In the standoff between Amazon and Hachette, the customer comes last

by Rachel Baker on May 27, 2014

This is a phenomenal article by Adam Lashinsky – a San Francisco-based editor-at-large for FORTUNE, covering Wall Street and Silicon Valley. Frankly, I’m not sure the article actually says very much. However, the links provide a good look at the battle between everyone (authors and publishers) and Amazon.

But let’s get back to the customer. Assume for a moment that Hachette is the bad guy here, that the smallest of the major book publishers is making unreasonable demands on Amazon. (This seems unlikely, but bear with me.) Even if Hachette were behaving badly, I’m scratching my head trying to figure out in what strange universe Amazon believes that making it difficult for its customers to buy Hachette’s products is consistent with “customer obsession.” I’m trying to understand how Amazon thinks this will help it “earn and keep customer trust.”

Neither side is saying very much, by the way. Amazon isn’t commenting, and Hachette is issuing platitudes. I asked both companies over the weekend how many titles are affected by the dispute, and neither would say.

At the beginning of this year I reviewed Brad Stone’s excellent book about Amazon, The Everything Store. Because Stone’s publisher is part of Hachette, he too is caught in the crossfire. In my review, I said the book “will make anyone who reads it, regardless of how much they love being an Amazon customer, feel icky about themselves for just how much they enjoy buying things at Amazon.” I for one feel ickier than ever. I buy something from Amazon several times a week. I choose the Kindle format for my e-books over Apple’s iBook format because the Kindle app works so damn well on Apple and Amazon devices alike.

As Farhad Manjoo noted recently in the Times, for years Amazon’s detractors have been warning about the dangers of market concentration. Now we’re seeing a vivid example of those dangers realized. I can’t imagine in the future recommending that anyone buy my book — or my future books — on Amazon if they have an alternative. Yet as for myself I suppose I’ll keep right on buying books and dental floss and gadgets from Amazon. And feeling icky about myself for it.

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