Thursday, 20 November 2014

The Amazon Void

Buying from Amazon is beginning to feel like hard work. Not that I'm in the habit of buying things that often. I'm a rare online buyer and I'm also pretty conflicted about Amazon's success.

Amazon is the elephant in the room of modern culture. It's often discussed in relatively insignificant ways, a trunk here and a voluminous grey buttock there. Rarely is it discussed as the single most important arbiter of taste in the early twenty first century. Their influence is all encompassing in books, music, film and even TV. They change the ways that companies operate and even how we live our lives. I fear that ebooks will destroy quality book publishing. I despise their long tail business economics that encourage writers to sell their books for a penny.  I worry about the monopoly they have. I miss having local bookshops. I really miss the enormous Borders Books that used to be in Warrington and which I'd visit every couple of weeks for a long coffee and a mooch. I dislike the working conditions exposed by Panorama and by this morning's Guardian. I dislike the way they now deliver on a Sunday and are helping to reshape our notions of the working week. With their new online TV service, they're slowly moving into an area where they might even start to challenge Sky or even the BBC. Next they'll be trying out drones, which might be the future but are a worrying development if the bloody things are going to start buzzing over our homes.

Really, there's no end to how far Amazon will affect our lives and I think it's only right to view them with some degree of cynicism.

Yet at the same time, like most people, I overlook all of that because they're cheap and quick to deliver. It was also recently my birthday and I found myself the owner of an Amazon gift voucher. Despite my reservations about Amazon, I'd normally spend a couple of days browsing the site to find the best use of a voucher but I'd also been having problems with a USB hub I'd previously bought from Maplin, which was periodically disconnecting and doing all manner of crazy things that were annoying me on a daily basis. Having USB problems and an Amazon voucher came together in one of those moments when I didn't think twice. I went straight to Amazon UK and bought myself an EasyAcc® USB 3.0 7 Port Charging and Data Hub. It arrived two days later and I haven't looked back. If it's possibly to have sexual feelings towards a USB hub then you might say that me and the hub have been more intimate than is good for a man who isn't built to USB 3.0 standards. Not only is it built like a Russian tank but it charges my tablet quicker than Samsung's official charger, at the same time as running half a dozen USB devices plugged into my PC.

The only problem is that Amazon now won't stop emailing me asking me about the hub. They want me to review the hub. They want feedback on their delivery of the hub. They want feedback on their feedback.

I understand why they're pestering me but I don't understand what possible benefit they think I could get from writing a review. I know other people like to write reviews (to some it seems almost as sad a hobby as blogging) and I accept that I sometimes find their reviews helpful. In the spirit of the community, I suppose I should write a review. However, where's the incentive? These companies won't sneeze without charging us the honour of witnessing it but they're happy to ask us to provide them with free content for their sites without even the smallest percentage discount off our next purchase.

It's not just Amazon who do this. Banks charge us for the slightest mistake yet we can never charge them when they make a cock up. Train companies regularly hit us with charges which cannot be challenged. Catch a peak time train with a cheap day ticket and you're lucky to get away with the skin on your back. However, when their service breaks down and you're stuck waiting two hours on a cold station, we can't do a damn thing. You can't get one bit of extra data from a mobile phone operator without them charging you for it yet we're supposed to sit down, devote time and energy to writing content for a website which earns the company billions?

Writing free content for one of the world's richest companies seems like a stupendously dumb thing to do. Yet so many people do it and there, I suppose, is the Amazon genius. It's the perfect business model.  They make the space that others fill. It's the very opposite of being creative. Filling in blank spaces  is the hardest thing in the world to do with any degree of competence. I have enough trouble filling this blog each day. I'm not about to start filling the Amazon void.

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