Yesterday was Cyber Monday and already Amazon has revealed many flowery statistics about all the ways it earned tens of millions of dollars in a matter of hours. Amazon does this every year–it’s how it reaffirms to the world its dominance. But in the background something else is afoot, and it’s been slowly gaining traction: a backlash.
On Vox’s The Goods, writer Rebecca Jennings wrote yesterday about the slow and steady movement of people and organizations realizing that Amazon may actually be bad.
“Having covered Black Friday for the past few years, I’m used to the infinite roundups of Amazon’s best Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals–which, to be sure, won’t be going anywhere as long as publishers are able to monetize them,” she wrote. “But what I hadn’t seen as much before this year were media companies openly discouraging readers from shopping at Amazon.” Two examples she brings up are The Ringer and Gizmodo–both of which wrote pieces this year dissuading its readers from using the e-commerce platform.
Similarly, individuals have joined the call too. Jennings points to numerous tweets–most of whom come from the loud but incestuous media twitter circle–of popular accounts imploring their followers to break ties with the company. (A search of Google Trends for the search query “cancel Amazon Prime” shows a spike last December, followed by a steady decline.) Other smaller creators have also tried to foster positive reinforcement in name of canceling Amazon Prime; online ceramicist and writer Marian Bull (who’s also, full disclosure, a friend of mine), held a brief sale on her Instagram imploring followers to part ways with the Amazon beast.
“[H]ey I fucking hate Jeff Bezos so if you cancel your prime subscription and DM me a screenshot I’ll send you a free cup,” she wrote. And it seemed to work: in less than a day Bull updated the post to say she reached her free mug cap.
This new, loosely organized movement does all seem to coalesce around the realization that Bezos has created a streamlined system of commerce that consumers believe they need, which, all the while, reifies a strain of capitalism that routinely disenfranchises everyone but those as the very top. (To be fair, this strain may actually be all of capitalism, but alas that inquiry is for another blog).
Bezos is the richest man in the world; his company brings in more money while reducing its ever-shrinking margins. That’s the business model. (Growing numbers of Prime members, who now pay $119 for a 12-month membership, have surely been helping.) People first thought he was nuts–for the first decade-plus, the company invested all its profits toward expansion, to the chagrin of many investors–but now he’s considered a god among entrepreneurs. He created an empire when no one was looking.
Meanwhile, those who keep his digital realm afloat–the people physically laboring in warehouses to ensure that Prime purchases get sent at the right schedule–are expected to work increased hours with poor compensation under Dickensian conditions. (In October, under political pressure, the company set a minimum wage for employees at $15 an hour.)
support the strike. don’t buy from amazon & cancel your prime membership. https://t.co/gSCjWPSPMD
— talia jane (@itsa_talia) November 23, 2018
Every so often we hear of protests or a shout from the whisper network, but this knowledge has become so commonplace that people just as soon forget about the labor system underpinning their expected two-day delivery. Amazon’s has become a modern day serfdom–bringing on more people worldwide to continue the platform’s constant expansion while also keeping the margins low.
Last week, thousands of European warehouse workers went on strike on Black Friday. There was some coverage about it, but it didn’t change the narrative much. Amazon also reportedly tried to call in police to break up one of the strikes in Spain. But, again, this didn’t raise many red flags in the U.S.
Meanwhile, Amazon’s strategy has been to stay quiet or outright deny–hoping it all will blow over. Take the Spanish police incident: the company maintained that multiple allegations by workers were all “ludicrous suggestions.” In years past, when others brought up bad business dealings, the company either denied or kept quiet. And, it should be said, this strategy worked! Nearly every PR headache Amazon incurred blew over because, well, people like their free shipping.
Now things are perhaps changing a little. More and more, others are calling for increased mindfulness when submitting to the e-commerce beast. Maybe this is because they are questioning Amazon’s commerce ubiquity, or maybe it’s because the company’s current expansion plans go beyond merely shopping for things. Amazon is trying to take over entertainment. Amazon is also slowly growing its ad network. It’s also been making its own devices for years. It already runs much of the internet’s cloud infrastructure. If all goes to plan, it will become The Business Centipede, which will look like Walmart sewn to the butt of Comcast but also to Google and Apple.
Related: Delete your account
In today’s economy, where the rich are getting richer and everyone below is either stagnating or struggling even more, it’s difficult to know what to do. Amazon thrives because it can capitalize on this economic-cum-psychic resignation, which helps perpetuate the problem.
But, for some, one small act of resistance–one precious measure of control–is simply refusing to participate.