No, this isn’t because I’m doing my taxes and looking over 1099s. This hug is going out because of the ridiculousness of this post over on Forbes, where Amazon is mocked for reinvesting its earnings back into its business and into its customers. Has Amazon Derangement Syndrome gotten out of hand? I think so.
I wish more people would pick up Kevin Kelley’s excellent book What Technology Wants. Kevin shows us that technological and scientific progress flow downhill, picking up steam from each advancement and discovery, and following a course dictated by constraints on physics. Developments like powered flight do not happen simply because of a couple of ingenious bicycle building brothers. It has a lot to do with horsepower being delivered in an ever lighter package. Most major developments happen concurrently, often halfway around the world from each other (which is why invention is often credited to the wrong or multiple parties). Calculus, natural selection, the automobile, the airplane, the examples would take up this entire blog post (Kelley has to restrain himself as well, and he has an entire book in which to work).
The point is this: Bookstores were going to contract, no matter what. As soon as the internet gained mass adoption, this was going to be a thing. Same with big box retailers vs. mom and pop stores (South Park had a brilliant episode that exposed the fallacy of blaming WalMart for the inevitable). In the case of Amazon, the ire is magnified by our ardent love of bookstores. This is what I attribute many authors’ hatred of Amazon to. The same goes for the publishing industry (which receives its largest checks from Amazon) and the Authors Guild (which should be applauding Amazon) and aspiring writers (who do not dream of selling books but of seeing their books in bookstores).
These changes were going to happen. No matter what. Thank goodness they are being steered by a company that treats its customers as their number 1 priority. Thank goodness! But that’s not what we hear over at Forbes and elsewhere. We hear that Amazon is awful for delivering low prices and the best customer service down to regular people. Can’t everyone see they are hurting the investors! They are hurting banks and Wall Street! What about the 1%?! Profits should flow up to management and fatcats!
The article (amazing this is on Forbes) also misses something far more important: Amazon invests most of its earnings back into itself. This is what investors love about the company (and it’s how investments should work, rather than the glorified gambling of day trading). Amazon is opening up massive distribution centers all over the world. They are building a lead that no one will be able to surpass. The game is over, and it’s because Bezos took the long view rather than the shortcut of mounds of cash. This is a frugal company. That frugality runs right through the entire business, but it ends at the customer. The customer is treated like royalty.
And for the record, I had these same things to say about Amazon when I was a bookseller and not a book-writer. I used Amazon as a vendor in an independent bookstore, because it was often the best place to get out-of-print texts for my customers. Even though the store had been up and running for decades, I had to create their vendor entry in our system. I was the only one who used them (the warehouse would send down all smiley boxes without even checking the label). I fell in love with the company the first time I had to return something to them. I’ve been in love with the company ever since. Most of their customers feel the same way.
Believe me, I feel the pain of bookstores disappearing. I spent a huge chunk of my life in bookstores, both as an employee but far more often as a customer. I love bookstores. I also love music stores. And film photography. But I’m not going to let nostalgia cloud my thinking and have me rushing out as an industry pundit might to slam customers and wail for investors. I’m not going to rush out as an Authors Guild might and work against writers and readers while fighting for large corporations in the form of bookstore chains and major publishers. The customer comes first. I based my bookselling years on this philosophy. I now base my writing career on this philosophy. And I’m happy to send effusive hugs out to those who operate with the same goal in mind. The love flows down, people. And it should. Just like progress and innovation.