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.
If Amazon prevails in this clash, will it put me and my material needs last whenever a supplier resists its will? I don’t know for sure, but I can guess.
So first it put the squeeze on competing booksellers. Then it got big enough to put the squeeze on publishers and its workforce. Now it’s approaching the size where it can put the squeeze on customers.
I got a taste of this a few months ago, when I suddenly discovered that I couldn’t buy the cases of baby supplies I’d been getting from Amazon. These were major-manufacturer products: Pampers in size 7; the thickest kind of Huggies wipes. The Everything Store couldn’t find them in stock.
Somehow, though, Diapers.com—part of the Amazon family of retail sites—could. But Diapers.com (despite being part of the Amazon family of retail sites) doesn’t give free shipping to Amazon Prime customers. But-but if you throw in something extra, some baby shampoo or diaper cream, you can get over the $50 limit for free shipping.
UPDATE: A small publisher defends Amazon. Worth reading.