Amazon is a brutal beast

Amazon is a brutal beast of a company. Like most companies that grow too large, it has become unsustainable. Its seams are showing, and they’re beginning to tear.

Of course, any time a company grows too large or begins to prefer profits over people, this tends to occur. The same has happened with Wal-Mart. Both are shining examples of what results when an organization gets too big. They stop caring. They put less effort into the products they produce, they treat their employees worse, and they have far less concern for the customer.

Behemoth companies rationalize their behavior by saying that they simply need to think about their bottom line. They need to consider stockholders. And while this is certainly true, I don’t believe they need to do it to such an extent. It seems obvious to me that scraping for pennies often severely damages the brand in the process, even irreparably in many cases.

As far as Wal-Mart goes, my personal experience with them has been riddled with lackadaisical customer service, run-down stores, inferior products, and inferior deals. As a result, I try to avoid them as much as possible. I go out of my way to avoid buying food there, and if I need a home goods item, I prefer Target. I can’t see this changing.

But my personal experience with Amazon has been far worse. When I launched my debut novel, Things Grak Hates, I had so many hassles with Amazon that I would have walked away if they didn’t hold a virtual monopoly.

The way they handled support tickets was atrocious. Their employees often responded with half-hearted answers that had such horrible grammar I couldn’t understand them. And they would often close those tickets immediately, not waiting to find out if the answer helped. That is, if they responded at all. Many support tickets went unanswered until the third or fourth time I prodded them about it.

But that wasn’t as bad as the calls. Trying to sort things out by phone was far worse. They gave me a run-around each time, transferring me between departments and keeping me on hold for 15-20 minutes at each stop. When I would finally land at what they believed was the correct department (usually after an hour and a half or more), the person on the other end often couldn’t speak English. But they wouldn’t have any real solutions, just more run-around and apologies that they didn’t have an answer.

Ah, but that wasn’t the worst part. I had decided to place my own listing of author copies of Things Grak Hates, thinking that by offering signed copies, people might have more incentive to buy. I tried to set it up well before the release date so I could sort out any kinks in advance. But my listing kept getting automatically set to blocked. This wasn’t making any sense, though, because Amazon had already begun to sell my book, months before the release.

So I opened a support ticket. And another. And several more, followed by numerous phone calls. After weeks of dealing with their pitiful excuse for customer service, I finally got an actual answer that made sense. They told me that their system automatically holds listings until the release date, but everything should be fine after that. Well, it almost made sense.

“But,” I wondered aloud, “then why are you already selling it?”

This launched another scramble of confusion, and the person asked if they could call me back. Naively, I agreed. Obviously, they never called back. So I opened another support ticket. And another. And called again. And again. And after another couple of weeks, I finally got an answer. They informed me that my book was being sold early because the distributor had already made the information available. If I wanted that corrected, I would have to talk to my distributor.

I quickly checked their page and confirmed that the information said the book wasn’t released yet. I pointed that out. They got confused. I reminded them that their system automatically held my listing, so the software is clearly capable of determining the correct release date.

“Your listing was blocked?” they asked, oblivious to my previous difficulties with their company.

I hung up the phone.

In the end, I wasted swaths of precious hours and probably developed an ulcer or two. Amazon continued to sell my book early, and raked in a solid number of pre-orders in those first months. They made around $10 per book. I made less than $1 for each sale.

So, what’s the moral of this story? Avoid corporate giants like the plague. They’re lumbering oafs that are too large to see what’s going on at a given part of their body. As a result, they implement horrible measures aimed at seeing around blind corners while keeping costs low. But the casualties are always the little people who deal with them.

Until authors have the ability to retain the vast majority of our own profits, we will continue to be discarded like this. But until we have a strong united front, we’ll continue to need these giants. They’re an unavoidable part of our novel startups for the time being. So use them for now, but do it sparingly. And let’s see if we can work together to build something better for the future.

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