Amazon: Falling Out of Our Good Graces

Earlier this month, my Amazon Prime membership was set to expire, and since the price was going to rise to $99 a year and I didn’t really use its free streaming services, I had decided to allow my membership to lapse. Amazon had sent me a message notifying me that the credit card used for my membership had expired and if I wanted to continue the service, I should update my credit card information. Despite not doing that, my credit card was charged anyway, and my membership was renewed.

I hesitated logging into my account to cancel it. Hadn’t Amazon recently announced that it had partnered with HBO to give members free access to part of HBO’s library? Didn’t I need to order a few things for the office, and wouldn’t it be nice to take advantage of the 2-day shipping? I had also recently added some family members to my account — aren’t they also benefitting from this?

But what about Amazon’s mercenary business practices? Wasn’t I turned off by that?

I had been. As someone who believes we should all pay our fair share of taxes, I was turned off by the fact that Amazon had used foreign tax havens to avoid paying the U.S. government $700 million in taxes. And yet: Apple had also used a web of tax shelters to avoid paying taxes, as had Google, and it was unlikely that I was going to stop using my iPhone or the biggest search engine in the world.

There were other practices that were off-putting: Amazon, for example, had made repeated attempts to buy Diapers.com, and when the company refused, Amazon decided to sell diapers at a loss and threatened to put Diapers.com out of business until the company caved in and allowed itself to be acquired. And then there’s Amazon’s treatment of warehouse workers, which we’ve talked about here previously.

And yet — I haven’t canceled. It doesn’t mean I won’t. At Reuters, Jack Shafer writes that he is finally ditching Amazon. The reason: He had stuck by Amazon through all the things I mentioned above because despite everything, Amazon has put the customer first. But its recent dispute with publishing company Hachette has him changing his mind. Reports show that Amazon has stopped shipping several Hachette titles, including works by authors like J.D. Salinger and J.K. Rowling’s next book. Shafer writes:

Ordinarily I’d ignore this scrimmage between two capitalist antagonists and go find something random on Amazon to buy while drinking a strong cup of joe, reading my newspaper, and swearing randomly. But Amazon’s silence has made me madder than an anaconda stuffed into a black garden hose and left to cook in the Arizona sun, to paraphrase Ed Anger of Weekly World News.

If Amazon thinks I don’t care about its silence, it’s wrong. I take it personally that the company doesn’t think it owes me even a half-baked explanation for why I can’t buy some books from it.

Unlike other dedicated readers, I hold nothing against Amazon for changing the book business, helping to drive many retailers under and accruing power over publishers. The customer has been the beneficiary here, with Amazon creating a reader’s paradise of cheap new and used books that it delivers quickly. The company’s customer service department has always decided disputes in my favor and done so promptly, and its return policies are uniformly good.

But while Amazon may have captured my wallet, its recent behavior has convinced me to take my business elsewhere. As long as the company’s high-pressured negotiating tactics served my interests — lower prices, expansive selection, superb service — I was on board. But the company has erred in this dispute. It would have been okay with me if it had hard-balled the publisher by refusing to discount its books or even insisted on selling them at a premium. In that case, I could do what I usually do — make individual decisions about where to buy stuff based on price and availability.

But by essentially banishing many Hachette titles from its stock, Amazon, which ordinarily puts its customers first, has put them last, telling them they can’t buy certain titles from it for any price.

So Shafer is calling it quits. I’m still deciding. Maybe you have already.

Photo: Pete

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