I have been questioning my relationship with and my dependence on the website Amazon.com for a while now. I read a first-hand article about what it’s like to work as an item picker in one of Amazon’s distribution warehouses, but I am unable to find the exact one I read. If you’re interested, search for “Amazon.com warehouse worker conditions.” The article made me horrified. If I had a timed job that made no allowances for variations in scheduling, I’d be a nervous wreck. People fired on the spot for not meeting quotas makes me ill.
Earlier this year, I followed the dispute between Amazon and publisher Hatchett over e-book pricing. This Forbes article does a great job explaining why any of us should care about this kind of thing. I’m not a reader of e-book because I refuse to do one more thing on the computer. For me, the convenience of a reader will never outweigh the delight in reading a variety of books that I can hold in my hands that does not need to be plugged in.
As a writer, it’s a concern. People think e-book should be cheaper because there’s no physical real estate. I understand that. But an author and their publishers put in the same amount of effort into creating and marketing the work you are reading, whether or not the text is digital or on a piece of paper. So sure, take out some cash. Five dollars. Seven dollars. A book selling for $19.99 should sell for $14.99 or $12.99 as an e-book. To put a $10 cap on all e-books makes no sense. You wouldn’t pay for a romance novel at the same rate as a biology text, so why should every e-book be priced exactly the same? Just as in the physical world, the content should be part of what drives the price.
Today, I read a Salom.com article about four ways that Amazon’s aggressive tactics are crushing local economies. When I lived in Cambridge, MA, buying books from local-owned businesses was much easier than from where I am living now on Long Island, NY. Since my move, I have relied heavily on Amazon for a lot of things. Reading this Salon.com article reminded me that it’s not just employees and it’s not just my pocket that are being affected, but economies are at stake, which affects a far greater number of people.
Is my $99 Amazon prime membership worth all this? This is on the level of having all our goods made in China because they are cheap. When I go to Macy’s, it sure doesn’t feel cheap to my wallet. Cheap for whom? Business leaders claim it is cheaper for the consumer, but I think that’s not the whole story. The goods are cheaply made, but not always cheaply sold.
At some point, we need to reevaluate whether the prices we pay only matter at the register when the cash leaves our wallets or the plastic gets swiped if the results are that entire communities are depressed and devastated because there are no good-paying jobs to be had.
Maybe we wouldn’t need to earn as much if we didn’t chase cheap goods whose sole purpose is to be consumed once. The sheer speed of the consumption of goods in life means we don’t enjoy what we have. When we don’t , it’s almost like we never had it in the first place. Maybe it means I can’t get what I want fast enough. I’m not sure that’s all bad.