(The opinions expressed here are those of the author, a columnist for Reuters.)
By Jack Shafer
May 27 (Reuters) - 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, Alexie Sherman, 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.
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 benefactor 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 currently 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. (Jack Shafer)