Amazon Addenda: More on the Seedy Underbelly of the Digital Self-publishing Revolution
Last week I talked about some of my concerns as they relate to the Digital Self-publishing Revolution.
One of my primary complaints concerned the market dominance of Amazon as the etailer of choice for ebooks. Most ebooks are sold via Amazon, and most writers openly embracing the digital self-publishing revolution in the process embrace a de facto contractual relationship with Amazon (whether they realize it or not) – and one in which they most likely don’t even know what their own rights and responsibilities are.
Today’s addendum is a link that will serve to further illustrate just what sort of company with which these writers are entering into a relationship.
First, a bit of disclosure: I shop on Amazon. Quite regularly, in fact. As a consumer, I appreciate Amazon’s low prices, speedy deliveries, and the ability to compare multiple products. I use Amazon for more than just books.
But that comes at a price, and I’m only now coming to realize the full nature of that price. This article tells the tale of what it’s like to work in an Amazon fulfillment warehouse located in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. If you don’t click the link, here’s the short version (the full article is some 9 pages long, though you’ll get the gist before you finish the first page; the rest is just further accounts re-illustrating the same point): it’s not pretty. It’s not nice. Not nice at all. The working conditions are, in a word, barbaric.
Now, two things: yes, the physical fulfillment business is perhaps intellectually separable from the e-delivery side. The two are not necessarily the same, so perhaps this is tangential. Secondly, it may indeed be possible that the sub-human conditions in this warehouse are an aberration, not indicative of Amazon as a whole. I can answer both of these with a single, important business concept: Corporate Culture. Something within the core of the company, at a corporate level, makes this possible. There is some fundamental belief, some driving ideology, that makes this an acceptable outcome a at the corporate level. Were it not so, it wouldn’t happen.
To those writers who believe that Amazon, at a corporate level, views them individually as any less disposable than the temporary workers laboring in 100-degree heat in warehouses with impossible physical demands placed on them; to those writers who suppose that they are more important to Amazon than the poor temps who are carted away on stretchers in ambulances after collapsing from heat exhaustion only to return and find their positions “terminated”: I assure you, you are not.
And this is what worries me about the idea of working with this particular behemoth. To them, I’m disposable. I’m a commodity. I mean nothing. This is who I’m supposed to trust with my future as an author? To me, that’s a scary prospect.
Many of the same arguments can be made about the large, traditional publishers. But even to those corporate entities, you are more than a commodity. You are something. Because you’re able to build a personal relationship with the editor and others who are on the inside. And when they have to let an author go, for whatever business reason, at least there’s someone there who’s likely to get at least a little emotional about it, someone who regrets having to make this decision.
So yes. I still shop at Amazon. From now on, when I do so (and I’m under no illusions that I won’t), it will be with a sense of humility, and more than a little bit of shame and regret. And for now… I’m not yet willing or ready to throw my lot in with Amazon, as a writer. As a matter of principle.