apple eye.jpgI am probably an anomaly in the digital age. I do not own any Apple products (except the free version of QuickTime that has been forced on me) and have no plans to acquire any Apple products. I am not particularly impressed by the iPad or the iPod, and see the iPhone as just a money sinkhole.

I used to think how great it would be to be able to build a computer to my own specifications and use the MacOS, but that never occurred because Apple doesn’t permit it. Of course, that was also in the days when I believed the hype about how much better Macs were than PCs.

Something else I never do is buy from Amazon. I occasionally buy from independent sellers who are using the Amazon platform, but not from Amazon itself. A very long time ago I did buy a few things from Amazon, but the last time I did so, was so many years ago, I can’t even remember when it last happened.

As I was drinking my morning tea and reading the newspaper press release about the new iPhone, it occurred to me that the only two consumer companies I intentionally avoid patronizing are Amazon and Apple, which got me thinking about why I avoid them. In the final analysis, it was because each company is the flip-side of the same coin and neither is different from the other — in both instances the company leaders are people who I do not admire and do not trust and both companies want to control too much of me.

In Amazon’s case, I simply do not approve of Bezos’ naked attempts to mold the publishing industry to his view. I think this is ultimately anticonsumer and only good for Bezos. The deception is that Bezos presents himself and his company to the consumer as if they are their champion because they want lower pricing. Unfortunately, lower pricing is not a panacea for all of mankind’s ills — just look at how rock bottom pricing from China has affected us, or how BP’s cost-cutting attempts in the Gulf of Mexico will affect us — and cost us – for decades. Similarly, having been on all sides of the publishing equation except that of author during my quarter century in publishing, I can see how concentration of market power and pricing power in the hands of a single person like Bezos could be devastating to readers — perhaps not today or tomorrow, but not so far down the line. It also irks me that Amazon insists on a closed system for its ebooks, refusing to adopt the ePUB standard and a common DRM scheme. Consequently, I have chosen not to support Bezos’ quest to dominate publishing and do not buy from Amazon.

Apple, however, presents a slightly different problem. In some market segments it is dominant and has set the ground rules, but that really doesn’t bother me because there are any number of powerful competitors to Apple who could bounce Apple from its perch. The problem with Apple is Jobs and his insistence on closed systems and his arbitrariness (for a recent take on the arbitrariness theme, see the Ars Technica column “Apple’s ‘Evil/Genius’ Plan to Punk the Web and Gild the iPad”).

Maybe Adobe’s Flash is problematic; maybe that political video is insulting; maybe that book uses too many 4-letter words. Maybe, maybe, maybe — except in Jobs’ world where it is definitely, absolutely, and without question. I fundamentally object to Jobs telling me what I can and cannot do. Why should every application for the iPad or iPhone require Jobs’ approval? I bought the hardware not a nanny — or did I? (And the SDK kit for application developers is as controlling as Jobs can make it.)

Jobs assumes that the experience that I want to get from an Apple product is the experience that he wants me to get; that I have no idea of what is a good experience or a bad experience. I do not want to encourage the control mania that Jobs seeks to exert; consequently, I do not buy Apple products. If I want to read James Joyce’s Ulysses, I do not want to first check whether it is on Jobs’ approved list — I just want to read it, 4-letter words and all.

I also do not want to encourage Jobs to think that I acquiesce to his power grab over hardware and applications I buy. Today, Jobs permits Barnes & Noble and Amazon to have iPad applications, but will he permit them tomorrow if he discovers that they are making 90% of the ebook sales that are being made to iPad owners? It would be more true to form for him to find some reason why the applications need to be banned or for him to revise the operating system to make the applications incompatible.

I know that Apple devotees believe that when you buy an Apple-built computer or other Apple product you are buying the best; but that isn’t really true. You are buying the best that Apple has and the various components do work well together, but the individual pieces are not necessarily the best available for what I want to do. For example, few video gamers would put an Apple at the top of their wishlist to play games. More importantly, at least for me, is that Jobs has decided this is how the hardware will be configured and who can write applications for his operating system and I will buy it whether it truly meets my needs or not. Jobs wants me to adapt to him, yet one would think that in the consumer age the seller would adapt to the buyer.

In the end, it boils down to arrogance. Both Jobs and Bezos arrogantly believe that they know what is best for me and either I agree or they will take home their ball so no one can play. In Apple’s case, I wonder how many people look beyond the shiny new toy; in Amazon’s case, I wonder how many people look beyond the price; in both cases, I wonder how many people have read George Orwell’s 1984 and recognized that it might apply to something other than nations.

Editor’s Note: the above is take, with permission, from Rich Adin’s An American Editor blog. PB


  1. “In Amazon’s case, I simply do not approve of Bezos’ naked attempts to mold the publishing industry to his view. I think this is ultimately anticonsumer and only good for Bezos.”

    I’m having a really hard time understanding how “all books are $9.99 or less, and we give authors more money per book than any other publisher” is anticonsumer.

  2. It’s a false — and ultimately unfair and, worse, unreasonable — comparison: Apple = Amazon in corporate behaviour and attitude toward the consumer.

    While it’s true Amazon has a DRM “closed system” available for publishers to adopt at their choosing, the Kindle itself will play any mobi files, DRM or not. And publisher’s are free to release their e-books in any other formats, including ePub. Amazon has striven to make its DRM books available on a wide variety of platforms (almost always as free software). It pays the freight for free 3G around the world in perpetuity for those adopting its hardware; and anyone adding Kindle books to an iPad or netbook or Blackberry can do so without cost other than whatever the hardware vendor / 3rd party data provider charges. In most cases, books can be synced across multiple platforms for free.

    And while Amazon is a large player as a book seller — a position it has earned by being the most customer friendly online store on the planet and investing in the most robust database backend of any consumer-facing corporation I am acquainted with — Amazon certainly does not control the book publishing or book distribution system in any country, let alone around the world. In fact, its determination to stay online only automatically ensures it can never “dominate and control” the industry.

    It seems to me it has also treated authors rather well with transparent pricing models and tools to help authors publish and prosper.

    It’s fine if Rich Adin has a personal hate on for Amazon — it’s a free country. However his views of Amazon seem churlish and and would likely be evaluated by a more fair minded objective viewer of the facts as “unfounded”.

  3. I joined Amazon as an aspiring writer after I graduated with a liberal arts degree in literature. I worked at Amazon for 6.5 years before leaving for a startup. Here’s what I remember before Amazon:

    – Most bookstores, even independent ones, were small and carried a high degree of overlap in their inventory. If you were a small publisher or author, good luck getting your wares placed anywhere. By contrast, Amazon had limitless virtual space for inventory. Any author (even self-published) or small publisher could get their books for sale to real customers.

    – If you wanted a book that was out of print, there were services to track them down through book stores but they were expensive and not very thorough. By contrast, Amazon’s marketplace made it possible to track down a much larger percentage of the books I was searching for. As a former literature major, the power of this book market was incredible; it’s absolutely mind-numbing now.

    I went back and worked for Amazon for another few years recently (I’m not there now) and I have to tell you that internally, the dialog is always about how to get more selection in front of more customers at a reasonable price. It’s very customer-centric. The moral question posed on this article seems to hinge on where the profits from each sale should flow. Do you believe the publishing industry lays claim to a huge chunk, regardless of if their value in the eco-system has changed over time? Authors negotiate with publishers who in turn negotiate with Amazon. Pressure is applied at every level.

    As to the claim that Amazon is attempting to rule publishing through adding DRM to all their titles, I call “poppycock!” Amazon would gladly offer books non-DRM’d, as they do for music, if the publishers weren’t insistent on forcing that travesty on their book sales. The moment that one of the big publishers agrees to offer non-DRM digital titles, I think Amazon will gladly comply.

    And now, I think I’ve said enough about this article, which was clearly written as link-bait. Rule #1 of blogging, after all, is to pick a fight with the media darlings if you want to generate traffic, even if your article is not well reasoned or even factual.

  4. Mr Adin–And yet, the consumers keep flocking to Apple and Amazon. Bezos and Jobs must be doing something right as far as consumers are concerned. But if ya don’t like ’em, don’t buy their products. That’s how our form of capitalism works. You can call them arrogant, too, if you like. But get off your high horse; this post is as pretentious and arrogant as I have seen lately, and much more annoying because of it’s self-rightousness. At least Bezos and Jobs offer something people can find of value in their arrogant view of the world.

  5. Jobs’ approach has always been to try to pre-package the user experience and limit it to fit his taste. To a lot of people this is good and proper and they vote with their money.
    To others (me) personal control (and value) trumps whatever merits this constrained experience might offer. Just a matter of personal choice.
    I have no problem with Jobs’ vision and approach and those that like it (my brother, a close friend, others) can enjoy it with my blessings. (For what that might be worth.)

    Where I take issue with Apple is when their supporters insist that for them to be right and happy, I have to be wrong. Too much zero-sum thinking from those guys. That, and the breathless hype gets annoying after a while. Like three minutes…
    In the words of William Shatner: “Get.A.Life!”

    I take similar issue with the Amazon haters.
    Amazon is a discount retailer.
    (A retailer with a massive tech company in the boiler room, but still a retailer.)
    And what do retailers do? They sell. As much as they can to as many people as they can.
    They follow the money.
    Do the BPHs have money to give to Amazon? No.
    Do consumers have money to give to Amazon? You betcha.
    It’s that simple.

    Amazon also has a vision of their own; find out what consumers want and sell it to them. They sell books, yes; they also sell cosmetics and electronics and clothes and food.
    It is no accident that they were once sued by WalMart for recruiting too many of their middle-managers away.
    They are about selling, plain and simple.

    Don’t want to buy from them? Give your money to B&N or Borders/Kobo, or or Newegg or WalMart.
    No biggie.
    Just don’t pretend that the company is anything but a bunch of guys trying to make a buck, okay?

    Cause as long as you keep that in mind it’s not hard to figure out where they’re coming from and why they do what they do; it’s not about power. It’s about money.

    And when it comes to the big publishing houses, Amazon *does* pose a threat. But not the one everybody harps about. Amazon is *never* going to monopolize publishing, even if they wanted to. Because the barriers to entry are *falling* faster than the old Berlin Wall. In the old days pined for by the old elitist foggies (and others 😉 ) only the few could afford to publish–freedom of the press existed only for those who could afford it. There was real power in being a publisher and deciding which product came to consumers and which languished.

    Publishing was a top-down business; Publishers at the top, consumers at the bottom. “Take what we give you and shut up!” (Very Jobs-ish, actually. No surprise he gets along fine with Old Media like Disney and the NYT crowd.) Not today. Today the world is upside down from that view. Power no longer makes money, money makes power. And consumers have the money so Amazon caters to *them* not the old-time Big Publishers.
    And *that* is why the BPHs have a problem with Amazon; Amazon is (very publicly!) asking them to justify their existence. To explain themselves and their practices; to sing for their supper. And since most of the big publishers are tone deaf…

    Chill winds are blowing and they blame Amazon for tacking with the wind. Notice how the more the BPHs bluster the bolder Amazon gets? The emperor *is* nekkid! And not very buff. Amazon politely suggested an exercise regime and the BPHs reacted by trying to go get seconds. Time will tell how that plays out; maybe a heart attack?

    Lumping Amazon with Apple is way facile; both are big companies with names that start with ‘A’. Both also make a lot of money selling white electronics. But otherwise they couldn’t be more different.

    Apple is all about Steve Jobs *telling* us what to do and what to buy; Amazon is about *asking* us what we want to buy. (Just look at their trademark emails; very butler-ish, very subservient; “As somebody who has in the past done xxx, we think you might want to yyy.”) Big difference in tone and intent.

    Apple sells a vision, a lifestyle, a message: “You are S-P-E-C-I-A-L because you do what I tell you to do.”

    Amazon just sells whatever you want to buy; they’re not picky. Or pushy. Not to consumers.

    And that’s fine by me.
    As long as they know their place… 😉

  6. Rich Adlin’s is the sort of perspective that is valuable: that of somebody outside the mainstream. Because he doesn’t do what most people do (most, at least in terms of buying books from Amazon), he sees things from an outsider’s position, and can sometimes add insights that the rest of us, inside the box, simply can’t see.

    On the other hand, this sort of perspective can also lead to complete misunderstanding of the average book-buyer or reader’s point of view. And so it’s always good when such an out-of-the-mainstream person takes stock of what makes him different from the rest of us, so he can understand himself how his opinions will lead him to make predictions as to the future of publishing and ebooks that are completely wrong, simply because most readers don’t share his obsessions or narrow point of view.

    I guess we, as readers on the ebook scene, must always read Mr Adlin’s opinions with this in mind.

    — asotir

  7. Other respondents have pretty much said it all. But I took exception to this throwaway line: “…just look at how rock bottom pricing from China has affected us..”

    As someone old enough to remember the protectionist days when genuinely good products were blocked from entering the country and cheap local rubbish was sold at a staggering profit, I am all for ‘rock bottom pricing’, wherever it comes from; and if it forces the locals to lift their game, so much the better.

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