Amazonian Love Affair

I was a handful as a child. My mother raised three of us on her own, often working three jobs, and I didn’t make it terribly easy on her. Even before my parents divorced, I was a lot to wrangle. But when I was four years old and still sucking my blankie, my mom had a surefire way of getting me to zip it. She would threaten to take away my Wonder Woman.

I may have been the only boy on my block (or in the state of North Carolina) to want Wonder Woman Underoos. I had a full-on crush for Lynda Carter. I wanted to marry her. (I think I had a thing for older women. I also wanted to marry the girl ten years my senior who lived with us for a while. And my art tutor. And Betty White). When Wonder Woman aired, I was glued to the TV set. It was my first encounter with anything from the Amazon, and I was smitten.

Flash forward thirty years to the new printer arriving on my doorstep. $124.99 for a Brother laser printer. It was dropped off by a big truck that passes my house every day, even if I don’t order anything. This printer took a less circuitous route to get here, and a less chancy one as well. The sale was already a given. No local warehousing or storeroom. One click on my computer, and two days later, a new printer.

I know from past experiences that if anyone was wrong with this puppy, I could click twice and have a return authorization and a pre-paid shipping label, and it would go right back. Full refund. They’ll even pick it up at my door for me.

So why is Amazon so evil? It’s because they provide customer service, selection, and prices like no other. The bastards. It’s because they don’t pay their share of taxes. The bastards. It’s because bookstores are disappearing. The bastards.

It’s no wonder we hate them. The wonder is why we blame them, though. The absolute mystery is why we love Apple so much.

Now, I’m writing this on my Macbook Air, which I adore. I sleep closer to it than I do to my wife (leaving notes on her in the middle of the night isn’t wise). I love my iPod. I write in Pages. I already have a tab for Engadget’s liveblog of WWDC 2013 open in my browser, and that’s two days away! I’ll be getting a new Air on Monday the second the link goes live. I love Apple. A lot of people do. So why don’t we blame them and iTunes for the closure of music stores? Why don’t we rail against the tax dodging that puts Amazon (and everyone not in Greece) to shame? Why doesn’t it bug us that they make a lot more money than Amazon?

I think there is something subconsciously insidious at work here. How else to explain a love affair with a company whose products are built in plants ringed by suicide nets (Apple) while another company is vilified by John Green for being capitalist pigs (Amazon, with razor-thin profit margins)? I think it’s because the people we get our opinions from love one of these companies and hate the other. I think we forgive Apple for its sins because iPods and iPhones and Macs are such a huge part of our lives. We can’t imagine giving them up. It’s similar to how college students can rail against the unintended consequences of purchasing diamonds and furs and meanwhile get stoned on pot, which leads to heinous barbarisms south of the border. We can live without jewelry and expensive coats. But don’t take away our ganja. The rest is mental gymnastics and rationalizations. The same is done with the companies we adore. And loathe.

Before anyone claims that of course I love Amazon, I was a huge proponent of them even when I shouldn’t have been. I worked in an independent bookstore and defended them with every breath. Because of my wage ($10 an hour) and my paltry discount, I got a lot of my own reads from Amazon. And when customers came in looking for books that were out of print, I offered to get them used copies. I told them I could get them from Amazon, have them shipped to us, mark it up to cover our expenses, and this is how much it would be. Pretty soon, I had a list of regular customers who called just to speak to me with lists of books they wanted (a dozen at a time from one customer). I had to add Amazon to our computer system as a vendor (much to my boss’s dismay). And whenever a smile-face package came into receiving, they knew to send it along to me.

The reason I came into that job with a love of Amazon was because of the joy they’ve provided to me as a customer. Just like the printer that arrived today. (Which was probably better for the environment than me going to a few stores to look at various models). I’ve done a lot of shopping with them over the years, my wife as well. Free 2-day deliver is hard to beat. All of these advantages are why it’s weird that we blame Amazon or Apple for changes in our shopping culture. Music stores disappeared because of us. If it wasn’t Apple, it would’ve been someone else (just probably not Microsoft. Poor, Zune). Bookstores were going to feel a crunch from digitization, whoever came up with it first. The internet had already hit newspapers. The same was going to happen with books. It’s happened to every other industry.

Two things are to blame for these changes: The inevitability of technological progress, and our love of convenience and price. We are cheap motherfuckers. You can wish all day that people would stop being cheap and buy more fruits and vegetables and less Happy Meals, but caloric bang for the buck is going to win out. Blame McDonald’s if you want, but you’re fighting a losing cause. It’s better to figure out how to make healthy foods cheaper. But it’s probably easier to vilify a company that caters to our needs and ignore the fact that it would be a different company if the one we hate went out of business.

It wasn’t just John Green’s rant against Amazon that got me thinking about this, or my new printer, or the fact that I’m wearing Wonder Woman Underoos right now, it was actually comments I saw from some fellow writers on a blog post about the DOJ/Apple case. It was this and a prevailing attitude at BEA that Amazon is the enemy of book publishing. Why do authors hate the best chance they have of reaching (and pleasing) readers? Why do publishers hate their #1 distributor? Is it because Amazon is getting people to read more? Is it because they are keeping prices down so we buy more books? Or maybe because they are revolutionizing how we read, which does more of both these things? Why do we hate them and love Apple?

I think both companies deserve our respect. And both should listen to us if we demand that they install suicide nets or pay state taxes. The most important thing is that we stop vilifying those who cater to our demands. We’re the ones doing the demanding. That’s why on Monday, I’ll be getting a new writing tool, a MacBook Air. From Amazon, of course.

19 responses to “Amazonian Love Affair”

  1. If you love Amazon shopping check out makes you feel good about buying low and beating Amazon’s wild price changes.

  2. That’s not actually me in the Underoos, by the way. Want to make that clear.

    1. Why not?

      Can you remedy the lack of author-worn Underoos on this site?


    2. Dude, I know that is you with a mask on because I have roller bladed with you while you were wearing an outfit very similar.

  3. I love amazon! yes, i would like a local hole in the wall book store, but in my area those were already run out of business when Borders came in. I never like that store, because it tried to be so many things other than a book store….coffee shop, gift shop, music store, dvd store. They also made it diffcult to compare prices by scattering different editions of the same book around the store, so you had to go on a scavenger hunt to compare prices. They were actually responsible for pushing me to amazon and i really wasn’t all that disappointed to see them go. Amazon is fast and convenient. I buy stuff from them at least twice a week. I buy all kind of stuff from them. I love that they recommend stuff. I once bought a walker from them and a message came up telling me the people who bought that walker often bought a cup holder to go with it. Wow, i would not have thought of that, but yes, i often want a beverage when i am walking around and how would I hold that if i was using a walker. I have never even heard of a cup holder on a walker. It’s brilliant. 2 days, delivered to my door. Which is a huge plus if you can’t drive.

  4. We must be hanging out in very different parts of the net, because lately I find Apple-bashing everywhere.

    I’m not defending them, but they do seem to be singled out for many of their offenses. The suicide nets at Foxconn for example; Foxconn also manufactures the Kindle, Playstation 3 and other very popular products.

    My beef with Amazon is twofold: First, the Kindle formats (AZW, KF8) are proprietary, shackling my books to their hardware forever. Second, and much less important, they add a seemingly arbitrary fee on ebooks in Europe.

  5. I have found amazon to be a great shopping experience. I don’t hate them, and really haven’t come across many comments against them. I was never an Apple customer and I believe a lot of people spend a lot of money for a name. Now that amazon has started to spread around the world, one commentator said, give it 10 years and amazon will be the world, people are upset that a lot of things available to US customers are not available to them. Sharing books, unavailability of Kindle books at their library, etc. It will come eventually. Sincere or not they also have the BEST customer service. I am so appreciative when I don’t have to argue or be confronted by someone who want’s to get me off the phone as soon as possible. I could mention another ebook seller that does not sell top notch products and doesn’t give two hoots about retaining it’s customer base. It’s customer service being nonexistent.

    If I am right, correct me if I am wrong, but amazon does give would be writers a place to exhibit their wears.

    Still business is business, good or bad, and I don’t believe amazon is doing anything others would do if they had thought of it first.

    1. “give writers a place to exhibit their wears”… was that a Freudian “slip”? :D

  6. The comparison of college kids and their stance on diamonds/fur to their stance on pot just isn’t fair.

    1) diamonds/fur are legal and there’s still plenty of human and animal rights problems… pot isn’t legal and It’s not being legal is a HUGE part of the reason why there’s so many human rights/violence problems within our own country and what is happening to our south.

    2) There are college kids that rail against and are working for a better future on the drug war and drug policy…

    On that note, I love Amazon. I purchase from them all the time. They’re making a living and not price gouging consumers, or at least they do a better job of not doing it than others. I also love Apple. I have a laptop and an iMac that I purchased back in 2007 and they are still humming along today 6 years later. They make quality products and I don’t have a problem paying top dollar for something that’s built to last.

  7. About 10 years ago the price of toner for laser printers was insane. I had a Konica Minolta. The cartridges were 89-125 dollars a piece . Depending on which size you wanted. Its actually still crazy high In my opinion. A full set cost the same as your printer with low yield cartridges in it. Not to mention the other consumables like opc drum etc.

  8. There’s a strong overlap between the Amazon hate and the confused, populist anti-capitalism that seems to permeate popular American culture. The modern zeitgeist seems to be that success is moral failing, and few have been more successful than Amazon.

    And don’t worry, the Apple hate is quickly bubbling to the surface, beginning with the ritual flogging in Washington, as politicians take umbrage at the idea that a successful company exists somewhere that thinks it can just make products and please customers instead of redirecting untold millions toward DC.

  9. LOVE Amazon – period, end of paragraph. I don’t have to wear shoes to shop, they deliver to my door, they have everything from barbie mansions to exercise equipment, they introduced me to Wool….guess I’ll stop there…. Life doesn’t get much better than Wool in your Kindle, and a paperback version in case anybody wants to borrow it.

  10. What gave you the idea it was a Freudian slip?

  11. I think that’s a thing you’re experiencing in your circles. I didn’t know Amazon-hate was a thing.

    1. Probably right. Might be an author/publisher thing.

  12. Absolutely LOVE Amazon! I have over 800 e-books and have no plans of stopping anytime soon. But I love Apple as well. I own an I-Pod and do like their products. I do agree with another commenter however, that stated many people pay for a name. I couldn’t agree more. Would much rather pay for the Kindle Fire than pay $600 on an I-Pad just so I can say I have an I-Pad. My take on it is you vote everyday for what you believe in and what you hold valuable based on where you shop and what you buy. Don’t complain about monopolies and ma and pa shops going out of business when you’re spending every penny at places like Wal-Mart.

  13. My husband met Lynda Carter when her daughter was in a play(middle school) with our friend’s daughter(who graduated college this week- to give you the time frame). She was very kind to my husband who was being a real fanboy(or fan old guy). This past weekend, Lynda Carter was the Grand Marshall of the DC Pride Parade.

  14. You are so right about amazon getting people to read more.
    For 30 years I only read books that I could learn from, technical books.
    A year ago I somehow ended up with a Kindle, keep in mind I never read a book that told a story…
    Just for the heck of it I downloaded Hunger Games, and that was it. I now know why people say “ the book is so much better than the movie”. In the last year I have read about 85 books, this form someone that did not read this type of book before. So I would like to thank Amazon for opening a door that had been closed to me.
    Also love your books, Wool is a story that is believable; you raped me up with the first short part. Thanks and I look forward to Dust.

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