April 15, 2014

Do Amazon employees feel naughty using indie bookstores?


It's not like Uncle Jeff has built an entire business model based on watching your every move, right? (photo by Steve Jurvetson)

It’s not like Uncle Jeff has built an entire business model based on watching your every move, right?
(photo by Steve Jurvetson)

Amazon employees are frequenting indie bookstores in Seattle, the New York Times reports, and they may have something to do with the greater well-being of book culture across that city.

“As Amazon has exploded with growth, hiring thousands of tech workers at its downtown headquarters and helping bolster the Seattle economy, local bookstore owners have seen a surprising new side of the company they loved to hate,” writes Kirk Johnson. “Many Amazon employees, it turns out, are readers who are not shopping at the company store.”

As evidence he offers the Elliott Bay Book Company‘s strikingly successful year, and Tom Nissley‘s new venture into indie bookstore ownership after a long stint as an editor for Amazon.

The piece is predicated on a whiff of irony—there’s a satisfaction in thinking about Amazon employees finding joy in the very thing their company has sought so relentlessly to kill. But how common is it really? And do they find it as thrilling as we do? We reached out to some Amazon employees for comment.

Employee 1:

“Oh definitely I like shopping at indie bookstores. Drug stores, too. Also plumbing supply places. We sell a lot of medicated butt wipes on Amazon, and rotorooters to help unclog the medicated butt wipes. There’s like this nervous feeling when you’re in there fingering a gasket, it’s hard to describe, kind of like sneaking out of school as a kid. You have to be careful though, because Jeff is eerily quiet. Like, I think he wears slippers or he floats, maybe? Is that possible? You’ll turn around and he’ll just be there, half hidden behind the caulk. Then he opens his mouth and laughs and everything goes dark. It’s happened to me like three times.”

Employee 2:

“I don’t really shop at indie bookstores, no. What I like is helping to pay for crumbling roads. You know, because we’ve worked so hard to deny states the sales tax that we owe them and on which their infrastructure relies. The best is going over bridges. I’ll, like, leave a few extra quarters when I pay the toll. It gives me butterflies in my stomach, kind of like the downward slope on a roller coaster. I know our company policy is just to milk the public sphere for our private gain, and I guess that’s why paying that extra bit makes me feel so tingly. But you have to check your back seat before you pull out of the parking lot. A couple of times I’ve found Jeff hiding back there under a blanket. He tried to play it off, said he was ‘disrupting’ how blankets work. I wouldn’t mind so much but I swear my car doors were locked.”

Employee 3:

“Sure, I shop at indie bookstores sometimes, but my real secret thrill is to fund carbon sequestration. Since we all know that Amazon Web Services is responsible for massive use of dirty energy at our server farms in Virginia, it’s just generally understood here that a big part of Amazon company culture is to bring about a climate change nightmare the swiftest way we can. Also broomball. We play broomball and acidify the oceans. So, just to be contrary, sometimes I’ll plant a tree in an empty lot. It makes me feel good and, you know, kind of bad or defiant. I want to do more, like send a check to rainforest defense funds or buy my home electricity from renewable sources, but almost every night lately I’ve been hearing loud banging and weird laughter from the end of my block where the mailbox is. I’m not saying it’s Jeff down there digging through my outgoing mail. That’d be crazy, right? There’s no way. It’s probably just raccoons. Bald raccoons.”

If there’s one lesson to be taken from the Times piece and these revealing interviews it’s something that we don’t repeat here often enough: many Amazon employees, even at very high levels, are wonderful individuals and likely care deeply about books and bookstores. It’s the culture of Amazon that makes it a menace. Also, always check those back seats, people.


Dustin Kurtz is former marketing manager of Melville House.