I recently read that Amazon had surpassed WalMart as the World’s Largest Retailer. It’s impressive when you consider that for decades “mail order” was something that old ladies did, and the big-box stores were “convenient.” If Amazon had been around when my grandmother was alive, she’d have had her own truck arrive every day. She got so many mail order catalogs that she kept a laundry basket beneath the mail slot on her front door. I grew up in California and didn’t experience my first WalMart until I moved to Florida when I was fifteen. Small towns were fighting to get a WalMart, even though they knew it would kill their local merchants, because they knew a WalMart in the next town would still kill their local merchants.
So WalMart killed mom-and-pop, and it killed K-Mart, Sears and JC Penney for that matter (although remarkably they are all still breathing.) Amazon killed Borders, Crown and B. Dalton and there’s hardly a consumer item that Amazon isn’t impacting in some way. Some say Amazon is killing publishing, but I don’t necessarily agree. Amazon might be hurting big publishing companies, but there are studies that show writers are still making a living outside of the wise guidance of a traditional publisher.
The debate over whether Amazon is good or evil got even more interesting when the New York Times wrote a scathing article on the culture within Amazon. 80 hour work weeks, text messages from the boss after midnight, workers criticizing their peers via secret reviews, grown men crying at their cubicles, and workers forced to ship themselves to conferences in other cities via Amazon Prime. That last one may not be true. After the article ran, there was a rush to pile on the criticism, even if people weren’t ready to cancel their Prime Memberships. (I can slam WalMart, but when I needed a giant plastic pool for the kids, where did I go?)
So how do I feel, publishing my books exclusively with the new corporate devil?
I’m okay with it.
First, yes, Amazon killed big book stores. After big book stores killed small bookstores. But I’m not the only one who has noticed a revival of small bookstores as a result of Amazon. See, we still need our bookstores, we just don’t need them to be 30,000 square feet.
Does Amazon treat its employees unfairly? Maybe their size makes them a target. The company culture is demanding – and at its worst – even cruel. But this wasn’t a story about people making minimum wage or having hours cut to avoid providing benefits. Long hours? Ever met someone who worked on Wall Street or owned their own restaurant? I have friends who work for Google and Apple, and while they enjoy the awesome perks a progressive and creative environment, they work long hours too. Grown men crying in their cubicles? Nobody at WalMart cries when they don’t meet expectations. I’ve never personally cried at work (I came close – see The Worst Job I Ever Had), but I have seen a LOT of crying at work over the years.
I do hope that the scrutiny caused by the NY Times article causes Amazon to think about the way they compete. Like WalMart, what Amazon does will have an impact on the way other people live – not just their own employees. If Amazon offers amazing benefits to employees and great products and service to their customers, then so will many other smaller companies. Every time I hear a “small businessman” say he can’t pay a better wage because he has to compete with WalMart I want to say, “Stop competing with WalMart!”
Last week I bought a vacuum cleaner belt for $3.95 and it arrived within about 32 hours of placing the order. Most people would just buy a new vacuum cleaner. Hell, you can buy a 6700 lb lathe and get free shipping. Or you can buy my novel (4.6 stars out of 5).
They make writers a deal they can’t refuse
Without Amazon, I’d never have been able to get my book into the hands of nearly 20,000 readers. Right now, Amazon is the only way to purchase my book (with the exception of a couple of small independent bookstores.) But I don’t always plan to be that way. They are 80% of the ebook market and they offer a higher royalty in exchange for exclusivity. I’m happy that Amazon gives indie writers the platform, but I don’t pretend these acts are borne of altruism – they are in it for the money.
When I achieve the status of Indie Publishing Juggernaut, I’ll thank Amazon by offering my book up to their competitors as well. Just like Facebook, they have a tendency to change the rules whenever they want and then writers briefly freak out. Having read about experiences of writers with other self-publishing operations Amazon is what’s good in indie publishing.
Is Amazon going to destroy civilization as we know it? Drop me an email or leave a comment. Sign up for updates on the left and never miss a post.