t byfield on 3 Feb 2001 07:21:47 -0000

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Re: <nettime> amazon: "slaves to wall street"

geert@xs4all.nl (Sat 02/03/01 at 09:55 AM +1100):

> (It's hard to keep track about all the job losses announced this week. A few
> months ago there were reports about Amazon undermining the right of it's
> employees to unionize. Now they are fired, specially the Seattle customer
> service department, one of the oldest parts of Amazon. Instead, Amazon is
> opening a new distribution center in New Delhi. The question now is when a
> customer boycot will set in. Or is Amazon still cool? A less primitive, more
> sophisticated online book distributor would certainly have good chances.

amazon has weathered several 'boycotts' and scandals so far--
over privacy issues, over suppressing anti-scientology books, 
over the one-click patent, over unionization, etc, etc. it's 
hard to imagine why a layoff would precipitate a boycott, in 
fact it's totally impossible to imagine such a trajectory. 
what, are 'consumers' going to rise up in solidarity with their 
laid-off compadres? heh, i'm *so* sure. and it's not like amazon 
customer service was famous for its pleasant work conditions. 
see this article published ~3 years ago in the _seattle weekly_:


but what interested me about your message was more the implied
claim that the or a primary motivation in buying from amazon
was a 'cool' factor. dunno about that. i don't buy books from
amazon, and more generally don't spend a lot of time trying to
sniff out the 'best deal,' for the simple reason that actively
supporting local shops is well worth the 'extra' cost. i doubt
that's normal in ideological terms; but the objective behavior
of buying locally probably is normal, so my ideological just-
ification isn't especially interesting. if it were to become 
an ideologically motivated tendency on a mass scale, then that 
might be interesting. but only then would 'coolness' become a 
salient factor. buying over the net is, if anything, utterly 
banal. that much was clear, well, from the very beginning i'd
hope; but failing that it was quite clear at least a year ago, 
when the pop media were dutifully whining about the failures of 
e-commerce, about how poor little junior wasn't getting his e-
ordered toys in time xmas day and other such consumer crises.

so, after a certain point, this fascination with numbers--who's 
clicking on what, how much they're spending, where the NASDAQ's 
at, etc--is really just a posh sort of size-queenism. even the
dotcom media has totally sussed that. for example, _feed_ ran a
parody a few weeks ago with a spoof in which the amazon of 2004
had been reduced to flogging a piece of wood with a nail in it
and a potato:


the best spoof of the lot by far was this one:


     Let's look at what happened Thursday. The hedgies, mostly
     controlled by the Yakuza, are bearish on the Cigdaq. They're
     buying all the puts they can on Chinese Cigarettes (CHCG:Cigdaq
     - news - boards) on the bet that the CIGG downturn isn't just
     profit taking. Add to that Abby Cohen's analysis that the
     Yemenese tanker that lost contact somewhere in the Pacific
     had been hijacked by Burmese bandits, and it's clear that the
     Still-Smokeable Cigarette Butts (FCBT:Cigdaq - news - boards)
     boomlet can't last forever.

that one collided with a joke i made on another list about the
possibility of a LUDDAQ exchange, which elicited other such sug-
gestions--SPUDDAQ, etc--for stock markets that catered to (what
i regard as) the inevitable blacklash against 'rational' markets, 
once people grok the fact that they themselves are the middlemen 
they've been busily putting out of business. duh. how 'cool' fits
into this is beyond me.

but i digress. what interested me about your note was how (imo) 
it quite misses the fundamental point that amazon is *entirely* 
in keeping with the whole f---ing point of the web, which was 
more or less to make chasing footnotes down *convenient*. boring
but true: read something, see a citation, and jump to it without 
having to haul your bum to the library. with amazon (and other
online booksellers) the only modification to this model is that
it involves an explicit financial transaction and the delivery
of an object. from berners-lee to bezos: la plus ça change...

does it really matter so much that a 'library' is 'free' (i.e., 
supported by taxation or philanthropy) and a 'bookstore' isn't 
'free' (i.e., is supported by commerce)? i have a hard time get-
ting my knickers in a twist over that distinction, given the fact 
that publishers generally aren't in the business of giving their 
products away for free; and nor are the vast majority of writers 
in that business either, at least not by choice. to lose sight 
of that cumulative chain of financial exchanges--say, by fixating 
on this or that aspect of 'amazon'--is to devolve into a critique 
from the standpoint of the consumer. hence, perhaps, your sugges-
tion about boycotts.

and you wrote:

> A less primitive, more sophisticated online book distributor 
> would certainly have good chances.

there are many. and, for the most part, they don't stand an snow-
ball's chance in hell of having any impact whatsoever. i spent
years working in and around books, from driving academic remain-
ders around with a forklift to editing übertheoretical blabla.
afaict, online transactions involving Physical Books has been a
profoundly trivial factor in the the changing economics of pub-
lishing. agents were already kings, and advances were forking 
into spectacular amounts or pathetic pittances; small publishers 
were already screwed long before the net came along because of 
changes in tax laws regarding inventory; indy booksellers were 
already in their death rattles, too; the conglomeratization of 
publishing was a well-established trend; and book distribution
was already dominated by a few megaconcerns. so what's amazon
actually done? it hasn't even pioneered the vertical integration 
of distribution through retail--that was already going on with 
the rise of national booksellers that gravitated toward suburban
malls. the only thing it's really done is to make that vertical
integration *visible* to the consumer. and, like the web, that's
basically a good thing. fine, make it 'less primitive' and 'more
sophisticated' (btw, what on earth does that mean?)--no big diff.

what's remarkable, i think, is how *little* effect the net has 
had on the book industry. 


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