Saturday, June 2, 2012

Amazon: boon or bane?

Cover design by José Chicas
Amazon's predatory pricing and the use of loss leaders to undercut everyone else seems to be a good deal for customers but rings a death knell for the publishers and bookstores who generate books and interest in them in the first place. As reported by the publishing blog Shelf Awareness, The Nation has stepped into the fray with a special issue devoted to the merchandizing behemoth. Among the highlights:
In his article "The Amazon Effect," former editor of the Los Angeles Times Book Review Steve Wasserman chronicled the history and current status of the company. He observed that from the start, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos "understood two things. One was the way the Internet made it possible to banish geography, enabling anyone with an Internet connection and a computer to browse a seemingly limitless universe of goods with a precision never previously known and then buy them directly from the comfort of their homes. The second was how the Internet allowed merchants to gather vast amounts of personal information on individual customers."
"Why does Amazon now have customers do the search chores it used to do for them, and in innovative ways?" That question was addressed by Anthony Grafton in "Search Gets Lost."
Michael Naumann, editor-in-chief of the German magazine Cicero who headed Holt in New York City in the late 1990s before becoming Germany's culture minister for three years, examined "How Germany Keeps Amazon at Bay and Literary Culture Alive," looking at ways the country's fixed-price laws "curtail the power of retail chains and help to sustain a vibrant literary culture." Introducing its slide show "Ten Reasons to Avoid Doing Business with Amazon," the Nation asked "what's at stake in the battle over e-commerce and why should you avoid doing business with Amazon.com?"
It's a worrisome issue providing much food for thought. Sweatshop conditions and no unions, monopolistic practices, invasion of privacy, evasion of taxes, etc etc... is this any different from the robber barons?

8 comments:

  1. Wow, very interesting! As a pretty frequent Amazon customer I am quite torn...the prices are just too good to pass up! But there are obviously some downsides that I should consider.

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    1. It's very similar to WallMart--ultimately more destructive than we can ever imagine.

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    2. Kind of scary... I'm also a frequent Amazon customer and never really gave it much thought. It's the convenience and price factors that keep me coming back, but I guess there's another cost I've been neglecting to consider.

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  2. This is an example of what Marx styled capitalism's "seeds of its own destruction". By underpricing one company may grow large at the expense of smaller ones, but in the long run, this increasing control leads to less choice, as the behemoth aspires to dictate the appetites of its customers, rather than catering to them. We see this occur with mega-malls, which leave a ring of small business destruction around them, forcing customers to buy what the malls offer, not what the customers want.

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  3. Wow!!!! The Nations article was rather eye opening, I really wanna look more into the German bookstore business model. Could it really be done here in America where capitalism rules?

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  5. I sigh at this article. It sucks when people shoot down things that seem to be helpful. If people are reading and opening their minds to literary knowledge then who cares where they buy it?

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  6. it is absolutely frightening that companies can be so two-faced. appearing to be so convenient and economical as well as helpful and friendly on the outside, but being so cut-throat and irresponsible on the inside. collecting user's data and possibly even bypassing its own users' privacy settings?! this article really does make me aware of something i had previously been none-the-wiser (but really, the parallels between amazon.com and walmart should have been pretty apparent the whole time). i, too, need to read up on that German business model. sounds very interesting.

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