For background, please read the post that inspired me out on Steven Brust’s blog, plus the original article he linked in his post. If you already think Amazon is evil, you might want to skip these; alternately, if you read them both, you’ll be able to feel more justified in your indignation. If, on the other (third?) hand, you feel that all corporations everywhere are evil… you’re probably in the wrong place, and you should go elsewhere before your brain gets hurt. Maybe a petting zoo.
(Sorry; a bit unjust, that. Petting zoos might be beyond you.)
Now, let me recap a couple of salient points: Amazon is abusing their position at the head of the market in order to extort concessions from publishers. This is delaying publication for writers, reducing profits for all but this one retail giant, creating conditions of unfair competition with other retailers, and making life harder for writers. Readers get a marginally better price for now, but over time monopolies tend to increase prices. The big problem for all of us is that it will harm the industry as a whole.
Brust states that “As consumers, we know that businesses exist to get us to cough up cash and don’t give a shit about us as people; that’s the nature of the beast.” Bear in mind that I’m taking this out of context; nevertheless, it’s the single aspect of this issue that causes me the most disquiet. Corporations are soulless by definition, but the people that work there aren’t.
Google’s famous “Don’t Be Evil” corporate motto is often derided as an empty promise wherever it doesn’t happen to be fiscally efficient. In a pure free-market system, however, where the consumer is educated and responsible, “Don’t Be Evil” is actually the best policy long-term.
Let’s examine, for example, unfair hiring practices based on race or gender. For this, we posit an ideal company that makes widgets; the crew are interchangeable widget-makers, and the competition makes functionally identical widgets using an indistinguishable process within the same labor market. Given a limited pool of qualified applicants, it is evident that any employer who hires the most efficient widget-maker will prosper over the competition. Anyone that discriminates in any manner not applicable to the making of widgets will suffer for it. One can extrapolate from this that undue discrimination is inefficient for any organization; it will therefore cease to be practiced over time in the free market.
Presuming “Don’t Be Evil” as a similar virtue, one would postulate that it too would prosper over time. However, in corporate infighting, evil (read monopolistic) tactics provide a tangible advantage. The Kindle, for example, encourages its users to purchase through Amazon by decreasing services for externally acquired products, whereas a truly independent eReader would offer management services equally, and without regard to the origin of the eBook in question. Looking instead at corporate acquisition, it is likewise seen that aggressive tactics will generate a lower purchase price granting a competitive advantage; if Google restricts itself to fair offers and above-board deals, it will lose out over time.
The solution would seem to lie with us, the body of consumers. If we take the trouble to educate ourselves about the practices of those businesses we patronize — and if we then adapt our purchasing practices to reward those of whom we most approve — we can grant “Don’t Be Evil” companies an advantage in the marketplace.
But Google can’t give us everything we need as consumers. In particular, they have retired their “affiliate program”, the link-based advertising that I could place here in my site in order to grant me some income. They’ve also got an eBook site that is, in my opinion, less effective than the one at Amazon. That made my choice easy; rather than link to them, I link to the people that will pay me — and provide decent service.
Because that is Amazon’s saving grace: They give good service. They’re legendary for it, and in these days of web-commerce and instant loyalty shifts, it’s the fundamental necessity. Apparently, evil is effective.
And business, ladies and gentlemen, cannot exist without being effective. Goods must flow from producer to market, and any organization that attempts this task must frequently make decisions between criminal inefficiency on the one hand and acts that those of us on the outside would construe as “evil” on the other. It’s easy for us to condemn — and indeed we should, when those acts are egregious — but it’s hard to run a business and keep it profitable. That’s just something to keep in mind while organizing protests and complaining on Facebook.
(Hunh. Maybe all corporations really are evil at that. Non-evil ones wouldn’t last long, and then where would we get our corn flakes? Makes ya think.)
On the other hand, I still think Jeff Bezos and certain of his company’s policies toward publishers and authors are abhorrent. They make Amazon hard for me to patronize, much less support. As such, I’m researching other affiliate programs, and I fully intend to register for the best of those that I find. I really like the Kobo, for example.
But the moment any other company comes close to meeting Amazon’s level of service, I’m dropping the evil buggers.
(And at this point, folks, that does not seem likely.)
NOTE: Amazon has dropped me from their Affiliates program, presumably after reading this. Plus side, someone read my article… :o)