Opinion

Jack Shafer

Why I’m ditching my Amazon account

By Jack Shafer
May 27, 2014

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I’ve got an Amazon habit. Like many of my other habits — coffee drinking, newspaper reading, excessive profanity — it’s one that I’ve cultivated and refined over the years, ever since I made my first purchase on June 24, 1996, for a new copy of Dan Wakefield’s New York in the Fifties.

In the beginning, I used Amazon primarily as a gift-delivery service. Later, I became the primary recipient of my purchases. Later still, I started “subscribing” to stuff my family regularly consumed, and after that I purchased an Amazon Prime membership, that amalgam of “free” movie streaming, speedy and cheap delivery of purchases, and more, including many purchases of audio books from the company’s Audible subsidiary. I purchased Amazon’s Kindle Paperwhite, which now anchors a drawer filled with orphaned devices and chargers. But I’ve resisted an Amazon.com Rewards Visa Card from Chase. You’ve got to draw the line somewhere.

One would think with that many hooks into me, I’d be more an Amazon slave than a customer. But that’s not so. Thanks to the company’s recent non-response to criticism that it’s abusing its market power — a silence that’s consistent with Amazon’s we’ll only-talk-if-we-want-to-promote-something media policy — I’ve made the easy decision to turn my back on the world’s biggest store.

The dispute appears to be over pricing, with big-five publisher Hachette refusing to accept Amazon’s terms on e-books, although nobody can be sure because Hachette has been evasive about the exact cause of the dispute, and Amazon has so far refused to discuss it with the press or anybody else. What’s transparent is that Amazon has slowed delivery of popular Hachette titles, including works by Malcolm Gladwell, Sherman Alexie, J.D. Salinger, and many others, and on a separate front is refusing pre-orders on many soon-to-be published Hachette books, such as J.K. Rowling’s next effort.

Ordinarily I’d ignore this scrimmage between two capitalist antagonists and go find something random on Amazon to buy while drinking a strong cup of joe, reading my newspaper, and swearing randomly. But Amazon’s silence has made me madder than an anaconda stuffed into a black garden hose and left to cook in the Arizona sun, to paraphrase Ed Anger of Weekly World News.

If Amazon thinks I don’t care about its silence, it’s wrong. I take it personally that the company doesn’t think it owes me even a half-baked explanation for why I can’t buy some books from it. barnes888

Unlike other dedicated readers, I hold nothing against Amazon for changing the book business, helping to drive many retailers under and accruing power over publishers. The customer has been the beneficiary here, with Amazon creating a reader’s paradise of cheap new and used books that it delivers quickly. The company’s customer service department has always decided disputes in my favor and done so promptly, and its return policies are uniformly good.

But while Amazon may have captured my wallet, its recent behavior has convinced me to take my business elsewhere. As long as the company’s high-pressured negotiating tactics served my interests — lower prices, expansive selection, superb service — I was on board. But the company has erred in this dispute. It would have been okay with me if it had hard-balled the publisher by refusing to discount its books or even insisted on selling them at a premium. In that case, I could do what I usually do — make individual decisions about where to buy stuff based on price and availability.

But by essentially banishing many Hachette titles from its stock, Amazon, which ordinarily puts its customers first, has put them last, telling them they can’t buy certain titles from it for any price.

If Amazon prevails in this clash, will it put me and my material needs last whenever a supplier resists its will? I don’t know for sure, but I can guess. It could be that Amazon holds the unassailable high moral ground in the dispute and I should be yelling at Hachette instead, and if that turns out to be the case, I will amend these contentious words.

Until Amazon addresses the current unpleasantness, I’m deleting my “Wish List” and canceling my food subscription. (I paid in advance for Prime. You won’t hold it against me if I still stream free programs until my account comes up for renewal later this year and I bail, will you?) There are other places to buy books, Luna Bars, computers, lawn mowers, fashion accessories, music, lady bugs, uranium ore, Roswell UFO soil, fake poop, and more.

Like the woman profiled in the New York Times last week, Amazon’s conduct has made me a little embarrassed to be its customer. Amazon doesn’t owe me access to Hachette titles, and I don’t owe Amazon my business. So I’m stuffing my 1-click button into my drawer of abandoned devices and chargers and won’t reclaim it until Amazon makes this thing right.

******

David Streitfeld of the New York Times has excelled on this story. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve purchased on Amazon? Send true accounts and lies to Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com. My Twitter feed wants to be an Amazon affiliate when it grows up. Sign up for email notifications of new Shafer columns (and other occasional announcements). Subscribe to this RSS feed for new Shafer columns.

(CORRECTION: A previous version of this column incorrectly referred to “Alexie Sherman” instead of “Sherman Alexie.”)

PHOTOS: A worker gathers items for delivery from the warehouse floor at Amazon’s distribution center in Phoenix, Arizona November 22, 2013.

REUTERS/Ralph D. Freso A woman reads a book at a Barnes & Noble bookstore in Pasadena, California November 26, 2013. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni 

Comments
34 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

I knew Bezos jumped the shark, when he came out with the ‘UAV delivery’ concept. Just another rich guy who’s lost his mind and all sense of reality. Weirdest thing I’ve seen in a while, was an article on how employees are treated working there. They had a picture of all these workers standing in this drab, poorly lit room, staring at a giant monitor of a cheerful Bezos, giving them a big pep talk about how well they’re doing. Very Orwellian… Looked just like that 80′s Apple commercial. Bizzare. However, they ARE US based and provide tons of US jobs. I guess that’s something.

Posted by dd606 | Report as abusive
 

I soooo agree! I’ve been an Amazon power shopper since around ’92 or ’93 (when they sent me an Amazon travel mug to acknowledge my already-enthusiastic purchasing habits). It doesn’t help that I live in a city (Seattle) that was an early beta for Amazon grocery deliveries, so I can have fresh organic milk and eggs on my doorstep when I arrive home from travel. Amazon has been a massive convenience for me.

But there’s really no contest here. I love books and writers and even (now that they’re an endangered species) publishers VASTLY more than I love Amazon. So, I’m now plotting my escape, with my spouse’s blessing.

Posted by Bubbles00 | Report as abusive
 

The general American attitude is, “Political activism is great as long as I still get the best prices and fastest service on things I want.”. Within some limits, I am not sure that they are wrong. Meaningless protest is very often little more than personal ego gratification. “Hey look at me! I’m doing something edgy and important to improve the world.” Yeah, right.

Posted by AZWarrior | Report as abusive
 

I too have been hooked and filleted by Amazon. Although, I cut off all purchases from Target when they exposed my personal information. I have explained to my wife that we will cease doing business with Amazon when they raise their prime membership fees on us in September. One thing with Amazon, the prime membership is a scam when they instruct vendors to increase item costs by burying shipping costs to cover Amazon’s 2 day shipping promise. So prime members pay a premium on top of the membership fee. Until last month, we purchased all of our K-cups through Amazon and they were automatically shipped. But after reading about their shipping scam, we have now found a better supplier and better costs by ordering the K-cups from Costco. Because of Amazon’s business practices, they are alienating the customers who have been loyal from the beginning. So I fully understand the article. Unfortunately, when I have that I need item, I have to do some research on who to do business with when you cut Target and Amazon out of the purchasing loop. Which leaves Walmart, Yikes! This is where activism leads.

Posted by 6990erin | Report as abusive
 

I enjoyed my Kindle so long as I felt that Amazon treated me
very well as a customer. I did notice a shift in attitude 4-5 months ago and came to the conclusion that Amazon’s top priority now is not its customers but its shareholders. While the interests of both need not be divergent, Amazon’s financial history has now come to haunt it : the company has to generate the long-promised profits and please its shareholders or face a steep drop in its share price.

Posted by Biscayne | Report as abusive
 

It will take more than not selling a certain publishers books to get me to quit Amazon. I haven’t had a bad experience yet. And even if that happens, I would have to think twice about it. IMHO

Posted by aceplummer | Report as abusive
 

remember, back in 2009, when Amazon removed Orwell’s ’1984′ from it’s Kindle library..

Posted by Robertla | Report as abusive
 

I try to buy local first. If I can’t, then I go to Amazon.com.

Posted by JL4 | Report as abusive
 

This article smacks of Hachette payola.

Posted by BidnisMan | Report as abusive
 

Mega corporations, both global and national, are not good for the people the country. They are only goo for the top 1%. Amazon should have been limited to books as tat’s what the company started with. Ando course there should be more than one e-book retailer. That’s why we have monopoly laws and teach that competition in the bedrock of capitalism. It amazes me how blind the people are to this. They now are even considered uber citizens.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive
 

I think my boy spilled something on the keyboard.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive
 

Amazon NEEDS competition. they are very rude in many respects and need a bite of humble pie.

Posted by rikfre | Report as abusive
 

Alexie Sherman huh?

Posted by voelker1 | Report as abusive
 

Robertla: Amazon was required to remove Orwell’s 1984 from sale and distribution, including pulling it from Kindles, because of massive copyright violation as it was published by a pirate who did not have a right to publish and sell the book. Everyone who purchased the book received a full refund from Amazon. Amazon should not be blamed for those thieves attempting to steal the rights to a book and sell it for profit.

The negotiations between Hachette and Amazon are remaining private at the moment, since neither one is willing to reveal what’s going on. I’m not sure that it’s enough of an excuse for me to cancel my account just because they are not willing to include me in their private business negotiations. It sounds as if both are willing to play hardball and that’s just the way business works sometimes.

I’ve been a customer since Amazon started and have never had any issue that they were not willing or able to solve for me very quickly. I won’t stop buying from Amazon and I won’t stop buying from Hachette, regardless of which one turns out to be more greedy than the other.

Posted by skeeve | Report as abusive
 

Why doesn’t anyone rage against the insane e-book pricing that the big 5 publishers mandate? Why is Amazon the evil one in this case? I see no reason why the hardback book should be $19.99 and the kindle version be $18.99 … I am glad that Amazon is fighting for the consumer to ultimately lower the price of ebooks. Also, why isn’t anyone mentioning how much of an oligopoly the existing publishing industry is and how poorly authors are treated?

Posted by murphsp1 | Report as abusive
 

Interesting take from this site: http://www.hughhowey.com/more-thoughts-o n-hachette-amazon/

The problem is, Hachette does not get 70% of the list price the way indies do. Hachette gets paid a set discount on the digital MSRP, just like bookstores pay a set discount for physical books. This is why Hachette sets the MSRP for e-books at crazy prices like $14.99. If Amazon is getting a 40% discount, their wholesale cost for that e-book is $8.99. They then sell the e-book to the customer for $9.99 and make a measly dollar, or 10%. Compare that 10% margin to the 30% they make from indies. Not to mention that Amazon sells a LOT more e-books at indies’ reasonable prices.

Now think about how this works for Hachette. They get the full wholesale price of $8.99. The author gets his or her full cut (25% of net), which is a point that many commentators don’t seem to understand. Amazon, meanwhile takes the loss! All to provide customers with a better price. Remember, they are paying Hachette and the author the full amount according to the MSRP.

So of course Hachette wants to keep this agreement intact. But there’s no way Amazon can allow it. Hachette is basically screwing its authors by pricing its e-books too high and they seem to know it. That’s why Hachette and some authors are complaining about Amazon selling its e-books for the full MSRP. Hachette wants that fat check and for Amazon to suffer its thin margins.

Posted by ROKCazba | Report as abusive
 

I politely disagree. If you feel this way about that type of business practice, then you should also take aim at Wal-Mart, Target, and many other national chains.

This is not much different than those retailers who leverage their huge selling power against manufacturers to produce cheaper ‘house brand’ products for the store. Wal-Mart especially has threatened to ‘discontinue’ sales of certain brands if they don’t produce a ‘Great Value’ version of the same product.

With Wal-Mart and Target comprising such a huge share of sales for these companies, they are forced to comply or lose that market share.

Posted by xdod | Report as abusive
 

Get well soon Jack Shafer

Posted by hnnnng | Report as abusive
 

Doesn’t phase me a bit. I just bought all new window screen material for my house (pet-proof) for about half of what the exact same stuff would have cost me at the local Home Depot or Lowes. I paid no sales tax and no shipping. Even factoring in my prime membership for the entire year, even at $99, I still spent less with Amazon. Hate all you want, but do the math. Maybe direct your hatred at Walmart instead.

Posted by Wuahn | Report as abusive
 

I’ve been an Amazon book SELLER for several years, and while I don’t like its practices, I have to be there to get my titles noticed. Now they are going to push my buttons as a customer, TOO? I don’t think so….

Posted by Deezygee | Report as abusive
 

Amazon is just another player in a crowded space. I personally feel well served by them, wouldn’t use anything but kindle and amazon media player. It’s impossible to compete in the media wars without playing hardball.

Also, keep in mind that traditional publishing is losing control of the market that they ruthlessly controlled for a very long time. Which company is leading the charge helping authors take back control of their content? Amazon (and you’re done).

Posted by owenhay | Report as abusive
 

I know why they are being silent and it is because they can’t say the truth and they will be caught in any lie. Fact is the truth is companies like Hachette don’t need to exist anymore. Publishers are a middleman between content and sales and they are trying to choke them to death. Frankly, good riddance. Once the current publishing industry collapses maybe newer better companies will be able to compete and deliver more diverse content then the same recycled crap.

Posted by michaelbnyc | Report as abusive
 

This is serious? Because it looks like hacky link bait. So it’s Amazon’s fault for protecting the customer from horribly overpriced agency/legacy model books and the system of traditional publishing that has acted as gatekeepers since Gutenberg invented the printing press?

Your attitude is the same as most every legacy publisher. Instead of adopting, and inventing, and thriving, you stick your head in the sand and cry “it’s not fair!”

This is why you fail.

Posted by jimkukral | Report as abusive
 

Amazon is way to convenient for me to quit them over anything. I can get the right product and the right price.
I don’t shop at stores like target or walmart because I don’t like there stores and I don’t like the people I have to deal with when shopping there I also don’t like there selection of products.
Trying to buy electronics at a store like best buy is a joke and the smaller retailers prices are too high and selections are poor.

I don’t care about politics I vote with my time and my wallet.. I love amazon and I’m sticking with them.

Posted by zbeast | Report as abusive
 

I… Me… My… Is this article about the author’s predicament or the rift between Amazon and Hachette?
Both companies are trying to maximize and protect their financial interests.
It is not always fair or right, but that’s capitalism: The big fish eats the little one.
Consumer activism is one’s prerogative, but thinking that one is owed an explanation is presumptuous and naïve.
Market forces, albeit unequal, are at play and a compromise will be forthcoming.

Posted by Pene1ope | Report as abusive
 

You got to give small online businesses a chance!
Whenever I get a chance, I give my business to the not too big websites serving the
niche I am shopping for. If I see a seller on amazon with their own website I go there and shop saving that seller %10 to %20 amazon tax. Amazon won’t create much jobs but all those small businesses are.

Posted by Matt2000 | Report as abusive
 

Some people need to disconnect from the frivolous consumer life (you might also try to disconnect from popular culture which is a key brainwash source). Try a used book store. Buy local. Getting the best price is a shallow pursuit, especially with low cost consumer items. How greedy do you have to be to make everything about money? Think about how much time you spend obssessing over price and service for minor and unimportant products. Time that could be better spent doing nearly anything else. If amazon were censoring content I might have an issue. However, they are just another greedy corporation that has you all cowed. Besides, how hard is it to search for other sources of goods on the internet? It’s trivial.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive
 

I salute you! It is never healthy to have such a giant that welds their power like this. I wish another one of the five would get behind Hachette. Jeff Bezos doesn’t care about books, about publishing, about authors – it is only the bottom line, and in books that just doesn’t fly, ask any independent bookstore. Take your business to an independent or order from BNN.com. Amazon needs a competitor, and the giant needs to calm down.

Posted by Reader55 | Report as abusive
 

Hatchette was one of the publishers that agreed to settle out of court for collusion to fix prices on e-books. They can stop playing victim. Amazon is the one who brought them down. Just sounds like another case of sour grapes. Could also be because Amazon allows authors to publish without a major publishing house, threatening their control over what the American public can read. Sorry, I will side with Amazon on this one. I want lower prices on e-books, more money going to the author than shareholders and I want the freedom to choose from a large variety of authors from all walks of life instead of the publishing houses flavor of the week.

Posted by JPKane210 | Report as abusive
 

Question is: Where are you going to go?

Posted by ROTOREUTERS | Report as abusive
 

I closed my account when I saw that AMAZON sells porn … including sellers that sell nothing but porn.

Posted by sooner2 | Report as abusive
 

Where to go? How about powells.com, the world’s largest independent bookstore–iff [that's not a typo] you don’t have a local independent bookstore or if your local bookstore cannot find the book you need (say you need an outdated, out-of-print edition). Then, try alibris.com.

Posted by swimfish | Report as abusive
 

Quite an online presence Amazon has. It would be interesting to know how much of your personal data they need to keep a competitive edge.

Posted by Laster | Report as abusive
 

Great perspective. Please don’t forget though, the publishers are not paying (directly) to build or maintain the Amazon Cloud – or it’s Reader. Amazon pays for that. They also deeply discount ebooks, and often LOSE money on those sales. I don’t like big guys out for more money, Hatchette is just as evil as Bezos!
http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2014/an- authors-perspective-on-the-hachette-amaz on-battle/

Posted by settling | Report as abusive
 

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