose I'll just watch Dexter instead."

Most people are not high-minded readers, nor do they read things with a particular purpose. I think, in people for whom books are one in a set of different entertaining things they can do with their time, the e-book (and the super-convenient availability of paper books) that Amazon provides does, in fact, lead to more book reading at the margin.
posted by downing street memo at 7:28 AM on April 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Kirth Gerson, I was thinking in particular of medical equipment, things like scalpels and curettes.

I'm not inclined at the moment to analyze Amazon's inventory and compare it against the thousand-and-one-sources one might find any particular item that cannot be purchased locally, which really is my point regarding the ability of individuals to practically obtain relatively scarce items. Perhaps I should have written "pragmatically" instead of "practically"?
posted by mistersquid at 7:32 AM on April 4, 2012


Taxes aside, you are aware that Amazon's dead-simple buying process(es) are enormous net social goods, right? The time they save me, for instance, is non-trivial

The Seattle Times articles provide us with information that allow a more nuanced judgement of what constitutes "net social good" than our own personal experience.

I think that people in general are really lousy at making decisions about how our actions affect our communities. Is it more environmentally beneficial to buy a new, more efficient car, or to hang on to the old one for a few more years? Is a disposable diaper worse in the long run than using more water to wash cloth? Drive across town for the organics, or buy factory vegetables close by? Burn wood that releases particulates or gas that releases stored carbon dioxide? It'd be nice if these decisions were clear cut, universal, and non-conditional, and if the information we based these decisions on was not itself subject to manipulation. But that's not the way things are.

We need to be especially careful when our justifications align with our convenience and comfort.
posted by Killick at 7:47 AM on April 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm sure Amazon does play dirty when making deals with state governments, publishers, and large bookstore chains. But when multibillion-dollar entities get in fights, I'm not sympathetic to either side. They all have lawyers, they can take care of themselves.

I am deeply concerned about Amazon's mistreatment of workers, especially injured workers. But unfortunately I believe this is standard practice for blue-collar workers at large US companies. Most warehouse-type companies dispute every workplace injury, and fire workers who speak out. This sucks, but it is not at all Amazon-specific.

Among my friends and family, I'm quite sure Kindles have at least quadrupled the number of books read. They totally do pry people away from TV and the Internet. I know one guy who hadn't read a book in 5 years; after getting a Kindle, he read a book a week, sometimes more. If you were already a book-lover the Kindle might not be a big deal, but if you weren't, it can change your life.
posted by miyabo at 7:50 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


They've created a service by which, with one click!, you can instantly have essentially any book winged to your doorstep in two days. They created a device that does the same thing, only instantly. All this handwringing about payments to authors and publishers misses the forest for the trees; without Amazon, there would substantially be no real market in which to sell niche books.
Well, replacing everyone in the X industry with computers can hardly be said to be good for the X industry. Everyone is now out of a job.
The bad news came to McFarland & Co. in an email from Amazon.com Inc. The world’s largest Internet retailer wanted better wholesale terms for the small publisher’s books. Starting Jan. 1, 2012 — then only 19 days away — Amazon would buy the publisher’s books at 45 percent off the cover price, roughly double its current price break.

For McFarland, an independent publisher of scholarly books situated in the mountains of North Carolina, Amazon’s email presented a money-losing proposition.
Well, they are a business and they are negotiating. What sucks is they have a near monopoly. In terms of the whole 'agent/retailer' fight that they had, they were negotiating for the right to take a loss on books and sell them to customers cheaper in order to get people shopping at Amazon. Publishers didn't like that, but in this case they were basically negotiating on the customer's behalf to get cheaper prices. All this whining from the publishing industry was annoying.

Still, they need to fix conditions at their wearhouses, and treat employees better. That is a serious critique that should be addressed.
posted by delmoi at 7:52 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Taxes aside, you are aware that Amazon's dead-simple buying process(es) are enormous net social goods, right? The time they save me, for instance, is non-trivial
Yeah "good for me" is not how you measure "social good".
posted by delmoi at 7:53 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Kirth Gerson, I was thinking in particular of medical equipment, things like scalpels and curettes.

I'm not inclined at the moment to analyze Amazon's inventory and compare it against the thousand-and-one-sources one might find any particular item that cannot be purchased locally, which really is my point regarding the ability of individuals to practically obtain relatively scarce items. Perhaps I should have written "pragmatically" instead of "practically"?


Yes, some specialty items are difficult to find locally. The implication of your statements is that Amazon is the only practical way to find those items. That's not true, because there are multiple other sources online for everything that's on Amazon. Google Shopping will show them to you. As in the case of this scalpel, Amazon is not usually even the cheapest source.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:57 AM on April 4, 2012


Yeah "good for me" is not how you measure "social good".

Boring. How many people use Amazon? How many use 1-Click, or Subscribe and Save? How much time, and money, does that save them? What do they do with the time they saved? How does it make their lives easier?

My argument was pretty obviously not "what's good for me is good for society".
posted by downing street memo at 8:03 AM on April 4, 2012


That scalpel is designed for a very specific non-medical use, but I picked it at random from a Google Shopping search for "scalpel," and the point applies to all the medical ones, too. I also did a search for "curettes" with similar results. Amazon is not the only place to find anything.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:04 AM on April 4, 2012


My argument was pretty obviously not "what's good for me is good for society".

Obvious to you, apparently. The way you've been stating it makes it less than obvious to others.

Obviously.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:06 AM on April 4, 2012


Kirth Gerson: "Google Shopping will show them to you."
... as long as you're in the US, apparently ("We could not understand the location Bonn, Germany"). I didn't have any luck with the in-car MP3-to-FM thingymabob I've been browsing for half an hour ago on Amazon (Google tried to sell me a Ford F150 instead). I also tried to find the Compaq power supply I ordered earlier today for delivery tomorrow, and apart from all the results being in the US, Amazon was cheapest. So, anecdata for you.

Inter-state VAT issues with Amazon in the EU has been fixed by the EU. The fact that the American government can't get its act together wrt inter-state sales tax in the US isn't Amazon's fault, and surely it's an issue with all internet commerce? (In the EU, regulation only applies once your revenue is above a certain limit to allow smaller businesses to enter into the inner market.)
posted by brokkr at 8:20 AM on April 4, 2012


Relevant to this thread, and apparently just happened yesterday: Federal Court Tosses Colorado's Amazon Tax.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 8:25 AM on April 4, 2012


Most of the arguments against Wal-Mart are even more appropriate against amazon.

Excuse me while I cultivate a sense of smug superiority for not shopping at either one.
posted by madajb at 8:28 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


> So let me get this straight: The Seattle Times, like all newspapers, faces shrinking readership, reduced income, and likely eventual commercial extinction. Amazon is one of the most successful businesses in the US, and is growing and creating jobs.

And so, the Seattle Times is offering Amazon advice on how Amazon should be running their business. Is that what's happening here?


This only makes sense as a criticism if
  1. Businesses that are currently creating new jobs shouldn't be criticized for how they go about doing so.
  2. Organizations that don't create jobs have no right to research or comment on how others in society behave. In particular, newspapers have no value other than the jobs they create.
Are these really what you're basing your statements on?
posted by benito.strauss at 8:41 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


My argument was pretty obviously not "what's good for me is good for society".

The only thing obvious to me about your arguments in this thread is that you're posting far too often and far too energetically while making really wild leaps of logic and mental gymnastics to justify Amazon's existence - presumably mainly to yourself and for your own conviction and convincing - in the face of what is arguably bad corporate (as well as local) citizenship.

You're stating a whole lot of opinion without what appears to be any data or facts backing those opinions up from what I gather is an outsider view of the publishing industry, stating things that are contrary to just about every article that I've ever read about publishing and how it relates to Amazon.

Amazon has a known history of crushing small presses and publishers in seeking out sales discounts and higher profit margins. It is very much like Walmart's pressure on suppliers and manufacturers.

It's a very direct pressure where a company like Amazon or Walmart goes to a small business with very little leverage and more or less says "We know we're you're number one buyer. Give us even more of a discount even at your own losses or we suddenly stop buying."

Twenty to twenty five years ago I used to work at my dad's screen-printing shop and saw what happens when a major client does that to a small business. Used to - and that's a key part of the story, right there.

What happens is that the business relationship turns violently parasitic. A large company like Amazon or Walmart is feeding off the blood and bones of their suppliers to marginally increase their profit margins while the smaller supplier company is slowly dying, no longer able to turn an actual profit, but compelled to still provide to the larger company because some work bleeds cash slower than no work at all - but death is inevitable all the same.

Yet it's curious how quick you are to defend all of this as acceptable or even positively good for the little guy, when it's pretty clearly not any good for the small publisher or supplier.
posted by loquacious at 8:43 AM on April 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


I've never really heard any horror stories about how Amazon treats its suppliers, other than the publishing people making a lot of noise. That's in contrast to Wal-Mart, where it's well known that they nickel and dime suppliers, and several prominent companies have walked away.
posted by smackfu at 8:47 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


(And the publishing people are another example of just terrible advocacy for their position. They end up being the ones who want to charge higher prices, enforce restrictive DRM, and hurt libraries. Bravo.)
posted by smackfu at 8:55 AM on April 4, 2012


Forever when I think of Amazon I will remeber the previous thread that devolved into an argument between someone who buys paper towels online and someone who finds that repugnant.

Link?
posted by grouse at 8:58 AM on April 4, 2012


Who the fuck buys their paper towels off the internet? (from an apparently deleted comment)
posted by smackfu at 8:59 AM on April 4, 2012


from an apparently deleted comment

It's a quote from the (horrifying) article in FPP.
posted by entropicamericana at 9:06 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


From part 4
Much of labor's attention in recent years has been focused in Southern California, where some of the most notorious worker abuses have occurred in a concentration of warehouses that supply Wal-Mart and other big-box retailers. (Amazon has no warehouses there.) Union organizers said the Southern California warehouse industry relies heavily on temporary workers, most of whom get no health insurance. Two companies there were hit with more than $1 million in state fines for failure to keep proper pay records, and they face a class-action lawsuit alleging violations of minimum-wage laws.

In January, the state hit two other warehouse companies with more than $256,000 in fines for safety violations.

In contrast, Amazon has been fined less than $6,500 for safety violations at its facilities around the country during the past 10 years of operations, according to a review of federal records.
Emphasis mine.

Nobody's perfect, but that's pretty damn good. I have no doubt that all of the warehouse operators make extensive political contributions to minimize the fines the experience, be they Wal-mart, Amazon, or others. So, let's assume a level playing field here with regards to fines.

(full disclosure: I do, in fact, work for Amazon. This is not a company opinion, just mine)
posted by ChrisR at 9:17 AM on April 4, 2012


Yet it's curious how quick you are to defend all of this as acceptable or even positively good for the little guy, when it's pretty clearly not any good for the small publisher or supplier.

Yeah, I don't really care about the little guy, and I'm not sure where you picked that up in my posts. I think little guy-ism is overrated. In any case, it's not a "logical leap" to think that those little guys, if they're so aggrieved, can take their business to another internet retailer. We have plenty. If enough little guys get aggrieved, many little guys will go elsewhere, people will buy little guy stuff from elsewhere, and Amazon will either feel the pain or change their policies.

I think Amazon is good and amazing for readers, for shoppers, for just about everyone but the industries they're disrupting. And it's readers and shoppers I really care about, not little guys. (Sorry if that was "too energetic".)
posted by downing street memo at 9:21 AM on April 4, 2012


I think Amazon is good and amazing for readers, for shoppers, for just about everyone but the industries they're disrupting.

It might be terrible for workers. (From the earlier FPP everyone keeps referencing).

Your social good has to be netted out of the social costs of labor practices and other social costs. It might be the case that Amazon is indeed a net social good. But if that's the case you're making, and it seems like it is, you don't just get to discount all of the costs as irrelevant "little-guy-ism."

If you don't, then your argument is something a lot closer to "social good = good for me."
posted by gauche at 9:29 AM on April 4, 2012


Bezos is an interesting character and a smart guy and a whiz at business. My biggest gripe is horrible terrible shitty website design. Amazon.com looks like it was built by those guys who make the song lyrics websites.
posted by bukvich at 9:50 AM on April 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


When Bezos bought his house on Lake Washington I lost my job.

True story.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:50 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Who the fuck buys their paper towels off the internet?

I do. And diapers. And wipes.
posted by Artw at 9:54 AM on April 4, 2012


My biggest gripe is horrible terrible shitty website design. Amazon.com looks like it was built by those guys who make the song lyrics websites.
I think what you mean is it's not pretty. "Pretty" design rarely matters for conversion rate (the percentage of visitors to the site that purchase something). Amazon, and other online retailers, redesign by moving elements of the site around – trying out cross-sells, tweaking the shopping cart – minor cosmetic changes that boost the conversion rate. It's sort of the web equivalent of Borders positioning the best-sellers closer to the door. When big money is involved, aesthetics is thrown out and only data matters in making design decisions. All the big e-commerce sites look like shit because they spend their time revamping their infrastructure and growing the business, not trying to look beautiful.
posted by deathpanels at 10:06 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, Amazon has it's "If you liked those you'll love these" algorithms. Clearly, they've illustrated that lots of people like crap*.

I made one of the recommendation algorithms at Amazon. I have two things to say about this: a) you're welcome and b) I'm sorry.

</humblebrag>

posted by zippy at 10:08 AM on April 4, 2012 [11 favorites]


Sales taxes are ugly and regressive beasts. I say so long, good riddance.
posted by lantius at 10:18 AM on April 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


All the big e-commerce sites look like shit because they spend their time revamping their infrastructure and growing the business, not trying to look beautiful.

Well ... also, they become blind to any major changes which, in the short term, would hurt profitability, but in the long term, could increase it.

I've used the example before on Metafilter of mp3 players pre-iPod evolving incrementally. Then the iPod, with a simpler design, comes along ...

Amazon in some ways is like the pre-iPod mp3 makers. Any radical change may confuse their customers and lead to lower sales, so the incentive in A/B testing is in favor of adding and rearranging, rather than going for deeper fixes.
posted by zippy at 10:20 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ah man, all these haters can't stand to see a company thriving.

Off exploited workers, immoral tax loopholes, a moderately monopolistic power base to bludgeon product providers with, and whatever the hell else is going on in shadowed corners.
posted by Slackermagee at 10:21 AM on April 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


> Sales taxes are ugly and regressive beasts. I say so long, good riddance.

Because you're replacing them with ......???
posted by benito.strauss at 10:36 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I do. And diapers. And wipes.

and stuff for the baby too!
posted by banshee at 10:39 AM on April 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


In any case, it's not a "logical leap" to think that those little guys, if they're so aggrieved, can take their business to another internet retailer.

Yes it is a logical leap. I bought a $200 phone last week from Amazon. From them, I had a choice of 6 different suppliers, one of which was from Illinois and another much closer, NJ or NY. If any one of them weren't on that list, they would have no chance of making money from prospective customers like me.

Deadlocks aren't solved by assuming that any one party in it can freely break away from it without suffering consequences. Game theory can be quite insightful.
posted by polymodus at 10:41 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


and stuff for the baby too!

Ah, just put down some sawdust.
posted by Artw at 10:42 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I worked in bookselling for quite a while. When Borders opened in my area, I was really glad I no longer owned a bookstore. As with many retail products, big-box retailers can negotiate better deals, and Borders had a massive inventory; they had books that would not likely have been in any bookstore in Maine. Books, unlike other retail products, and for many reasons, are returnable to the publisher if they don't sell. Borders carried huge inventory, and probably returned a huge amount of it. Big-box retailing of books hurt quite a few small bookstores.

Most booksellers survived, because buying books often begets book-buying. I liked that author, hey, look, here's another book by her. And on the next shelf, here's an interesting book. And many poeple like to hang out in bookstores, seeing what's new, looking for undiscovered authors, and enjoying the general vibe of a bookstore. I buy from Amazon, because it's so easy to get specific books fast. But I buy the book I came for. Sorry, Zippy, but the 'other shoppers who bought Shockwave Rider also bought' is not compelling. I tend to not trust marketing, and to assume that at least some of the suggestions are what Amazon wants to sell, regardless of what people bought, similar to the way Tivo keeps wanting me to watch certain shows; it's a paid search result. My very favorite thing about google was always that they segregated ads; you get the search result with ads, but the ads are labeled. So I tend to buy specific books, and not to browse, because it's still really hard to browse on the web.

Lots of bookstores featured the books the big publishers wanted featured, placing them right up front, in big stacks. But booksellers tend to really love books, so lots of unexpected books from small publishers or self-published books got attention. I've never had Amazon fill that role. Lists and recommendations help some, but it's not at all the same.

I miss bookselling, hanging out with book people, being around books all the time, esp. my store that had big windows, nice old wood, and great customers. Bookselling is one of the few (only) businesses where I was almost always happy when sales people called or visited; they love books, too, and were very welcome. Things change; I'm happy to have seen the old Scribner's store in New York, and many others, before they were gone. I'm glad I was part of one of the best bookstores ever in my state. I hope something as wonderful as a good bookstore will evolve on the web, or whatever comes next. And I treated my employees as well as I could, sometimes in the easiest, best way possible - I gave them books.
posted by theora55 at 10:44 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sorry, Zippy, but the 'other shoppers who bought Shockwave Rider also bought' is not compelling

No need to apologize. There's a reason Amazon puts recommendations lower down on the page. It's as much about making search work for people who don't know exactly what they're looking for, showing them the space of possibilities, as it is about cross-promotion.

To me, browsing books on a shelf is much more efficient than looking at a page for a book and then seeing five similar items.

Also, I did the recommendations for everything besides books, so I have an out.

Also also, at companies with recommendation systems, you may not be seeing the best recommendations where managers of specific areas on the site have tuned the recommendations to be bland – showing synonymous items rather than genuinely insightful connections.

posted by zippy at 11:08 AM on April 4, 2012


So they moved to Chicago?

Well, Seattle's Congressman, Jim McDermott, visited Baghdad in opposition to the war before the bombing started. Chicago's Senator spoke to a rally, and then got elected President. I would say the possible fruits of establishing local politcal relationships in Chicago were definitely greater than those available in Washington at the time they moved.

twoleftfeet, I'm unclear on how a noncommital statement of fact (that a thing can be seen in a certain way) is worthy or such execration, but, like, noted, dude.
posted by mwhybark at 11:18 AM on April 4, 2012


Plus the weighting on the Fire is just ridiculous. HEY GUYS! I'VE GOT ONE! IF I WANT ANOTHER I'LL LET YOU KNOW!

That said I was looking for comics by a particular guy the other day and recommendations threw up a bunch of stuff that was actually useful that I did not know about previously, so it;s not like it's always a waste of time. There seems like there's a sweetspot in most recommendation engines where an item is popular enough to have results but not popular enough so that the distinctive results get drowned out by stuff EVERYBODY likes.
posted by Artw at 11:19 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Never met a recommendation that could compare to a knowledgeable clerk. (No offense, zippy.) (I might be biased, having formerly been a knowledgeable record store clerk)
posted by entropicamericana at 11:24 AM on April 4, 2012


It's sad but true that often what hurts small businesses benefits the consumer. Consumers are asking what's best for them. Often, it's not that they don't care about worker conditions, environmental impact, and dwindling industries, but the fact that they have to weigh those concerns against what they can afford financially, what they can live with morally, and what they can actually do to change the status quo anyway.

Netflix undoubtedly hurt all the movie rental stores lining local strip malls. Walmart hurt local grocery stores. Amazon (and before them Borders and Barnes and Noble) hurt small booksellers.

Yet Netflix has made a huge difference in the lives of many consumers, especially those who those that can't afford to go to movies all the time and those that don't want to pay exorbitant rates to monopolistic cable companies just to watch a series on a "premium" channel. Weighed in that light, consumers overwhelmingly pick Netflix.

Walmart has made it easier for a lot of people on low incomes to get products cheaper, arguably a good thing for the consumer, too. To do so, they have also oppressed their workers from that same demographic, though. They've also got a lot of merchandise that is mass-produced and not good quality [I would not call myself a sinophobe, but I am an infromed consumer, and China has a history of importing products that turn out to have higher than acceptable levels of lead, heavy metals and other contaminants. I'm not going to risk that in, for example, the products I use to make food].

I personally prefer to support our local Publix when I can, which is a Southeastern business that puts more into the local economy, pays a better wage to employees in general, and has some of the best hiring practices and benefits around for women in the workforce.

But the reason I can do that is because I am fortunately now, at 45, in a place where financially I can afford to sometimes pay a little more. Not everyone is. I think most consumers would prefer not to patronize Walmart, but often can't afford to go anywhere else.

Before Amazon, publishers put out hardcover versions rather than paperbacks for new releases by their most popular authors, and those hardcover books were outrageously over-priced from the get-go. I heard local booksellers complain about big stores like B&N, because they couldn't discount those prices like the big stores could. But publishers didn't complain, because B&N placed big orders, hosted authors on book tours and offered a better venue for publicity for their clients. Then Amazon came along, and cut out a lot of the middle men, and publishers got upset, too.

But for me, the consumer, Amazon's certainly beneficial. I get cheaper books, doorstep delivery, and fast Prime shipping. Just like I can watch an entire series in one sitting with Netflix if I want, I can read every book in my favorite author's series with my iPad, too, without ever leaving the house. And I can get allkimds of other things along with my books! For the average consumer, Amazon wins.

I know some here disagree, but remember that not every neighborhood has the plethora of offerings those of you in places like NY, Seattle or San Francisco have.

We don't have an Ikea, Apple store or Microsoft within two hours of our home. I'd have to drive a half hour just to get to the nearest "adult" store, and it's not a friendly Toys in Babeland, either. The best "Italian" food is over an hour away, in Orlando, and it's a Macaroni Grill.

For the average consumer, it might come down to a choice between Walmart and Amazon. Which would you pick?
posted by misha at 11:27 AM on April 4, 2012 [8 favorites]


Never met a recommendation that could compare to a knowledgeable clerk. (No offense, zippy.) (I might be biased, having formerly been a knowledgeable record store clerk)

To bring this back from my de-rail, it is my impression that Amazon had, say around 1995 - 1999 a bunch of knowledgable book people managing the book stores. But that later, they went with more automated processes over human curation.

Large organizations that want to do curation find that the cost of human curation is enormous. So in some cases, you see them make the tradeoff for automated systems over people.

Can my friend recommend a better page for me than a Google query on the topic would? Probably. But my friend has to sleep, and won't be able to keep up with every new thing on the net as it's added.
posted by zippy at 11:31 AM on April 4, 2012


... The problem with this automation approach however is that automation, even if worse, displaces skilled workers. So those knowledgeable record store and book store clerks are undercut on price and 'good enough' qualities.

You'll see companies make tradeoffs like this where, as long as product still sells, they will do anything to cut overhead and maximize profit.

This sucks if you're skilled and knowledgeable in an area, because you're competing as a worker against the equivalent of almost free labor.
posted by zippy at 11:36 AM on April 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Can my friend recommend a better page for me than a Google query on the topic would? Probably. But my friend has to sleep, and won't be able to keep up with every new thing on the net as it's added.
Amazon does provide an API for connecting to their catalog, as well as an affiliate program for sales that you refer back to them. So you can go crazy building your own curation engine to find cool stuff for people. Hooking up to the Amazon APIs is easy. Curation is hard.
posted by b1tr0t at 11:43 AM on April 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's sad but true that often what hurts small businesses benefits the consumer. Consumers are asking what's best for them.

It's also just very hard to have a stable small business. You're thinking, "I just want to maintain my nice bookstore" and your competitor is thinking "I want to open up new branches and kill the competition" and that's not really a stable environment.
posted by smackfu at 11:57 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


and your competitor is thinking "I want to open up new branches and kill the competition"

And if your competitor, circa the mid-1990s, is a dot com startup with access to almost free money, while you have to go hat in hand to the loan officer at Bank of America ...
posted by zippy at 12:07 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Amazon pays no corporation tax (or very little) in the UK.

In other, completely unrelated, news Amazon's Luxembourg office is the most productive place in the known galaxy, with just 134 people bringing a turnover of €7.5bn.
posted by Jehan at 1:22 PM on April 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


Are there any large corporations that don't avoid paying tax? It seems like tax-evasion is just a cost of being competitive, because your competition is surely going to do it. It's certainly far cheaper to pay smart accountants than the government.
posted by smackfu at 1:25 PM on April 4, 2012


Are there any large corporations that don't avoid paying tax? It seems like tax-evasion is just a cost of being competitive, because your competition is surely going to do it. It's certainly far cheaper to pay smart accountants than the government.

I don't doubt it's the smart thing for them to do, but it's not the smart thing for us to let them do.
posted by Jehan at 1:38 PM on April 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


whether Amazon is bad for its own workers.

I was lucky to be invited (as a guest) to the last company picnic with all the awesome alternadudes and dudettes who helped the company take off ... just before 'zon laid off 4000 or so.

Guess what I think?
posted by Twang at 3:29 PM on April 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thanks for posting this twoleftfeet! I've got a Business Strategy case review assignment due in a week on Barnes & Noble vs. Amazon, so this is terrific additional material.

I've been up to my elbows in this stuff when not working (MBA part-time because whynot?) and it's interesting that the issues with Amazon in this thread are much like what Barnes & Noble (and Borders) did earlier with SuperStores driving small independents out of business. People upthread have already noted the parallels with WalMart, which was a previous case study we did. Both cases focus on costs and operational efficiency.

People forget what things were like before Amazon, or even B&N. Before B&N, if you wanted a book, you had to physically go to a store. They'd only stock some stuff. If they didn't have it, you'd have to wait weeks for it to get ordered, and then go back. Home delivery? Rare. Black Books is funny partly because it's recognisable.

But then the superstores came along. Huge range. In stock! You could browse for ages without getting harassed that you weren't buying ("This isn't a library."). You could sit in comfy chairs and drink coffee at the cafe located in the store. It was wonderful!

And then Amazon realised that you could use the now-ubiquitous fast-package delivery system (FedEx was another case study) to ship books. Bezos deliberately chose books because they suited this form of distribution. The lack of state sales taxes helped Amazon to offset the $3.50 shipping cost they charged customers. B&N actually followed them online, but did it badly. B&N assumed that people wanted to buy books the old way (even though their SuperStores weren't really "the old way"), and that online was just an extension of the physical stores. Amazon was only online, and figured people mostly cared about the cost of the book. For a lot of customers, Amazon was right.

And early on, loads of people were betting B&N was right. Amazon's early numbers were woeful! Return on Assets was -70% in 1996, and Return on Equity was -170%. Meanwhile B&N has ROA of 6% and ROE of 11%. Probably not high enough to offset cost of capital, but that's a separate discussion.

The thing is, this is a volume business, and economies of scale are the key. One of the things I've recently learned is how important return on assets is in this kind of business: the faster you can move the product out the door, and the less you have hanging around, the better. Amazon has a huge advantage over physical stores like B&N because they don't have to buy a bunch of inventory that just sits around on shelves for ages. If B&N don't buy the inventory, people won't come into the store (because then you're no different to the traditional independent bookshop), but that ties up a bunch of cash that you can't spend on other things, like marketing or IT systems to help you figure out what customers want to buy.

Amazon spent a lot of time and a lot of money getting very good at shipping millions of items all over the country, and the world. Just like FedEx before them, this is an amazing achievement, and should be given due credit. B&N didn't do it. Borders didn't either. None of the publishers managed it. Amazon did. They knew that they already had lower fixed costs than B&N, and the more units they ship, the closer their costs get to being purely variable costs (whatever the book costs to buy and ship).

They got really good at getting those costs down low as well (experience curves, and technology investments, as per classic bizstrat theory). With low costs, they could pass those savings on to customers. If they didn't, people wouldn't have felt that they were getting a better deal than B&N, and most wouldn't have swapped. But with lower cost books, originally mostly technical manuals and professional tomes, people started to buy from Amazon instead. The rest is history.

Now, of course, success causes new problems. People are right to be concerned about the market power wielded by a company that has been so successful. That various state legislators have given out tax concessions to the company so willingly says more about them than it does about Amazon, for my money. And yes, companies need to take care that they maintain their license-to-operate from the community, but they aren't a charity.

But let's not lose sight of the fact that Amazon (and WalMart, and FedEx, and a bunch of other companies) are successful because they provide something that customers want to buy, at a price they're willing to pay. If a better alternative comes along (publishers who print-on-demand, or sell ebooks direct? Authors who do likewise?), people will buy that instead. Amazon doesn't have a right to continue to exist in the same way as Borders didn't, and the small independents before them.

And Amazon does have competition. BookDepository.co.uk (before Amazon acquired them) offered free shipping, and were frequently quicker and cheaper than Amazon to where I live in Australia. There's a local mob called Booktopia who are often better for what I want to buy, so I buy from them instead. Starting up your own site on the Internet is much cheaper than renting a shopfront and buying a bunch of inventory.

There's still a place for the independent bookstore, but it has to provide something that Amazon et al do not. Otherwise, people won't buy from them, and they'll go out of business.

Which is as it should be.
posted by But tomorrow is another day... at 8:42 PM on April 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


mwhybark, my apologies. Rereading your earlier comment now I see that I overreacted to a misunderstanding of what you were saying. I thought you were saying that the Times was only running the articles because Old Money Seattle doesn't like newcomers like Bezos, which I think would be bullshit. What you were actually saying was far more nuanced and not really what I thought you were saying So again, I apologize.
posted by twoleftfeet at 8:54 PM on April 4, 2012


I was lucky to be invited (as a guest) to the last company picnic with all the awesome alternadudes and dudettes who helped the company take off ... just before 'zon laid off 4000 or so.
When did Amazon lay off 4000 people?
posted by b1tr0t at 9:18 PM on April 4, 2012


Zippy, I for one love the recommended products on amazon. I use it as my main means of shopping on amazon if I don't have an exact product in mind - I find it gets me to the product I really want faster than the search results do.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 11:37 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


In related news, Barnes and Noble has agreed to a request by the Authors Guild to return titles from children's book publisher Marshall Cavendish to their shelves. Barnes and Noble pulled the line from its stores when Amazon purchased the publisher in February. The Authors Guild pointed out that B&N was unfairly punishing 250 authors and 150 illustrators with its decision.
posted by Toekneesan at 5:31 AM on April 5, 2012


But the reason I can do that is because I am fortunately now, at 45, in a place where financially I can afford to sometimes pay a little more. Not everyone is. I think most consumers would prefer not to patronize Walmart, but often can't afford to go anywhere else... But for me, the consumer, Amazon's certainly beneficial. I get cheaper books, doorstep delivery, and fast Prime shipping.
I can certainly sympathize with people in a financial situation that prohibits them from shopping ethically, but I don't think the analogy transfers well to Amazon. Nobody needs to read the latest King novel. Nobody's children will go hungry unless that essay collection is discounted 25%. Books are not necessary expenses in the way that groceries are.

If you're in a financial position to buy almost anything on Amazon, you're in a position to assess whether that decision to buy from Amazon is worth the collateral damage in the effects on society and local business. I think for most consumers, the collateral damage isn't apparent. Or it is, but it isn't sufficiently motivating to change behavior, which might require driving to an independent bookstore instead of pressing a button on the internet.
posted by deathpanels at 5:38 AM on April 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


deathpanels: "I don't think the analogy transfers well to Amazon. Nobody needs to read the latest King novel."

You realize that Amazon sells a metric crapton of stuff apart from books, right?
posted by brokkr at 6:08 AM on April 5, 2012


Here are some thoughts I've been thinking about in reference to the next incarnation of independents. Indie bookstores should consider combining lending and sales. And the sales will be of new, used, and ebooks. The store will offer a membership and members will be allowed to borrow most books in the store. They will also be for sale, though most copies on the shelf will be used copies. Publishers will offer to drop ship the book for free to the customer's home, if they wish to purchase new. The store might also have an Espresso Book Machine and access to the Lightning Source Network title list of hundreds of thousands of commercial titles, including brand new titles, and they could offer cheap print versions of hundreds of thousands of public domain titles. If a customer wanted, any of those titles, they could be printed and bound for them at the store in a couple of minutes.

The relationship that publishers have with indies has to change. Publishers should treat indies like showrooms, and send their books to indies on consignment. That means that only if and when a book sells is money paid to the publisher. Publishers should allow indies to set the price based on a book's condition and age, and the publisher and indie should work out a fair discount based on the local market and book type. Discounts by quantity no longer make sense in the brick and mortar world. The discount should be paid to the publisher on net, after the sale. A referral fee should be paid to the store if a consignment title results in an order for a brand new book, which the publisher should offer to ship to the customer fo free.

If members of the store/library had a stake in keeping the store/library open, they would have little motivation to misuse ebook files, so I as a publisher have a reason to trust the store and those members with DRM free files. I would offer DRM free files in a store like that, where there is a relationship between the file and the store and the customer/patron. We are all shareholders in that scenario. I think other publishers might consider offering DRM free files in such a senario too, but perhaps I'm too pie in the sky. If your local bookstore/library depended on the revenue ebook sales and rentals generated, you would have a stake in that revenue. I would hope that that could be an environment where publishers might be willing experiment with trust. But then again, I've been known to believe in lost causes before, and have been absolutely wrong.

So if I were to open a new store today, that's the model I'd try to sell to publishers. Treat me like a community library/showroom, whose mission is both dissemination and access, and book ownership.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:17 AM on April 5, 2012


I love literature about as much as I love music, but I love publishers of literature exactly as much as I love publishers of music.
posted by NortonDC at 9:39 PM on April 5, 2012


Boring. How many people use Amazon? How many use 1-Click, or Subscribe and Save? How much time, and money, does that save them? What do they do with the time they saved? How does it make their lives easier?
Boring != false. I use Amazon, I enjoy using it. In fact, since I have a prime account it wouldn't cost me any more to buy paper towels there then at Wal-Mart. If not for the working conditions in the warehouses, it would be a great company. But those conditions are there, and it's not.

All the benefits you're talking about could still be there even if they increased wages and break time for warehouse workers, so it's not like it's even one or the other, you'd just have a barely noticeable increase in price to help everyone. Barely noticeable to anyone other then wallstreet, of course, who has pressuring them to increase profits even more, despite the fact they already make money.
But then the superstores came along. Huge range. In stock! You could browse for ages without getting harassed that you weren't buying ("This isn't a library."). You could sit in comfy chairs and drink coffee at the cafe located in the store. It was wonderful!
Most bookstores these days are coffee shops that happen to have a lot of books for some reason.

Until Amazon can serve me coffee while I'm browsing, that business model won't be at risk.
posted by delmoi at 1:55 AM on April 6, 2012


Barely noticeable to anyone other then wallstreet, of course, who has pressuring them to increase profits even more, despite the fact they already make money.

Make money, sure, but Amazon isn't Apple and they have SLIM profit margins. Last year, Amazon's profit margin was 1.31%. Apple's was 25.8%.
posted by smackfu at 7:00 AM on April 6, 2012


Make money, sure, but Amazon isn't Apple and they have SLIM profit margins. Last year, Amazon's profit margin was 1.31%. Apple's was 25.8%.
What would apple's margins be if they did all their own manufacturing? The work that we normally associate with being a 'computer manufacturer' is done by someone else, and doesn't show up on their balance sheets. Looking at foxconn overall it looks like they're getting 6.79 EPS, so that should be about 6.009% right?

Plus, frankly is a 25% profit margin on every company good for society? How is it healthy to suck that much money out of the part of the economy that's actually employing people to invest in oil futures or foreign government debt?

Again, I'm kind of loath to defend AMZN given their labor situation, but a big part of that is Wallstreet pressure for better margins. I'm sure if, say 0.7% of their revenue were distributed to their lowest level employees, it would be a big change (not sure what their low-level labor costs are, but if it was, for example 10% then it would mean a 7% raise, or 7% fewer working hours, etc)

Plus, from a customer perspective, the fact that their profit margins are low means you're getting a good deal, right? Would you want to buy a commodity product at a store you knew was making a 25% profit when you could buy the same thing anywhere else?

Apple is the only company that makes Apple products, and people are willing to pay a premium on them.
posted by delmoi at 10:25 AM on April 7, 2012


Amazon.com series draws torrent of negative reaction online
posted by Artw at 4:02 PM on April 9, 2012


Some big-six publishers refuse to sign new contracts with Amazon
posted by Artw at 3:44 PM on April 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Apple and the Big Five
posted by Artw at 9:57 AM on April 11, 2012


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