The Amazon Effect

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brendancody

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Sep 25, 2014
I came across this interesting discussion about Amazon's stifling of competition, discovery, and possible threat to freedom of expression.

The relevant bit is at 11:45.

She quotes some interesting research (but doesn't give the reference) that says you are 3 times less likely to come across a book you didn't know about and want to read on Amazon than you are in an independent bookstore.

 
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Kvetching about Amazon and nursing preoccupations about their power is self-defeating. It's always a mistake to treat corporations like they're people. This is true whether we're discussing their virtues or their sins. A corporation's one purpose is to make a profit and they quite rightly do so without apologizing. We'd do well to remember it and if you think I'm impatient, you're right. I'm about sick to my stomach of people both villainizing and/or romanticizing business. Because--they're not people.

If we don't like a particular corporation's practices, then we should get involved in politics, help create laws supporting fair competition. Or, write a novel illustrating what happens when one company takes over the world. Or, write one that illustrates what happens when society engages in a mass delusion--believing one company is more powerful than the combined individual will of the public.

I find the constant whining about how difficult it is to sell a book on Amazon tragically myopic. There's no reason why anyone should know an author exists simply because they managed to finish a manuscript and convert it to a .mobi file. We forget how it used to be for authors. The truth is the book market has been flooded with millions and millions of publications. Amazon curates this collection of misfits better than anyone else and while Amazon is clearly not saintly, neither is it evil. The reward it collects for curating a collection of mostly unreadable words is an obscene profit. Indie bookstores can still put titles forward and most likely continue to discover great authors/reads at about the same rate --about as often as lightning strikes. That's how often they occur. All of this complaining about the book market seems to ignore the change in the amount of books published as a result of e-publishing. I imagine, that's also a result of another incorrect assumption--the assumption that for centuries people who should have been published were overlooked. I'd argue that with the exception of people being overlooked because of gender, race, orientation--this isn't the case.

We have never had so much freedom of speech. We can publish ourselves ten times before we get out of bed in the morning. What we don't have is a right to readers. Of course, it's never said that way. Amazon doesn't guarantee you readers but then they don't promise they will. Any author who doesn't like it can query away.

Jeff Bezos can have whatever the hell goal he wants. He can be the brain to our pinky. We shouldn't discount our own power, will, and choice. It's quite possible we may need more regulation. But I'm not a politician.
 
@Amber said, 'We can publish ourselves ten times before we get out of bed in the morning... '

Hehehe...it's time I upped my game.

There are greater threats to Art than Amazon. Books are business, but our task is Art and there is a lot of shite for sale. If my stuff is shite, dear God protect me from becoming published (I am sure God will readily co-operate) and meanwhile I'll protect myself by not rushing to self-publishing, even if I rack up 20 gillion rejections. But I'm glad the option is there and so accessible; I may use it, with maximum editing with bells on.

One cannot dispense with an editor, regardless. Even good self-published books, when I buy them, could still have done with an editor.

And 'Kvetch'....I just learned a new word.

"to complain, whine," 1953 (implied in kvetching), from Yiddish kvetshn, literally "squeeze, press," from German quetsche "crusher, presser." As a noun, from 1936 as a term of abuse for a person.

Source: Dictionary.com
 
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I think kvetch sounds like it's meaning. I'm glad you like it .. .although ... obviously I did not invent it.

I may have been liberal with the definition of 'publish'. But I remember when there was only one way to get something to read -- or communicate in writing -- and so I was including the great mass of tweets and posts and blogs and discussion boards and surveys and youtube and ....
 
Oh no, well in that case (she kvetched) in that case I have many a time self -published oodles of spurious shite and waffle in plenty of time for supper.

It does sound like what it is.
 
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I'm not sure we should equate 'self published' with 'hasn't been edited.' There are countless editors available to work on books with or without a publisher. They don't have the market cornered on editors. Not every self-published author can afford one, but the resource is certainly available.

That said, I'm also not sure I'd characterize Amazon as 'stifling' the competition. The word 'stifle' implies it is some sort of intentional action. I think it's more a matter of the way people look for books. In a bookstore, you can go into your favorite genre section, and are presented with shelves containing hundreds of books at once. Your eye can be attracted by anything, which makes the spine design an interestingly important consideration. And then on the way out, you pass all the shelves of other books, and it's still possible to see something that catches your eye. The upshot is that with such a huge selection all available simultaneously, you're more likely to find something you weren't looking for.

With Amazon, you type in a search phrase, and are presented with a page of results that are filtered according to your tastes. So if you filter by price, number of reviews, or number of stars, those books that fit the criteria float to the top. The list that is returned is, by definition, tailored to make the search process more efficient by limiting the output to the user's preferences. But it's important to realize that that's not Amazon. The preferences are selected by the consumer.

I wonder how it would change the Amazon experience (or the chances of finding the title you didn't know you wanted) if Amazon were to implement a 'virtual bookshelf', where you see a shelf with the spines out, exactly the way you would in a bookstore.
 
Authors can hire an editor before they self-publish. I would never suggest any author do otherwise. :) There are plenty of well-written, well-edited books on Amazon.

Amazon changed the market - no argument there. Anyone can publish a book now. But readers are still out there. How to find them? Do your research. Learn the self-publishing market. Learn about metadata and tags to use for your book. Learn about buying advertising and how to target it for your intended audience. Engage with potential readers on social media. Get to know them as people and let them do the word-of-mouth for you when your book releases. If they like you, and if they like your work, they will tell all their friends. Word of mouth still sells books. My readers do more work to promote my books than I could ever do on my own.

You can find a lot of the stuff I'm talking about for FREE, but if you want to pay someone who is successful in self-publishing on Amazon and on other platforms, they are out there offering classes online as well. I guess my point is that I agree with @Amber in that moaning about Amazon isn't productive. It won't help your writing career. Instead, accept it as it exists today and LEARN how to use it. Make it work for you.
 
@Rick Hall said, 'I'm not sure we should equate 'self published' with 'hasn't been edited.'

I wasn't make an equation. But I've noticed it too often with self-published novels to disregard its warning. Self- editing can't catch everything. It isn't humanly possible. And there are line- editors - and then there are the publisher's copy- editors. Even if they are something of a dying breed.
 
Kvetching about Amazon and nursing preoccupations about their power is self-defeating.

We have a duty to know what they - especially the powerful - do. Decisions about kvetching or regulation (whichever your personal taste) come after, but cannot even happen in the absence of knowing. Is it self-defeating for society to hold the powerful to responsibility?

It is also, I would hope, helpful (- and the spirit in which I originally posted - ) to any author aspiring to earn a living to know the landscape of publishing out there, including the practices of the now largest portal for distributing books on the planet.

If you don't mind me saying, it is your own response that contained not a little kvetch.

A corporation's one purpose is to make a profit

Can it only have one? .. and one without limit, or cost?
 
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If we don't like a particular corporation's practices, then we should get involved in politics, help create laws supporting fair competition. Or, write a novel illustrating what happens when one company takes over the world.

In my previous novel, in the year 2050, the President's orders are overruled by Amazon. He appeals to Google but his appeal is denied.
 
We have a duty to know what they - especially the powerful - do. Decisions about kvetching or regulation (whichever your personal taste) come after, but cannot even happen in the absence of knowing. Is it self-defeating for society to hold the powerful to responsibility?

It is also, I would hope, helpful (- and the spirit in which I originally posted - ) to any author aspiring to earn a living to know the landscape of publishing out there, including the practices of the now largest portal for distributing books on the planet.

If you don't mind me saying, it is your own response that contained not a little kvetch.



Can it only have one? .. and one without limit, or cost?

I always agree we need to know what those in power do. But while Amazon hasn't released it's logarithms, it's intellectual property, to the public, it's also not a secret what they're doing. They're using logarithms to market to customers on their website. They're pretty upfront about it. It's not nefarious and in a way, I find it more democratic and fair than only books editors and publishers like or think will sell being published and/or having a chance to be published.

When I was in college (which was about thirty years ago) I was in a psychology class and a professor spoke to us about the research she was doing on the fear of technology. At the time, I didn't see how this was a relevant area of inquiry (inquiry or enquiry?). It was before the desktop computer became popular and before the internet and way before facebook. But it seems to me, hysteria because we don't understand something technological has become commonplace and almost acceptable. Simply because we don't understand exactly how the logarithm works and don't have control over it does not mean Amazon has any intention other than to sell books.

Yeah. I kvetch about kvetching all the time. I hate the way authors go around moaning about the current state of publishing when 90% of them/us wouldn't be published in the good old days anyway. I reserve the right to kvetch about kvetching. When you see me initiate a kvetch, feel free to notify me of my hypocrisy. Until then ... in response to how powerful and how hopeless and how none of us gets a chance ... I will continue to say ... see the world as it is and make it work for you .. also ... have some perspective .. remember how it used to be.
 
Can it only have one? .. and one without limit, or cost?

Must have missed this.

I don't think so. Not in reality. It's not a business then. It becomes something else. I think that's possible. I don't think it happens as often as anyone believes.

I think one of the biggest mistakes we've ever made is giving companies human characteristics.

I didn't actually ever work for a corporation until my son was in second grade. Which meant, not until my thirties. I didn't really want to. But then a few things happened and I figured I better get busy conforming, for the 'good of all'.

One of the strangest things I never adapted to is the corporate culture and the internal public relations. Its a businesses means of saying they're more than a money making machine. They're a culture, a world, and they add more to your existence than the mere paycheck. This is true on the surface. There are company picnics, events, and free stuff given out. I took my son to a baseball game once when I won tickets in a raffle.

For lots of people, this is true and it's comfortable for them. I never quite got there. I am naturally dubious of group think.

The creation of a culture for a business is self-serving. Its something they do intentionally. There are people's whose primary job is to create this culture. It has a purpose. It's not the welfare of all. It's the welfare of the profit margin and that's it.

The internal PR machine is pretty sickening too. It's where employees are sold on behavior which may not be in their best interest because it is for the good of all. The company or corporation has become bigger than the sum of its parts. It's well-being is the employees well-being. Those on the lower levels are encouraged to stay in their own lane and contribute the small amount they can in order to keep the machine working. Those on the higher levels are taught they must make sacrifices for the good of the company. If that means spending six months putting together a set of tools which will replace fifty or so IS jobs (if not more) then that's for the good of all, in the long run.

But no it isn't. It's not for the good of all. Its for the good of the company. The company will do what it has to in order to make more money.

While I don't think it's correct to deify businesses, I also don't think it's right to villainize them. They're not people. We give them human attributes because we either can't or don't want to see them as the binary creatures they inevitably are. It's no longer in our best interest, if it ever was, to give businesses human attributes.

I didn't mean for this to be a rant. But ... oh well.
 
I think one of the biggest mistakes we've ever made is giving companies human characteristics.

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While I don't think it's correct to deify businesses, I also don't think it's right to villainize them. They're not people. We give them human attributes because we either can't or don't want to see them as the binary creatures they inevitably are. It's no longer in our best interest, if it ever was, to give businesses human attributes.

I didn't mean to comment on this thread because I have bashed Amazon in the past. But, I would like to submit that corporations have the human characteristics of those who are at the top. In the case of Amazon and Facebook, I have no respect for those at the top. Why? Because I was at the top of a 600 million dollar per year corporation. Boardroom meetings placed employees and customers ahead of profits. If the previous CEO had not made decisions using the brain between his legs, the corporation would have flourished, instead it was turned over in deep debt. It's unfortunate that our family of employees had to disband. We didn't need to instill the family attitude using PR (like other corporations) because we hired sharp employees who knew that every employee was a person as important as the next before they started. It is true that the need for greed has dominated the corporate world, but it doesn't hold true on a universal basis. Another example is Xerox Canada, who's CEO was a person who promoted equality. Under her reign, the corporation made profits while the employees became family. Her replacement was arrogant, demanding, and profit oriented. During his reign, the profits fell to losses and employees left, including consultants like myself during a period where the reverse should have been true.

The only way to combat the avarice at he top is defiance and public villainization. The louder the voice the stronger the impact as we have seen in the pharmaceutics industry and even on occasion with facebook.

Bob
 
I didn't mean to comment on this thread because I have bashed Amazon in the past. But, I would like to submit that corporations have the human characteristics of those who are at the top. In the case of Amazon and Facebook, I have no respect for those at the top. Why? Because I was at the top of a 600 million dollar per year corporation. Boardroom meetings placed employees and customers ahead of profits. If the previous CEO had not made decisions using the brain between his legs, the corporation would have flourished, instead it was turned over in deep debt. It's unfortunate that our family of employees had to disband. We didn't need to instill the family attitude using PR (like other corporations) because we hired sharp employees who knew that every employee was a person as important as the next before they started. It is true that the need for greed has dominated the corporate world, but it doesn't hold true on a universal basis. Another example is Xerox Canada, who's CEO was a person who promoted equality. Under her reign, the corporation made profits while the employees became family. Her replacement was arrogant, demanding, and profit oriented. During his reign, the profits fell to losses and employees left, including consultants like myself during a period where the reverse should have been true.

The only way to combat the avarice at he top is defiance and public villainization. The louder the voice the stronger the impact as we have seen in the pharmaceutics industry and even on occasion with facebook.

Bob

Regardless of whatever noise they may make, corporations live and die based on whether they make a profit or don't. Their only reason for existing is to make money. When they no longer make money, they cease to exist. It seems your post says as much. From the tone of your post, it would seem the family you're referencing no longer gets together for the holidays.

Personification is a valid literary device but believing things take on the characteristics of humans is irrational.
 
Bob, the business world needs more people like you. There is nothing wrong with wanting your firm to make a profit, but there is a lot wrong if that profit comes at a cost to your employees, the environment and the welfare of the general public.
 
Aliens invaded our planet long ago...conquering us by shopping!

Sans_titre.jpg
 
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Regardless of whatever noise they may make, corporations live and die based on whether they make a profit or don't. Their only reason for existing is to make money. When they no longer make money, they cease to exist. It seems your post says as much. From the tone of your post, it would seem the family you're referencing no longer gets together for the holidays.

Personification is a valid literary device but believing things take on the characteristics of humans is irrational.

We both have strong debating points.

Companies exist to provide product to the customer base. The company may also be the consumer of the product. Profit doesn't always drive corporations because there are some who strive for quality, even at a loss. Money losing start-ups like Uber and Snap raise capital base on quality with the hope that quality will turn the flow of cash from the drainpipe into a dragon's mountain of gold. Amazon survived the dot.com crash of 2000 not due to good management but by luck, securing capital from Britain and Europe countries as bonds payable at a high rate and soften currency conversions. In other word, desperation. A month after acquiring the funding, the dot.com crash occurred. Without that funding, Amazon would gone vanished from the scene like so many others. Unfortunately, the tyrannical personality of Bezos is reflected in the predatory actions of the company unlike Uber that continues to respond to social media complaints in a positive fashion.

Companies are a group of people and the personality of the company, its humanity is guided by the personality of the upper management. So, I do believe that companies like Disney can strive to please, pushing profit down the priority list. Do we not protest when government fails to address issues? Why should we not protest when corporations fail to address issues?

Bob
 
We both have strong debating points.

Companies exist to provide product to the customer base. The company may also be the consumer of the product. Profit doesn't always drive corporations because there are some who strive for quality, even at a loss. Money losing start-ups like Uber and Snap raise capital base on quality with the hope that quality will turn the flow of cash from the drainpipe into a dragon's mountain of gold. Amazon survived the dot.com crash of 2000 not due to good management but by luck, securing capital from Britain and Europe countries as bonds payable at a high rate and soften currency conversions. In other word, desperation. A month after acquiring the funding, the dot.com crash occurred. Without that funding, Amazon would gone vanished from the scene like so many others. Unfortunately, the tyrannical personality of Bezos is reflected in the predatory actions of the company unlike Uber that continues to respond to social media complaints in a positive fashion.

Companies are a group of people and the personality of the company, its humanity is guided by the personality of the upper management. So, I do believe that companies like Disney can strive to please, pushing profit down the priority list. Do we not protest when government fails to address issues? Why should we not protest when corporations fail to address issues?

Bob

It's funny. The entire idea of someone espousing the virtues of a company and saying, "But they really care. See what they do!? I can tell I really matter to them. They're not like the others" strikes me as analogous to when a prostitute's customer says, "But she really cares! See what she does?! I can tell I really matter to her. I'm not like the others."

No. She really doesn't. Put your wallet back in your pocket. Snatch back your life.

It's all about the money honey, no matter how you dress it up, no matter how good it makes you feel, no matter how much you've invested or how much you care--it's all about the money. It doesn't matter if they gave you a turkey during the holidays, whether you got a good bonus, or if they understood when you had to be out extra long because your father was sick. They care about the money.

Somewhere there is a amortization sheet ass deep in formulas estimating the cost of each employee versus not only the expense of that employee over time but their expense in view of certain life events and circumstances. I promise you, that formula is sop. Employees are ASSETS. Treating an employee well over time only lasts as long as the company's expense (and estimated expense) in relation to profit remains in the green. Employees are viewed as objects, not unlike desks, or computers, or electricity.

So, yes. You may have felt like you were treated as a human being. Successful companies objectify people and consider them assets. Part of taking care of the human asset means convincing the employee they matter. Given the information that certain things convince the human asset that they matter, the corporation will then extend those things to the human asset.

There is a term for internal expenses which I can't remember right now. Something like green money. Brown money. Something.

Anyway, the reason I am trying to remember it is this ... all corporations assign a dollar value to their resources, external and internal. I find it odd that you don't appear to show any awareness of this fact. It isn't a new practice. If one department creates a tool for another, there's a charge. All of it becomes part of expenses and profit. Oddly enough, it's often in a corporation's best interest to make it appear as though they lost money when they gained money. This is particularly true with internal profit and losses. This money is not actually real, only made to look real. This is where most of the do-gooding and the 'look what the company sacrificed' nonsense comes from. You're only limited by your imagination!!

And you're serious about Disney? Where are you? OMG--the world I live in has been vomiting Disney stuff for decades. It never ends. Disney owns the world and is not a philanthropic enterprise. It's purpose is not making people happy. Not in a million years has Disney pushed profit down their list of priorities. Although, it may be how they might explain an occasional failure.

If you want to tilt at windmills, ask a corporation to change it's ways for the greater good. I suggest explaining to them how changing their ways will benefit their bottom line in the long run if not the short run as an 'in'. Otherwise, expect lackluster and possibly non-existent interest.

I honest to god find it fascinating that even those who want nothing more to do with corporate america or corporate uk insist on believing businesses are more than they seem. You might have an amicable working relationship with people. You might like your boss. But it is a mistake to think they're there for your greater good or even the greater good of their employees. Because, addressing the greater good at the expense of their bottom line does not ensure their continued health as a corporate entity. You see companies like Disney making broad sweeping inspirational and public gestures because for them, it does serve their fiscal health in the long run. They're in the business of sentiment for god sakes. But they've monetized it. It isn't free.

...and... what? Uber = quality? What is Snap? Do you mean Snapchat? I'd have to disagree with any reports of quality and I would certainly disagree that they treat their customers or their employees well. If that matters. At all. I've talked to Uber drivers. I don't know anything about Snapchat but ...

Uber is doing well. It does well because it makes money. Their drivers often don't make any money. As employees, they gamble every time they decide to go out for a shift. To them its a good tradeoff but very few of them will say they are treated well. Instead, they say it doesn't matter how Uber treats them, given they don't have to see Uber leadership every day. They've made a tradeoff. It's interesting that often employees no longer care to be treated--AT ALL... and will choose to work for a company like Uber. It's also totally inappropriate to infuse a company like Uber with attributes it doesn't have. The independence they offer their employees has nothing to do with the goodness of their hearts but instead its a means of decreasing their own investment and risk (see amortization sheet). Not once have I spoken to an Uber driver who was ONLY an Uber driver. Also, WTF -- another rating system. I'm not even going to get into that. Also, it's next to impossible for an individual to get a response from Uber.

So, if they don't respond to requests from help initiated by individuals on their account--and I know they don't--then.... why would they respond to something on social media? What is the difference between me being logged into my account and someone logged onto social media airing a concern. One is public.

Why would they be more responsive to complaints made in public than ones made within their app? It's not because they care about me or you or anyone.

Also, either Bezos is a tyrannical diabolical monster or he's a lucky sod. Make up your mind.

Truthfully, we don't know him. But odds are good he's competitive as hell and can't stand losing. Is he a jerk? He might be perfectly charming. He might have really good relationships in his life. Is he a ruthless businessman? Clearly. Does this mean he's a monster? Maybe. Maybe not. Unlike the rest of the people in the world, he might understand the difference between work and play, business and family.

Does he have a responsibility to do anything but operate within the law and continue to grow Amazon? No.

This started with a discussion about how Amazon has changed publishing, how it's more difficult for writers to get noticed. It's not Amazon's job to make the world a happy place for writers. It's not even their job to make things fair. It's their job to follow the law and make as much money as they can. When we insist on assigning virtues where they don't belong, we get confused. This often leads to disappointment and stupid behavior.

So, you can protest whatever issue you want to in regards to Amazon. You were unclear as to what that might be. I suspect that's on purpose. What issue or wrong can Amazon be blamed for?

Its a waste of energy to lay the blame at Amazon's feet for how the world is turning out. That's so tiresome. If you want to change the world or even your little corner of it, take more personal responsibility and don't shuffle around like a victim.
 
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