Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Why I Love Amazon: A Consumer's Take

Many folks in the fandom, I hear, have been dumping on Amazon lately for a whole host of perceived evils -- and to a certain extent, I understand the fear. As my mother remarked just last week, "Amazon does everything." That's not 100% true, of course; as far as I know, for example, Amazon has not yet gone the Netflix route and started offering "Amazon original" television content.  [Edit, 7/26: Actually, a respondent below informs me that Amazon is developing original television content. You learn something new every day!] When it comes to writing, however, Amazon is both a publisher in its own right and a major distributor, and its vertical integration and resultant influence have bankrupted booksellers and eaten into other publishers' profits. But, per Frederic Bastiat, I would like to invite you to consider That Which Is Unseen: the positive impact Amazon has had on its consumers.

In a number of ways, Amazon has made my life a lot more pleasant:
  • First of all, it's easy to access. Both my mother and I love shopping, but we also have chronic medical conditions which make trawling through brick-and-mortar stores especially onerous, so the opportunity Amazon provides to stay home and shop is a great boon. Do other people who are sick and/or disabled feel the same way? I suspect so.
  • Second, it offers more. I love an out-of-the-way used bookstore as much as the next person. Indeed, the last time I was in New York City, I visited a few just to explore. But because Amazon has assembled a huge associated network of outside sellers, its selection is simply better. If I pop into the local C&W, the chances are pretty slim that I will find, say, Edgar Rice Burroughs' Carson of Venus; just now, however, I typed "carson of venus" in the Amazon search box and found twenty-seven listings. That's amazing -- and convenient.
  • Third, while Amazon doesn't always have the lowest available price, its prices are usually reasonable. It's a little like Wal-Mart in that way. Now, people crap on Wal-Mart too - and sometimes for good reason - but the fact remains that most of us can't pay the premiums attached to boutique goods that make our social betters feel good about themselves, and without Amazon and Wal-Mart, we would not be living quite as comfortably as we are now (in absolute terms).
  • Fourth - and probably most important - Amazon has radically democratized the sci-fi/fantasy genre, thus giving voice to writers who would not be heard otherwise. Yes -- Sturgeon's Law applies. But I love being wholly free to decide on my own what I would like to read without prissy elites butting in and controlling what's made available. And personally, I find it ironic that the same people who are so concerned about making fandom a "safe" and "welcoming" space are also the ones most likely to denigrate what is probably the most promising platform for promoting diversity currently in existence. Folks: Because of Amazon, there are no more gatekeepers. True -- if you go indie and publish on Amazon, you and you alone have to do the hard work of finding your likely audience and promoting your book. But if you really want more stories that "explode the gender binary," there is literally no one who'll stop you from writing them yourself. Amazon has created wild and perfect liberty.
So before you start talking about "regulating the behemoth," please take the time to see things from the customer's point of view. We are willing to give Amazon our cash not because we are mindless sheeple but because Amazon offers concrete benefits that we feel are worth the expense.

8 comments:

  1. The decided lack of gatekeepers, and the loss of control, is what truly terrifies them.

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  2. Amazon IS Science Fiction made fact. Place an order from the screen in your office or living room; your package appears on your doorstep the next day. Or in two days.

    M

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  3. A couple of points:

    1) Amazon is guilty of some things that are bad for the consumer. They are currently being sued by some independent book sellers for engaging in price fixing schemes to regulate the cost of e-books and paperbacks. They have deals in place with major publishers and strict rules in place for the indie pubs regarding what they can and cannot charge with the goal of maximizing profit even for zero-overhead things like e-books. Many customers complain that they have to pay 10 bucks for a small file on their kindle that uses no materials to produce and this is why. Of course...if you're an indie pub and Amazon is helping keep your per-book earnings up, this is good news for you, so...winners and losers. :)

    2) Amazon's data is very secure compared to many other retailers, but because it's so large, it has very attractive data for hackers. We now all rely on Amazon to mess this up.

    3) Amazon is kind of brutal to its employees.

    4) The value of an independent bookseller despite a lack of selection, is the personal contacts you make with fellow readers. And many indie book sellers are now joining the e-book wave so the selection issue is improving.

    5) For the other things Amazon sells...you can shop online or through mail catalog from many other sources with the same ease of use and accessibility for the disabled (including me).

    I did, however, have a mild disagreement with the wife over whether Amazon is in danger of running afoul of antitrust laws thanks to it crushing competition and cornering the market. I say it is not and almost CAN"T EVER hit an antitrust limit because the web is the wild west and there are ALWAYS other choices if you don't like Amazon...Juliet says the monopoly may not exist, but Amazon still operates IN THE SAME MANNER as the old monopolists and this should be limited. To me, she is wrong, because the reason we need antitrust is to prevent the elimination of the free market (if you get a monopoly, there is no choice and you can torment your consumers - antitrust was created to stop this...Amazon is not tormenting its customers and has no monopoly power - how they behave may be a bit fishy, but they almost can never create that monopoly threat)

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    1. 1) You're wrong on your first point, Matt. Amazon doesn't set book prices; the publishers do. Amazon is disbursing settlement money from the price-fixing suit, but it was not a target of that suit. The targets were Hachette, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, MacMillan & Penguin -- all large traditional publishers who are certainly not as pure as the driven snow, as many of the authors in the CLFA will tell you.

      2) Perhaps, but that is the fault of the hackers, not Amazon.

      3) I'm betting that's debatable. People say that about Wal-Mart too, but where Wal-Mart is concerned, I've seen evidence to suggest that its wages are wholly comparable to wages offered elsewhere in the retail sector.

      4) True, but that doesn't mean Amazon is evil for not offering such an experience. Some people want to seek that out and some people don't.

      5) True, but I didn't imply that Amazon is the only company that offers that convenience -- and the fact that other websites are just as accessible doesn't negate that accessibility is one of Amazon's big selling points.

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  4. Fighting Amazon is not about what is best for the consumer. It's about protecting the interests of traditional publishing.

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  5. Actually, Amazon has gone the Netflix route of offering original television content. They even call it Amazon Originals.

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    1. Oh, snap. I didn't know that. Making the edit now. ;)

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