The Amazon Contradiction
Sounds like the title of a newly discovered Ludlum book, doesn’t it? But no, this one is actually real.
Amazon.com has one of those dream-come-true stories. Started in some guy’s garage, a big, seemingly impossible, dream, trying to give regular joes a cheaper — with more diverse options — type of book-buying experience. Investors gave them money so they could survive without a profit for five to six years (thus able to undercut the big bad bookstores). The company did better than anyone in the 1990s thought (I know, imagine anyone being wrong in the 90s, right?), and Amazon.com went from being a big-vision bookseller to a huge world market retailer, publisher, designer, product-line owner.
Now, I’m no financial market guru or large company CEO, but I wonder if anyone else has noticed that Amazon.com’s Mr. Jeff Bezos has found his great success by taking business-planning tips from The Godfather: we’re gonna make you an offer you can’t refuse.
Every retailer likes to try gimmicking you into ONLY shopping at their store. They give you your own credit card through them, they grant you little “member” cards that allow you “extra” discounts with them, they put you on their mailing lists so you can get coupons and sales. Well, Amazon doesn’t bother with that piddley stuff. No, they don’t try overly hard to make you, the customer, think you should buy through them (ok, so they DO have that handy barcode scanner app that lets you check if that Blu-ray you see in front of you at the store is cheaper on amazon.com, but you know what I mean). No, who they target is the producer.
Behind every purchase you make are the people who are actually trying to make a living off of their product, whether it’s a self-published author or a tool manufacturer or an artist at Harper Collins. Amazon, in its Italian mobster voice, says, “Come on, kid, don’t fool around. Just let your hand drop to your side and the money slip out. We’ll take care of you.” Or they wink at the independent business that has tons of users congregating with all their buying-habit data and their likes and their reviews, and they say, “I’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse. You see, Goodreads, we feel that marketing is going to be a big factor in drawing readers into Amazon.com. We’re hoping that you’ll sign a contract… Perhaps convince some of your authors to do the same. We’re counting on you, Goodreads.” And next thing you know, we hear: “Hey, Mike, are you sure about that? I mean, Goodreads, loves the business. He never said anything to me about sellin’.”
And we suddenly realize Amazon is no different than the “big bad” companies they’ve been putting out of business for the last twenty years. Once upon a time, they sold paperback books that anyone anywhere could purchase and read. Nowadays, they sell their own e-reader line and you have to buy their own format if you want that great deal. Well, when Barnes & Noble fizzles away, get ready to only be able to read on Kindles — not whatever reader you’d like. (That is, of course, unless Amazon.com buys B&N too, then maybe they’ll let you buy Nook books through them. Isn’t that nice?) Sound familiar? Remember when everyone got mad at Apple for not letting us download our own browser, instead making Apple users use Safari? Hm.
So, should we get mad at Mr. Bezos for taking advantage where he can and trying to make his business the most powerful and influential? Or should we throw stones at the smaller businesses who gave in to this giant and took the offer to settle on a cush pile of cash on an island somewhere simply to sell to Amazon, lessening the competition? Or maybe we should be examining ourselves and all the times we’ve accepted Amazon.com’s offers that are too good to refuse? We’ve all succumbed to the monster at some point. To again borrow from The Godfather, “Only don’t tell me that you’re innocent. Because it insults my intelligence and it makes me very angry. Now, who approached you first? Amazon or Walmart?”
All this to say, we each have a decision to make about what we’re really supporting with our purchases and (for businesses and artists) our choices of who we are going to sell-out to. Because in the end, it might actually be you or me who is contradicting our own values and creating the next monster.