Amazon is undoing decades of efforts to convince everyone that the power it holds over book sales is good for consumers. It’s done so by removing pre-order buttons, increasing shipping times, and reducing the discount it offers on titles published by the Hachette Book Group because of a dispute neither company is willing to acknowledge.
Everyone from the New York Times’ Farhad Manjoo to Bloomberg Businessweek’s Brad Stone, who wrote a book about Amazon that was published by Hachette and thus might be the root of this problem, has decried Amazon’s actions. The company has been criticized for the influence it has over the publishing industry in the past, but its claim that consumers always come first has allowed others to come to its defense. Now, as Manjoo wrote, the critics are proving right.
Amazon didn’t take over the publishing industry by force. It was given the keys to the kingdom by consumers and authors who thought it would make life easier for them. Now that it’s doing battle with Hachette, Amazon has forgotten its promises so it can turn its loyal customers into weapons that will probably force Hachette to surrender this fight. Like other companies before it, Amazon is demonstrating the technology industry’s commitment to money over ideology.
As I wrote earlier this month, Netflix demonstrated its hypocrisy by making deals that threaten the Internet it claims to cherish so much. Mozilla also announced that it would trade its ideals for user numbers by adding oft-criticized technologies to its Firefox browser:
This isn’t a new concept. Most people know that companies have a commitment to themselves first and to their supposed ideals second. But in a time when tech companies are fighting laws and regulations beside advocates who don’t directly benefit from their activism — whether it’s the fight against intelligence agencies or the call for the Federal Communications Commission to defend the free Internet — it’s worth remembering that there are no white knights riding.
There are only false saints willing to appeal to consumers’ ideals while continuing to cater to those who wish to make those ideals hollow in every way imaginable. Netflix will make deals with companies like Comcast. Mozilla will add features it would prefer not to so people can watch videos. There are no corporate ideals — there are only user numbers and balance sheets.
Netflix and Mozilla dedicate themselves to a free and open Internet so long as that dedication doesn’t jeopardize their products. Now it seems that Amazon’s commitment to consumer happiness, which is what allowed the company to become so large in the first place, can be forgotten whenever it wants to turn those loyal customers into a captive army against whomever it happens to be fighting that day. As I wrote in that earlier post: there are no white knights.
[Photo by Richard Masoner]