While for most columns I try to steer clear of the mighty Amazon, sometimes it’s simply not possible, because these guys are just everywhere.
Over the last couple of weeks, Amazon has announced a surge in turnover. From making a paltry $16.1 billion in the first quarter of 2013, in the same period this year its turnover has increased to a slightly-less-paltry $19.7 billion. In addition, in the same quarter it expanded its workforce by 7,000 new employees, bringing its total global workforce to 124,000.
But while Jeff Bezos frets over whether to buy his wife Monaco or St. Tropez for her birthday, there are other aspects to the story. In an in-depth piece from the Huffington Post, reporter Dave Jamieson talks to the “real Amazon drones” – the delivery drivers whose pay and conditions are less than ideal. In what is a solid piece of investigative journalism, Jamieson speaks to a number of those entrusted with getting Amazon’s packages to their customers, and shows how difficult it’s becoming for these people to make a decent living. As one interviewee puts it: “It’s like they want us to be employees, but they don’t want to pay for it.” This is, of course, only so Amazon can shamelessly maximise its cold-blooded profits OR assuredly provide the best value to its consumers. (take your pick)
In an event which may be entirely unconnected, last month Amazon also ended Free Super Saver delivery from the UK to Poland. This may not be especially earth-shattering news, unless like me you live in Poland and buy from Amazon UK. Free delivery on orders over £25 had been a big bonus of which I and many fellow expats took happy advantage. Now there’s no competition, Amazon pulled free delivery and announced it by sending its regular customers a terse email with this cute little bit of Orwellian double-speak: “We strive to provide our European customers with the greatest possible selection at low prices and hope to see you again soon.” Why yes, dearest Amazon, of course you do!
Elsewhere, in an article on salon.com, Laura Miller poses the question: is reading antisocial? Well, I’ve always been an antisocial misfit; it’s one of the reasons I took up writing in the first place, and it’s one of the reasons the Evil Mastermind keeps me chained to the floor of my dungeon apartment here at IU. Miller herself seems to come down more on the social side of reading and sharing great books, while I seldom recommend a book I’ve enjoyed on the basis that everyone’s tastes are different.
A few years ago I lost a friendship when a book my ex-friend said I’d love turned out to be a steaming pile of horse manure. I couldn’t believe he’d recommend such a trite, hack-written piece of junk to me. Obviously, he was offended at my passing judgement on his judgement of a book he absolutely adored, and to use a cliché, we drifted apart. Since then, I don’t recommend books I’ve enjoyed because it isn’t worth the aggravation (since you ask, the book in question was Roth’s atrocious The Plot Against America).
Finally for this edition, for you fellow Science Fiction readers and writers out there, here is a very nice article indeed from The Smithsonian, about how writers have been predicting the future. This well-written piece is one to settle down with a nice cup of your preferred beverage, and enjoy.
22 thoughts on “Amazon: Love it, hate it; you just can’t ignore it”
Great article, Chris. Thanks!
Thank you, J.P.!
Amazon is no different than all the other big corporations. They no longer want to hire anyone full time, nor pay benefits or pensions. Meanwhile the poor get poorer and can’t feed their families even working three part-time jobs. Parents have no time to raise their kids because they are working too many hours putting food on the table. And we wonder why we are jaded and our kids feel alienated.
Well, without wanting to get too political, tell me about!!!
Don’t confuse Amazon’s profits with its reach. Remember: Amazon is very different from most US corporations, in that it has less obligation toward profit. Most US companies are forced to shoot for higher profits each year – or stockholders may fire the board of directors and take on new management.
Bezos is quite happy if Amazon basically breaks even every year.
That puts it at an ENORMOUS advantage compared to most US companies. Amazon doesn’t have to make money beyond breaking even; everyone else does. That means Amazon can offer better deals, experiment more, and generally outpace all its competitors.
We’ve hit a point in business where a company being stockholder owned/managed is actually detrimental to its success. It’s fascinating stuff!
Good comment, Kevin, thanks. You’re right – I never understood why a private would issue shares just to raise financing to expand, when it then becomes tied to satisfying shareholders with ever-greater dividends. Mind you, that’s probably why I’m a writer now and a big, fat CEO in some corporation…
Also, the “solid piece of investigative reporting” was anything but.
It was a poorly researched but well worded hit piece.
LaserShip is CONTRACTED BY AMAZON – it’s not owned by Amazon. Amazon isn’t any more responsible for how it manages its employees than it is about how FedEx or UPS manage their employees. So the sob story about the guy working for LaserShip having to cover his own expenses? Not really cool, no – but nothing at all to do with Amazon.
It’s also worth noting that FedEx drivers average $35,000 a year salary – or about $16.80/hr, which is a lot less than the $28/hr that our LaserShip driver makes before his expenses come out. So yes – he’s paying his own expenses, but he’s being compensated for that.
FWIW, Lasership sounds like an abysmal company. Their employment practices suck, from what it says in the report.
But how did a shipping company being a bad employer get turned into an Amazon hit piece? Because Lasership is a tiny little nothing company, and an Amazon hit piece makes for a better headline. Weak.
Kevin, In some circles it’s called ADS (Amazon Derangement Syndrome). 🙂
As a rule I’m no fan of big corporations in general, but whenever I see one of these stories that purports to show that Amazon treats its employees poorly, it usually turns out that they treat those particular employees significantly better than the average mega-corporation does in a comparable job.
Where Amazon is tough is squeezing other businesses. Like Lasership. They’re in turn squeezing the drivers who, if I remember correctly, are independent businesses Lasership contracts with.
Thanks, Al. I don’t know about the US, but in the UK employee protection has been shredded over the last 30 years, and the subcontractor food-chain is massive business: e.g. the contractor charges the UK government £50 to change a light bulb, and the maintenance guy who does the work ends up with about 10p. The bulk of the money gets paid to shareholders in dividends by the subcontractor, and the maintenance guy doesn’t have sick pay, holiday or any benefits.
Fair comment – certainly that piece struck me as good investigative journalism. I think the point of it is not exceptional: Amazon is going to feed the subcontractors who will squash the little guy.
It’s probably different between the US, UK and Europe, since all of these places have different employment laws. Like any corporation, Amazon will do whatever it can to maximise its profits in the given territory.
I always love your snark-filled, newsy articles, but this one really hit the spot – the Smithsonian article just made me smile from ear to ear. Thank you. 🙂
Thanks, ac. It was high time someone listed all the cool things sci-fi writers predicted 🙂
And isn’t it great to have something as prestigious as the Smithsonian doing it!!! Made my little heart almost burst with pride. 😀
Mine too 🙂
Check out the legal cases Amazon have lost in the UK and the States. Check out their out of court settlements. And do Amazon play fair getting writers to sign up for a free promotion and then move the books to a dark basement once the promotion is over.
Love it, Chris. I didn’t like the Roth book either.
Hey Laurie, I totally don’t get how that guy is so popular *eye-rolling emoticon*
I think I heard that the Chinese online retailer Alibaba is starting to spread its tentacles, so Amazon may have some serious competition in the future.
Hmm, if I want my free delivery to Poland back, I’ll welcome the Chinese with an open wallet 🙂
The Amazon drones article was an eye-opener; thanks for providing the link. Amazon either played into the general public’s need to get products faster and faster, or they came up with the concept and hooked us. Either way, the need for lightning speed delivery and the cheapest of cheap prices ensures that someone in the process has to eat the real costs and narrow their profit margin.
And yet, my outrage hasn’t stopped me from shopping there, has it?
I’ve bookmarked the Smithsonian article for the weekend. Good post, Chris.
You’re spot on, Jo. No matter what Amazon does, we’re still gonna keep shopping there!
I promise not to tell you how much I enjoyed Sacré Bleu by Christopher Moore.
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