One of the reasons I love Mastodon is that any time any tries tothey pretty much get immediately defederated by everyone…
So probably about two years ago, I made a quiet-but-conscious choice to, in as much as possible, stop shopping at Amazon. This isn’t entirely difficult, since Amazon isn’t nearly as embedded in the retail market in Australia as it is in the US—and it ironically got even worse once it opened onshore operations—but I’ve still found I’ve had to use it as a vendor-of-last-resort in those few situations where I can’t buy something via another channel.
Which is a lot of puff to basically say I very wholeheartedly agree with this article’s premise that, uh, actually Amazon is kind of garbage. Like, as a store. It’s garbage. People forget, because they don’t use other retailers but… damn, is it.
[Amazon sells] junk that would never, ever be sold at a Wal-Mart store. That’s because in order to get into a store, a buyer, a human being with a reputation, has to allocate shelf space. The easiest way to lose your job as a buyer is to put brand-destroying lousy products on a valuable shelf.
Amazon, on the other hand, has infinite shelves. And no buyers. As a result, they’re relying on an algorithm that rewards low prices and high ratings. But the best way to lower prices is to make junk. And the best way to high ratings is to fake them.
Seth Godin on Amazon.
This is what’s known, incidentally, as a “market for lemons“, and people have been accusing Amazon of fostering it in publishing for years. I guess now they’re just branching out…
This has been a thing in self-publishing for, like, a decade, but it’s always worth re-mentioning that there’s always more money in telling other people how to (allegedly) make money than there is in, yanno. Actually making money…
I generally don’t use Amazon.com, originally out of a single-person boycott and more lately because as soon as they opened a regional operation they because useless, but every now and again I do end up there, and am endlessly reminded just how much their website…. sucks.
Today in irony, Amazon registers a patent to prevent comparison shopping, a.k.a. showrooming, in physical stores.
Given that Amazon is probably the biggest beneficiary of showrooming, it seems they maybe just jumped on this to prevent someone else from doing so. Also, I’ve no idea how this could be a “patent” given the technology is basically just “block competitor URLs on the in-store wifi’s web proxy” but… whatever. You do you, dinosaurs in the patent office.
Tl;dr, you shouldn’t be using free in-store wifi anyway so… yanno. There’s that.
File under “what do you mean people still use the postal service?”
One of the things I like about Australia Post, is that they’ve well and truly embraced their role as Official Distributor of Internet Goods, for which see services like ShopMate (a fake US address you can use for places that don’t ship internationally) and Parcel Lockers (24/7 parcel pickup).
[Amazon] started as a “book retailer” and nothing else. They leaned on Ingram’s Oregon warehouse to enable their business model, which was to take an order for a book and accept payment, then procure the book from Ingram and send it to the customer, and then a little later pay Ingram’s bill. This positive cash-flow model was so brilliant that Ingram could have readily enabled lots of copycats, and they formed a division called Ingram Internet Support Services to do just that. So Amazon killed that idea by cutting their prices to no-margin levels and discouraged anybody else from getting into the game. That was in the late 1990s.
They could do that because the financial community had already accepted Amazon’s strategy of using books to build a customer base and to measure future business prospects by LCV — the “lifetime customer value” of the people they did business with. And it became clear pretty rapidly that they could sell book readers other things so no- or low-margin sales were simply customer acquisition tactics. This was a game Barnes & Noble and Borders couldn’t play.
Now book and ebook sales are almost certainly no more than a single-digit percentage of Amazon’s total revenue. Kindle Unlimited, like their publishing enterprises and self-publishing offerings, are small parts of a powerful organization that has many ways to win with every customer they recruit.
Mike Shatzkin on no-margin, no-profit.
It’s not in retail, it’s in cloud.
I used to do AWS integration at my old job, mostly by stealth; our developers liked AWS, so they’d use our self-service form to provision themselves EC2 instances. By the time anyone else in the infrastructure and operations teams noticed what we were doing, we were already running 10% of our organisation’s entire server fleet in AWS, with 15% month-on-month growth, essentially supported by one single guy. We bought a DirectConnect link to our local AWS datacenter, and extended our internal domains to include AWS resources. Essentially, we treated AWS as a third datacenter (we already ran two ourselves). The only differences customers ever noticed between their EC2 instances and on-prem virtuals was that the EC2 stuff was deployed faster and never had any outages.1
We had a lot of on-prem outages. A lot. Networking shit, mostly, followed by endless bullshit hardware problems.
I worked a tech job but it wasn’t in a tech business, and the reality when you’re running tech for a non-tech company is that the business justifications for on-prem is thin at best. Really, the only reasons people have historically done it is that it’s been hard to get flexible datacenter-as-a-service offerings that scale to levels appropriate for enterprise. The word “historically” is in there for a reason; the cloud has caught up, and now large organisations (always slow to change) are following. AWS is really the only game in town, with Microsoft Azure playing catch-up. Everyone else is an also-ran.
- I should point out that this is pretty impressive, given cloud-native paradigms about infrastructure objects as disposable. Tl;dr, but if your physical server breaks, you’re supposed to fix it. If your cloud server breaks, you delete it and redeploy. Our organisation still operated very much in the former model, and even though AWS operated largely in the latter, their infrastructure was still more stable–and permanent–than ours was. Go figure. [↩]
From a while back, the Authors Guild on reforming publishing contracts.
This is worth reading if you’ve any interest in publishing whatsoever, because it gives some ideas about the things you’ll find in boilerplate contracts that fall into the “standard but bullshit” bucket. A lot of these are gimmies agents (and their lawyers) will negotiate out, particularly the stuff around reversion, which is why you need an agent. But even agents can’t work magic, especially if you’re debut or in the midlist, and some clauses are bullshit across the board.
The bottom line here is that, in an ideal world (ideal for authors, that is), all rights in publishing contracts should be based on sales and usage. Publishers should not be allowed to hoard unexploited rights like giant steel-and-glass dragons sitting atop a pile of redlined manuscripts and crumpled dreams. In this brave new world of ebooks and POD, sales figures are the new out of print, and and active marketing–where the term “active” means “investment of money”–is the new exercise.
The flip side to this, of course, is a reduction in backlists owned by publishers.
Publishers, in other words, can’t be Amazon. Amazon is the dragon here; it works by hoarding vast quantities of goods, making fractions of a cent off each. It is both the “laziest”1 and most profitable model, but also the one that represents the least lock-in for content creators. The thing about being a the biggest dragon in the room, however, is that you’re a useful source of warmth for all the other big dragons, whether these are publishing houses or individual authors who own their own large backlists. In the case of publishing houses, it’s the existence of Amazon–particularly ebooks on Amazon–that’s turned their own rights hoards into piles of pennies.
And, as anyone who’s ever counted a mass of change will know, even pennies add up eventually.
Which is all a very convoluted metaphor to say that, for publishers to work the way the Authors Guild is advocating here, they’d need to shift from being Amazons to being Apples. That is, move from the “everything store” model and into the high-prestige, high-investment, high-return tastemakers.
That means no backlist, no midlist, and no (unknown) debuts. Just bestsellers, all day every day. No need to nurture talent when rights to proven works can be bought from smaller presses and self-publishes, in the way tech companies buy startups.2 Then it’s all reward and no risk, just the way shareholders like it.
None of this is a revolutionary or a secret, incidentally. The fact that the Big Five haven’t already gone down this road shows just how sentimental the industry is about its role as a custodian of culture, as opposed to profits. But there are some pretty serious signs that sentimentality is dying.
The next decade will be Interesting Times indeed, in other words. And maybe groups like the Authors Guild had better be careful what it wishes for, in this world where everything has a price…
- Quotes, because I have my content-creator hat on today, not my technologist hat. We can get into the effort behind Amazon’s infrastructure and tech investments at a later date. [↩]
- What? You think Microsoft and Google and Apple and Amazon and Facebook do their own R&D? Hah! Not really. They buy it. Or, rather, they buy the first 90% and do that last 10% in-house. This is so prevalent that it’s even the business model for the vast majority of tech startups. No-one actually wants to be profitable with their company; they want to burn enough VC that their company gets enough notice to be bought out. [↩]