Amazonian Love Affair
I was a handful as a child. My mother raised three of us on her own, often working three jobs, and I didn’t make it terribly easy on her. Even before my parents divorced, I was a lot to wrangle. But when I was four years old and still sucking my blankie, my mom had a surefire way of getting me to zip it. She would threaten to take away my Wonder Woman.
I may have been the only boy on my block (or in the state of North Carolina) to want Wonder Woman Underoos. I had a full-on crush for Lynda Carter. I wanted to marry her. (I think I had a thing for older women. I also wanted to marry the girl ten years my senior who lived with us for a while. And my art tutor. And Betty White). When Wonder Woman aired, I was glued to the TV set. It was my first encounter with anything from the Amazon, and I was smitten.
Flash forward thirty years to the new printer arriving on my doorstep. $124.99 for a Brother laser printer. It was dropped off by a big truck that passes my house every day, even if I don’t order anything. This printer took a less circuitous route to get here, and a less chancy one as well. The sale was already a given. No local warehousing or storeroom. One click on my computer, and two days later, a new printer.
I know from past experiences that if anyone was wrong with this puppy, I could click twice and have a return authorization and a pre-paid shipping label, and it would go right back. Full refund. They’ll even pick it up at my door for me.
So why is Amazon so evil? It’s because they provide customer service, selection, and prices like no other. The bastards. It’s because they don’t pay their share of taxes. The bastards. It’s because bookstores are disappearing. The bastards.
It’s no wonder we hate them. The wonder is why we blame them, though. The absolute mystery is why we love Apple so much.
Now, I’m writing this on my Macbook Air, which I adore. I sleep closer to it than I do to my wife (leaving notes on her in the middle of the night isn’t wise). I love my iPod. I write in Pages. I already have a tab for Engadget’s liveblog of WWDC 2013 open in my browser, and that’s two days away! I’ll be getting a new Air on Monday the second the link goes live. I love Apple. A lot of people do. So why don’t we blame them and iTunes for the closure of music stores? Why don’t we rail against the tax dodging that puts Amazon (and everyone not in Greece) to shame? Why doesn’t it bug us that they make a lot more money than Amazon?
I think there is something subconsciously insidious at work here. How else to explain a love affair with a company whose products are built in plants ringed by suicide nets (Apple) while another company is vilified by John Green for being capitalist pigs (Amazon, with razor-thin profit margins)? I think it’s because the people we get our opinions from love one of these companies and hate the other. I think we forgive Apple for its sins because iPods and iPhones and Macs are such a huge part of our lives. We can’t imagine giving them up. It’s similar to how college students can rail against the unintended consequences of purchasing diamonds and furs and meanwhile get stoned on pot, which leads to heinous barbarisms south of the border. We can live without jewelry and expensive coats. But don’t take away our ganja. The rest is mental gymnastics and rationalizations. The same is done with the companies we adore. And loathe.
Before anyone claims that of course I love Amazon, I was a huge proponent of them even when I shouldn’t have been. I worked in an independent bookstore and defended them with every breath. Because of my wage ($10 an hour) and my paltry discount, I got a lot of my own reads from Amazon. And when customers came in looking for books that were out of print, I offered to get them used copies. I told them I could get them from Amazon, have them shipped to us, mark it up to cover our expenses, and this is how much it would be. Pretty soon, I had a list of regular customers who called just to speak to me with lists of books they wanted (a dozen at a time from one customer). I had to add Amazon to our computer system as a vendor (much to my boss’s dismay). And whenever a smile-face package came into receiving, they knew to send it along to me.
The reason I came into that job with a love of Amazon was because of the joy they’ve provided to me as a customer. Just like the printer that arrived today. (Which was probably better for the environment than me going to a few stores to look at various models). I’ve done a lot of shopping with them over the years, my wife as well. Free 2-day deliver is hard to beat. All of these advantages are why it’s weird that we blame Amazon or Apple for changes in our shopping culture. Music stores disappeared because of us. If it wasn’t Apple, it would’ve been someone else (just probably not Microsoft. Poor, Zune). Bookstores were going to feel a crunch from digitization, whoever came up with it first. The internet had already hit newspapers. The same was going to happen with books. It’s happened to every other industry.
Two things are to blame for these changes: The inevitability of technological progress, and our love of convenience and price. We are cheap motherfuckers. You can wish all day that people would stop being cheap and buy more fruits and vegetables and less Happy Meals, but caloric bang for the buck is going to win out. Blame McDonald’s if you want, but you’re fighting a losing cause. It’s better to figure out how to make healthy foods cheaper. But it’s probably easier to vilify a company that caters to our needs and ignore the fact that it would be a different company if the one we hate went out of business.
It wasn’t just John Green’s rant against Amazon that got me thinking about this, or my new printer, or the fact that I’m wearing Wonder Woman Underoos right now, it was actually comments I saw from some fellow writers on a blog post about the DOJ/Apple case. It was this and a prevailing attitude at BEA that Amazon is the enemy of book publishing. Why do authors hate the best chance they have of reaching (and pleasing) readers? Why do publishers hate their #1 distributor? Is it because Amazon is getting people to read more? Is it because they are keeping prices down so we buy more books? Or maybe because they are revolutionizing how we read, which does more of both these things? Why do we hate them and love Apple?
I think both companies deserve our respect. And both should listen to us if we demand that they install suicide nets or pay state taxes. The most important thing is that we stop vilifying those who cater to our demands. We’re the ones doing the demanding. That’s why on Monday, I’ll be getting a new writing tool, a MacBook Air. From Amazon, of course.