December 13, 2012

We hope to see you again soon (cue ominous laughter)


Creepy, maybe, but … wait. Not maybe. Definitely. Creepy, definitely.

Reading Business Insider is always an exercise in non-euclidean logic, but yesterday Slate blogger Matthew Yglesias pointed us to a doozy, a brief article on Amazon with reasoning so tortured it could be used to defeat robot adversaries in campy polyester-wardrobed science fiction films.

Yglesias’ own piece is in the usual style among business bloggers whenever Amazon is mentioned: reverence for their customer service, a puzzling blind-eye policy to their reprehensible labor practices, and inevitable bewilderment that they can get away with profitless policies for so long without a shareholder revolt. As evidence for their exemplary customer service, however, Yglesias links to a write-up by Business Insider founder Henry Blodget.

Blodget, it seems, rented a digital streaming version of the film Casablanca from Amazon the other night in order to rewatch just a couple of scenes in detail.

To watch Casablanca closely, I had to stop, start, rewind, fast-forward, and generally put Amazon’s “player” through its paces.

And, like a lot of streaming video players, it often seized up, forcing me to start again.

But, in the end, Amazon’s streaming service delivered a beautiful HD experience, and I got my story.

The next day he received an email from Amazon.


We noticed that you experienced poor video playback while watching the following rental(s) on Amazon Video On Demand:


We’re sorry for the inconvenience and have issued you a refund for the following amount(s):


…We hope to see you again soon.

Amazon Video On Demand Team

Blodget was impressed.

Amazon “noticed that I experienced poor video playback…”

Talk about putting customers first.

It’s certainly no mystery why Amazon continues to take over the world.

No, it’s not a mystery, and it has to do with vindictive business practices, horrendous labor policies, and selling a whole lot of shoes.

But let’s recap. Blodget rents a video. The video doesn’t work well. Let’s say the score stands at -10 points. The next day, he gets a refund. Thumbs up! The video was dodgy but he saw most of it, and for free. He’s only out some time and frustration, so let’s say -2 overall. But Blodget also got a very very creepy email, some “call is coming from inside the house” stuff. Thumbs all the way down. Let’s say that totals to something like -6,000, give or take a few heebie-jeebies.

But not for Blodget. He is unfazed by the evidence of surveillance, and apologetic for the initial problems with the movie rental. He comes out singing Amazon’s praises in his strange one sentence paragraphs.

Imagine this had been a book. Not an e-book. The kind that smells of tree murder. If you bought one of our books, and the printing were screwy on a few pages, or the trim was off, you wouldn’t be hugely appreciative if you were given a refund. It would be your due.

Imagine if, when you brought the book back for your refund to the store where you’d bought it, the bookseller said to you “Ah yes, I noticed you had some problems reading page 118 while I held my breath under your couch last night.” I do not believe you would then take to your business blog to title a piece “Just The Latest Example Of Why That Bookstore With The Creepy Couch Guy Is One Of The Most Successful Companies In The World.” I don’t know; I could be wrong.

Let’s be generous to Blodget and call this a lesson in the strange way that Amazon is perceived in so many tech circles. Expectation is part of the issue. I’m certainly not above that problem — the bookseller in me reads articles about Amazon looking for things to hate (they are not hard to find). Blodget, for whatever reason — indifference to labor rights, state and federal revenues, and the continued existence of a healthy literary culture, might be my diagnosis — approaches Amazon with a much more positive default setting.

In his case it may be partly personal: Blodget sees himself as Old Internet, and thus Jeff Bezos as a there-but-for-the indifference-of-god-go-I relatable figure. But he is not alone in this. So much of the internet tech blogerati revere Amazon, so much so, it seems, that even — as in this case — when Amazon spies on themselves screwing up, it is seen as a sign of stellar success.





Dustin Kurtz is the marketing manager of Melville House, and a former bookseller.