Thursday, July 03, 2014

Amazon's image issue, one that is beginning to be tarnished

As we learn more about how Amazon is handling its relationships with publishers, especially with the media coverage of its disagreements with Hachette Book Group and more importantly Amazon's aggressive retaliation, this is beginning to be a cause for concern.  For a company that trades at a P/E of 400% to 500%, there is not much room for credibility destroying events despite their incredible revenue growth.  AMZN is now down to $338 from its $408 all time high in January.  As a point of interest, I do not own the stock and to my obvious dismay never have.

We are prime users of Amazon.  I am the major culprit as reading is a default mechanism for my time, enjoyment, and relaxation, and filling every corner of the house with books, and at times giving the non essential ones away in batches to thrifts stores or used book stores, seems to be a mission in my life.  The prices on Amazon are exceptional, the delivery speed and tracking are almost perfect, and any errors(only one with us in maybe 10 years or more) are quickly remedied.

It is now startling to learn that their recommendations for books for "John Borden" are based as much or more on their contractual relationships with publishers as they are on any algorithm that analyzes my reading preferences, reading habits, and whatever they pick up from the netherworld of internet information about me.  Their recommendations at this point now could seem to be fake, as if they are treating their clients as naive people to take advantage of.  It must be said that I often find their recommendations ludicrous and that rarely are their recommendations followed here, but some do catch my eye, I research them, and sometimes they are helpful, as with Katherine Boo's exceptional "Behind the Beautiful Forevers" alerted to at Amazon.  Still, this exclusionary policy that they are following now, one that is based on economic disagreements, disagreements that affect customers, and affect writers and their creativity as well as their ability to make enough money to follow their chosen path, for Amazon to continue with their current approach is wrong.  This action by Amazon is INSULTING to clients.

Many in the informed minority of the media are onto this issue.  As reported in the New York Times today, Stephen Colbert has attacked Amazon "for discouraging customers from buying titles from his publisher, Hachette Book Group."  A little self serving of course, but Colbert then picked a debut novel from an almost unknown author, Edan Lepucki, to use as an example of the impact of an Amazon exclusion on a Hachette published writer, first printing of only 12,000 books.  With the impetus from Colbert, her book "California" is now receiving pre-orders from independent bookstores.  Checked today, there are no pre-orders available on Amazon.

Personally speaking, it is not at all clear that "California" would be appealing here.  Another book on the Amazon black list, because it is under the Hachette umbrella, that really appeals to me, that I would order in a heartbeat, is also reviewed in the NYT today.  That is "Factory Man", written by a veteran reporter in southside Virginia, Beth Macy, for whom this is her first book. It focuses on the struggle for survival by Bassett Furniture as an unrelenting American made furniture company based in an old style company town, notably Bassett, Virginia.  The book sounds as if it may be a bit offbeat, which may make it even more interesting than it already sounds.  This is especially interesting here as we have several wonderful products of Bassett furniture in our house, including my large main desk and the large Shaker style dresser in the main bedroom, all amidst the hand me downs, Ikea stuff, quality purchased sofas and beds, and antiques from Virginia and North Carolina.

Then there is the local connection.  Bassett is maybe 60 miles west of hometown Danville.  It is west for sure but it does not qualify as being in the Appalachian mountains as suggested by the NYT reporter.  That entire area around Bassett and Martinsville has been exceptionally hard hit by a recent long term recession and even more than my hometown has not been at all prosperous for a couple of decades.

I would really like to have this book.  It is highly unlikely to be purchased by our local library in the New York suburbs.  It is not available in any way on Amazon, pre-order or whatever at this point.  Given my obvious interest in and purchase of books related to this area, Amazon has still not in any way alerted me to its imminent publishing date of July 15.

Amazon is opening itself up to be seen as a monopoly that should by law eventually be broken up.  I do not have any informed opinion on whether this should or would happen, but I think Bezos is being really stupid and shortsighted in the way he is handling his relationships with publishers, almost like an economic gangster.

More flexibility and integrity will come from Amazon, one could hope, and that should be intuitive to them.  Hubris always waits in the wings for those on the stage of great success.  We like the darn company and want it to have continuity, but not as arrogant monopolists.      


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