Two Horrid Wall Street Journal Stories Show What a Malefactor Amazon Has Become

By Lambert Strether of Corrente

Two recent articles in the Wall Street Journal, “Amazon Has Ceded Control of Its Site. The Result: Thousands of Banned, Unsafe or Mislabeled Products” and “Amazon Changed Search Algorithm in Ways That Boost Its Own Products“, show what a wretched hive of scum and villainy Amazon has become. (Let me note at the outset that here, as with the Boeing saga, we’re seeing really solid reporting from the WSJ, reporting that really puts WaPo and the New York Times to shame, as the Financial Times also regularly does, albeit mostly on the analytical side. Why, oh why, can’t we have a better press…). I’m not sure how much value I can add to the material, except to continually drop my jaw in creative and/or spectacular ways, but we haven’t looked at either article in depth, and I think that is useful to readers in and of itself. So I’ll start with the first story in time (“Amazon Has Ceded…”) and then move on to “Amazon Changed Search Algorithm.”

From the lead of “Amazon Has Ceded…”

Many of the millions of people who shop on see it as if it were an American big-box store, a retailer with goods deemed safe enough for customers.

In practice, Amazon has increasingly evolved like a flea market. It exercises limited oversight over items listed by millions of third-party sellers, many of them anonymous, many in China, some offering scant information.

I can’t find (readers may do better) any scholarly work on whether a flea market is an Akerlovian lemon market, but I would expect that the information asymmetry between buyer and seller would make it so. Of course, this asymmetry is to some extent mitigated by reviews (assuming they’re not fake), which leads to the pleasing conclusion that Amazon’s market capitalization (which, AWS aside, ultimately depends on its reputation for being a reliable venue in which to shop) rests on nothing more technical or brain-genius level than being a good, old-fashioned content provider. Also, maybe that long, long supply chain to China has some unexpected downsides?

The scope of problems with third-party products is significant (i.e., more than the flimsy off-brand cables and bad chargers I’ve managed to buy over the years):

A Wall Street Journal investigation found 4,152 items for sale on Inc. ‘s site that have been declared unsafe by federal agencies, are deceptively labeled or are banned by federal regulators—items that big-box retailers’ policies would bar from their shelves. Among those items, at least 2,000 listings for toys and medications lacked warnings about health risks to children.

Sounds like those baby formula manufacturers have moved on. More:

“Safety is a top priority at Amazon,” says a spokeswoman.

Sounds like Boeing. More:

Amazon uses automated tools that scan hundreds of millions of items every few minutes to screen would-be sellers and block suspicious ones from registering and listing items, using the tools to block three billion items in 2018, she says.

The question isn’t how many items are blocked; the question is how many got through. Especially the items that were blocked, tried again, and got through the second time:

Within two weeks of Amazon’s removing or altering the first problematic listings the Journal identified, at least 130 items with the same policy violations reappeared, some sold by the same vendors previously identified by the Journal under different listings.

I’ll skip the many amusing and well-documented horror stories — like 4,510 balloons sold without choking-hazard warnings, or the 1,412 electronics listings falsely claimed to be UL certified, or the brightly-painted musical instruments contaminated with lead, or the magnetic toys that rip abdominal tissue, or the paint strippers linked sudden death from toxic fumes — to get to the essential question: Who’s responsible? Unfortunately:

Amazon declined to make executives available for interviews.

Shorter: “[family blog] you, Wall Street Journal reporter!” Given that the executives are hiding under their desks and chewing their hands, we might surmise that they are responsible. Here, however, the WSJ is far more circumspect. Piecing together snippets from the article:

Amazon’s struggle to police its site adds to the mounting evidence that America’s tech giants have lost control of their massive platforms—or decline to control them.

Actually, firms don’t control platforms, or decline to; individuals do. That’s why we have executives!

This is emerging as among the companies’ biggest challenges…. Amazon’s common legal defense in safety disputes over third-party sales is that it is not the seller and so can’t be responsible under state statutes that let consumers sue retailers. Amazon also says that, as a provider of an online forum, it is protected by the law—Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996—that shields internet platforms from liability for what others post there.

Lol, Amazon’s status as a content provider is working out very well for them, isn’t it?

Third-party sellers are crucial to Amazon because their sales have exploded—to nearly 60% of physical merchandise sales in 2018 from 30% a decade ago, Amazon says…. In its early days, Amazon operated a lot like big-box stores, largely in direct control of its supply and distribution chains. Customers got products directly from Amazon or a known retail partner such as Toys “R” Us. In 2001, third-party sellers made up 6% of Amazon’s physical merchandise sales, company data show.

The same year, the company articulated a core philosophy that helped spur the growth of third-party sellers. According to published company histories, founder Jeff Bezos and other officials scribbled an image of a “virtuous cycle”: It depicted how third-party vendors would want to sell to Amazon’s customers and would add more products at less expensive prices, attracting even more customers and more sellers.

Wait, we left out the part where every sale means money for Amazon. For example:

At one point in 2013, some Amazon employees began scanning randomly selected third-party products in Amazon warehouses for lead content, say people familiar with the tests. Around 10% of the products tested failed, one says. The failed products were purged, but higher-level employees [how high?] decided not to expand the testing, fearing it would be unmanageable if applied to the entire marketplace, the people familiar with the tests say. Amazon declined to comment on the episode.

“Unmanageable,” meaning “unprofitable,” I would guess. Anyhow, folks, that’s as far as we get on who’s responsible: “founder Jeff Bezos and other officials,” and “higher-level employees.” Not a lot of documents or memos or interviews on there though, in great contrast to the terrific reporting done on the products. So, I guess we’ll have to wait for depositions? Which will doubtless show that Amazon, as a firm and a “platform,” hasn’t “ceded control” at all; it’s just controlling for the metric it wants to optimize: Profit. Shocking, I know.

The second story, “Amazon Changed Search Algorithm in Ways That Boost Its Own Products,” is less horrid in that it’s not about Amazon isn’t running a flea market that sells lead-contaminated musical instruments to parents with toddlers. So there’s that. The lead: Inc. has adjusted its product-search system to more prominently feature listings that are more profitable for the company, said people who worked on the project—a move, contested internally, that could favor Amazon’s own brands.

Late last year, these people said, Amazon optimized the secret algorithm that ranks listings so that instead of showing customers mainly the most-relevant and best-selling listings when they search—as it had for more than a decade—the site also gives a boost to items that are more profitable for the company.

So, for this story, we have sources (employees or contractors) who actually worked inside Amazon. Dare we hope for similar sourcing on a follow-up to “Amazon Has Ceded”?

The Amazon search team’s view was that the profitability push violated the company’s principle of doing what is best for the customer, the people familiar with the project said. “This was definitely not a popular project,” said one. “The search engine should look for relevant items, not for more profitable items.”

The whole thrust of the first story is that Amazon does not have a “principle of doing what is best for the customer.” How can running a flea market selling products that rip abdominal tissue be best for the customer? So I don’t understand why this second story ticks off the developers, but the first one doesn’t. More:

The A9 team—named for the “A” in “Algorithms” plus its nine other letters—controls the all-important search and ranking functions on Amazon’s site…. Executives from Amazon’s retail divisions have frequently pressured the engineers at A9 to surface their products higher in search results, people familiar with the discussions said…. Amazon’s private-label team in particular had for several years asked A9 to juice sales of Amazon’s in-house products…

Now here comes the bureaucratic maneuvering, the change in reporting relationships:

For years, A9 had operated independently from the retail operations, reporting to its own CEO. But the search team, in Silicon Valley about a two-hour flight from Seattle, now reports to retail chief Doug Herrington and his boss Jeff Wilke —effectively leaving search to answer to retail.

And with the change in reporting, pressure change to the algo:

Amazon retail executives, especially those in its private-label business, wanted to add a new variable for what the company calls “contribution profit,” considered a better measure of a product’s profitability.

Enter Bud from Legal:

Amazon’s lawyers rejected the overt addition of contribution profit into the algorithm, pointing to a €2.42 billion fine ($2.7 billion at the time) that Alphabet Inc.’s Google received in 2017 from European regulators who found it used its search engine to stack the deck in favor of its comparison-shopping service

The executives tell the developers to code around the legalities:

Variables added to the algorithm would essentially become what one of these people called “proxies” for profit: The variables would correlate with improved profitability for Amazon, but an outside observer might not be able to tell that.

Hope they documented how the proxies work. BWA-HA-HA-HA-HA!!!!!

And the whole mess circles round and round and is finally emitted by Public Relations:

Amazon’s Ms. Newman said: “When we test any new features, including search features, we look at a number of metrics, including long term profitability, to see how these new features impact the customer experience and our business as any rational store would, but we do not make decisions based on that one metric.”

No, it’s just that “that one metric” is of over-riding importance when the executives say it is. And it sounds like working in a cube is just as hellish as working in the warehouse.

* * *

Amazon should really go back to selling books, now that independent bookstores have proved unkillable. Books don’t choke babies or throw off toxic fumes. Or maybe we should just nationalize it, so corrupt executives don’t suborn decent developers. I mean, is this the sort of “innovation” we need? Oh, and as it turns out Amazon was built not just on regulatory arbitrage from evading state and local taxes, it was built on regulatory arbitrage from evading product safety regulation that brick-and-mortar stores routinely do. But now Amazon has giant Pentagon contracts and the boss owns his own vanity press. So it’s all good. Woot woot!

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Geo

    A lot to digest here… Really great piece though!

    Amazon’s common legal defense in safety disputes over third-party sales is that it is not the seller and so can’t be responsible under state statutes that let consumers sue retailers.

    So, if I let a dude sell “artisanal DIY fentanyl-laced Botox beauty kits” from my home, and took a cut of the sales, it’s ok because I’m not the one selling it? Cool. Been looking to make some cash on the side. Thanks Amazon for the business advice!

  2. Lee

    I needed an instrument array for my old Honda motorcycle. I searched and found it on Amazon where there were listings for the part at 1/3 the price at which it was offered by Honda. I immediately went to the Honda motorcycle store and paid full price. Amazon is chock full of too good to be true offerings.

    1. Lee

      Also, it is rather annoying and ironic that Consumer Reports has Amazon links for its reviewed and rated products. FWIW, I sent them a strongly worded email.

      This is interesting:

      Online Shopping Partners
      The Consumer Reports shopping service is provided by Amazon, CJ Affiliate, Rakuten and Impact. We make it easy to buy the right products from a variety of online retailers, such as Amazon, Bed Bath & Beyond, Best Buy, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Macy’s and Walmart, while you’re researching and comparing models on the CR website or other digital products. Our service is unbiased: retailers cannot influence or pay for the placement, reviews or ratings of products. Clicking a retailer link will take you to that retailer’s website to shop. When you shop through retailer links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission—100% of the fees we collect are used to support our nonprofit mission. When you leave to shop on a retailer’s website, you will be covered only by the retailer’s privacy policy and user agreement.

    2. WobblyTelomeres

      You might consider your local breaker/wreck yard. I’ve gone to mine with a bag o’wrenches many times, once to get a working speedo for an old Suzuki twin I was fixing up for my brother.

  3. Paul Jurczak

    It exercises limited oversight over items listed by millions of third-party sellers

    This is a very generous statement. In my personal experience, Amazon doesn’t care at all, beyond collecting their cut. I asked their customer service numerous times to correct obvious listing errors, designed to take advantage of the buyer. My complaints were supported by buyer reviews, pointing to the same errors. Nothing was ever done to remedy these problems.

  4. Tvc15

    Enjoyed the aricle Lambert. I think there may be a third topic for another WSJ story. My wife and I have noticed for years that when we shared a product we were interested in the price routinely increased. We stopped sharing and only discussed in person, ignoring the listening capabilities of our devices (phones only). I’m assumimg the A9 team works on price point manipulation too…another Amazon principle not in the best interest if the customer.

    1. False Solace

      I have proof that Amazon thinks I’m a sucker. Last year before Christmas I went shopping for a new computer monitor. Amazon had it listed for $648. When I checked the price a few days later it jumped $150. Over the next few weeks the price never dropped below $700, even after Black Friday when every other retailer discounted it heavily. I eventually had my mother buy it on my behalf — for whatever reason, the price Amazon offered her was $648. It was $50 more expensive for me. We were on the phone together looking at the same listing at the exact same time. Amazon was showing us different prices.

      That’s far from the only negative experience I’ve had there, but I remember how it used to be. I made my first Amazon purchase back in 1998 when I sent a book to my best friend stationed in Italy. I bought a copy of Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene at the same time. I still have that book, and I signed up for Prime the first year they offered it. Well, I canceled Prime a year ago and I avoid buying from Amazon whenever I can.

      Too many scams — and not just from the third party sellers.

      1. Moelicious

        I read a while ago that travel sites and airlines change prices based on your device (Apple users get charged more), zip code and cookies. Not surprised that Amazon does the same thing

        1. cnchal

          Amazon has millions of daily price changes, and everyone gets a different price, depending on how they rate in Amazon’s great secret algorithm. The objective is to get one to pay as much as possible for any particular item.

          The only way to play this is to buy nothing.

          Amazon is a hot mess. The result of growing like an aggressive cancer, and now it’s a cancer sickening all of society.

    2. jrs

      One thing that tends to be overlooked, is it’s just not fun (rewarding) to shop at Amazon anymore. And so one more consumer backs away in frustration.

      I mean it was a good place to get things when you could actually find things you could NOT find at a local big box, when it widened the selection. One could even find things not made in China. But if it’s just going to show me the most prominent stuff I can get at any big box because that’s what the search algorithm says regardless of what I try to pull, or worse Amazon brand products, why bother? It’s very similar to Google really where if you break the search feature, what do you even have anymore?

      Well ok there are still some decent used book deals on the amazon marketplace, so it might still be a tolerable online book store, somewhat like it started out.

      1. Carla

        Have you ever tried It’s a “B” corporation that was formed at least in part to keep books out of landfills. Free shipping on all books without any minimum purchase or “prime” membership. A portion of their profits is donated to literacy program around the world.

        P.S. I completely boycott Amazon and buy most of my books at full price from local independent bookstores because I am fortunate enough to be able to afford to support my local economy this way. But I do use Betterworld Books from time to time and think they do a great job!

        1. neighbor7

 is an aggregation book site, includes some non-Amazon sites (unless Amazon has bought them all by now).

        2. thene

          Thank you for the recommendation – like you, I had already started buying in-print books from my local independent bookstore, but there was an out of print book I was agonising over, so I went and bought it from betterworldbooks as soon as I read your post.

  5. barrisj

    Even buying “brand-name” items can be a bit dicey, as swarms of counterfeiters on third-party sites (“This item may be available from another vendor at a reduced price”) confound the “Amazon experience”. As long as the Company continues to allow customer reviews that call out the fakes and give caveat emptor heads-up, AND continue with no-hassle, free-ship returns one can still purchase goods of a bona fide provenance and at a decent price, a virtue for those of us living well away from major retail centres.

  6. Whoamolly

    I bought a pack of (Brand Name) tee shirts from Amazon. One of the six Has the correct label and everything. But when washed it shrank to 2/3 original size. Have never had this happen before in 30 years of buying the brand.

    I now assume there is a chance anything I buy from Amazon might be counterfeit.

    Lately purchases arrive that are different than the listing. Or they are shoddily manufactured, direct from China. More and more I have begun to opt for long drives to the city for purchases.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      I finally found a brand of pants I liked on Amazon (since the department store from which I used to buy them shut down). I buy a couple every year, wear them out, and buy the next pair. They were the right size, the right fit, ok sewing, ok zipper. Bought them two years running. The third year I bought then again from the very same page I had used before, same images and same SKU, and suddenly they were shoddy, with an especially cheesy zipper. And I couldn’t be a*rsed to print out the return label since I don’t have a printer, or wait for the pickup. So….

      1. inode_buddha

        I actually can’t remember the last time I bought new clothes. Or anything else new. I go to the thrift stores and yard sales. Doing my bit to discourage the “economy”.

  7. ChrisPacific

    The Amazon search team’s view was that the profitability push violated the company’s principle of doing what is best for the customer, the people familiar with the project said. “This was definitely not a popular project,” said one. “The search engine should look for relevant items, not for more profitable items.”

    The whole thrust of the first story is that Amazon does not have a “principle of doing what is best for the customer.” How can running a flea market selling products that rip abdominal tissue be best for the customer? So I don’t understand why this second story ticks off the developers, but the first one doesn’t.

    I believe the developer was referring to the official list of Amazon Principles, which are heavily emphasized as a differentiator for the company. Here is the very first one:

    Customer Obsession
    Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.

    In general there are two types of evil businesses: the ones that tell you outright that they are evil (e.g. “our first responsibility is to shareholders”) and the ones that are evil but pretend not to be. Amazon is in the second category. That leads to better PR, but has the drawback that many or even most of the people you hire might actually believe the cover story, and perceive senior execs as hypocritical if they start acting in a manner that’s inconsistent with their public statements.

    I think that covers why the second story annoys developers. As for why the first doesn’t – well, we don’t know for sure that it doesn’t, but if that is the case then I would imagine it’s the difference between looking the other way when somebody else does something bad and being asked to actively participate.

    1. OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL

      Every time someone says to me “…to be honest with you…” I always wonder what they were being before.

      So companies who tell you they aren’t evil…should have a similar level of skepticism.

      Google 2004: Don’t be evil
      Google 2014 (China political search filtering): It’s OK to be evil sometimes
      Google 2019: F*ck you we do whatever we want

      1. inode_buddha

        Actually your timeline is a reflection of Corporate America , in my experience. Not just one company. All of them.

    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      > I think that covers why the second story annoys developers. As for why the first doesn’t – well, we don’t know for sure that it doesn’t, but if that is the case then I would imagine it’s the difference between looking the other way when somebody else does something bad and being asked to actively participate.

      Some sort of doublethink, no doubt. (My theory, which I couldn’t formulate clearly enough at the time, or now, for all I know, was that the project of weeding out thousands of bad actor vendors algorithmically in near real time could not be done, and hence was not of interest to programmers. Nobody is interested in boiling the ocean, and since there’s no business problem to solve [shrug].)

      1. ChrisPacific

        Well, it’s the difference between bad behavior rubbed in your face and bad behavior that you have to go looking for. As we know, people can be quite creative about finding reasons to rationalize or explain things away if their job depends on it. So possibly what the developers are really annoyed about is Amazon making it harder for them to do that.

        I agree that “we can’t do this at global scale without blowing out our business model” is the reason for a lot of evil behavior. It was clear in the response to the Christchurch attack, for example, that there was no way that Facebook could police live streams in real time with any degree of success, so it was either yank the feature entirely or do nothing (guess which one they chose).

  8. ChrisPacific

    The search thing confuses me, because I remember from the days when I used Amazon that it used to show you the search ranking it was using and give you the option to change it. And the various rankings were nearly all based on a numerical statistic of some kind that would have been difficult to game (bestselling, highest average rating, lowest price, etc.)

    Holding my nose and venturing back there again, I see that’s still true up to a point, but:
    – The drop-down list of choices has been shunted off to the far right and made tiny, where previously it was prominent and one of the first things you saw on the results page;
    – The sort order now defaults to ‘featured’ instead of bestselling;
    – The list of choices is shorter than it used to be, and ‘bestselling’ isn’t even one of the options any more.

    Just in case anybody was still under any illusions that Amazon was on your side (although I’m sure anybody that’s been subjected to their bag of dirty tricks on Prime upselling will already be well aware).

  9. Appleseed

    Another aspect of villany:

    Amazon’s Next-Day Delivery Has Brought Chaos And Carnage To America’s Streets — But The World’s Biggest Retailer Has A System To Escape The Blame

    Amazon goes further than gig economy companies such as Uber, which insist its drivers are independent contractors with no rights as employees. By contracting instead with third-party companies, which in turn employ drivers, Amazon divorces itself from the people delivering its packages.

    That means when things go wrong, as they often do under the intense pressure created by Amazon’s punishing targets — when workers are abused or underpaid, when overstretched delivery companies fall into bankruptcy, or when innocent people are killed or maimed by errant drivers — the system allows Amazon to wash its hands of any responsibility


    1. David in Santa Cruz

      Hoo-boy, this is a huge problem in the two places where I split my time.

      Drivers of both beater delivery trucks and shiny UPS/FedEx trucks drive like maniacs. I’m on private roads in both places, with posted 15 mph limits. The trucks come slamming around corners from morning to evening (especially evening, when the exhausted drivers are in desperation to make their over-optimistic delivery targets), chewing-up the dirt roads and creating potholes everywhere. The bosses who set these unimaginable delivery targets and impossible work pace blame the drivers, who would be fired if they drove the speed limit.

      However, these crazy drivers are just another cog in the ScAmazon rent-collection scheme. There is nothing wrong with making a modest profit selling goods — what Amazon has perfected is the practice of skimming unearned, unwarranted, undeserved, and unconscionable rents from every aspect of commerce.

      Why? What value does ScAmazon add? 2-day delivery to your door? If I were a shut-in, perhaps I might need that service. But I go to town every few days or so. My friend sent me a link to an interview with Anthony McCann about his new book about the Malheur occupation, Shadowlands. I went to my local independent bookseller, Griffin Bay Books of Friday Harbor WA (shout-out to my other bookseller, Casey Coonerty of Bookshop Santa Cruz), on my way to the grocery store and ordered the book last Sunday evening. They called on Tuesday and gave me an excuse to drive into town to pick up the book and have a nice dinner. Mind you, this was on an ISLAND four miles from the Canadian border. Do I really need ScAmazon to send some over-worked delivery truck driver to destroy my road? I much prefer going to the book store!

  10. Jack Parsons

    They also don’t have the banking culture’s (somewhat faded) fetishization of “Risk Management”, or fraud control.

    1. KiWeTO

      Such ferishizations are due to the penalties banks face for fraud.
      Amazon faces not the same level of penalties.
      Threats of future punitives can sometimes be a good incentive to focus the mind.

  11. ChristopherJ

    Still selling my novels without my permission or authorisation – published through Lightning Source…

    Not only will the company not withdraw my novels from its book shelves, it sells them and doesn’t pay any royalties. Only solution for me is to travel to US and engage a lawyer.

    Not going to happen. Evil company. Aim to never make a profit – ergo you screw your competitors or buy them out, you screw your suppliers and supplant them with, well, you; and you screw your workforce so that their pockets are empty by the time they die. Brilliant, but evil where the only sense of social responsibility is to make as much money for the founder as can be humanly possible to make.

      1. SoonToBeExAmazonian

        To ChristopherJ – it shouldn’t be that difficult to get your books pulled if they are being sold unlawfully, at least from (it’s much harder in the UK). I’ve helped several authors stop this happening to their works. Normally this happens very quickly – Amazon prefers to temporarily pull offending works and reinstate where necessary. Be aware though, that in the US there is the doctrine of first sale – if someone has purchased an item, then they can do whatever they want with them, and the copyright holder cannot legally prevent it (Wikipedia). Amazon may choose not to let third-parties sell items, and this often happens with popular music such as The Beatles, and also with some tech gear, among others. This is due to the original distributor putting pressure on Amazon not to allow resellers.

        However, if someone is selling knock-offs of your books, rather than copies they have obtained legally, you should file a copyright complaint here.

        Little about me – I’ve worked at Amazon for nearly 2 decades, and have seen the company slide from a great (though tough) place to work, to a bureaucratic nightmare with shitty management, a move away from customer obsession, which it really did used to have, and an obsession with profit instead. The availability of really cheap money from the advertising it hosts and third-party sales have turned it into a shithole where almost nobody cares about the customer.

        I know that it’s now cool to rag on Jeff, but it used to be HIS company, and he held people accountable. Now, with all Jeff’s side projects, the retail side (i.e. not AWS) is under Jeff Wilke who in no way matches up to Jeff, and who has let the company slide into what it is. AWS is under Andy Jassy, and as far as I can tell (I haven’t worked in AWS since 2009) still holds true to the Amazon Leadership Principles.

        Over a dozen years ago I started pointing out that the reviews were being gamed and polluted. They were an INCREDIBLY valuable source of data, and now they are essentially useless. To have let that happened is just a waste.

        The search function provided by A9 is, and has always been crappy – it’s a long-standing internal joke that A9 stands for Atrocious.

        I used to love working there, and was proud to be one of the first female engineers, but I’m about to quit because it now makes me feel dirty.

        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          > Over a dozen years ago I started pointing out that the reviews were being gamed and polluted. They were an INCREDIBLY valuable source of data, and now they are essentially useless. To have let that happened is just a waste.

          Thanks very much for this comment. The reviews are still useful, but you’ve got to sort through them with some care.

        2. ChrisPacific

          Thanks to you and your colleagues for your work in the early days. I used to love the site back in the early 2000s – it was a model of good UI design, and everything in the customer experience from beginning to end worked exactly the way you expected it to (often better). There’s a reason why it got to be the industry-dominating titan it is today, starting from practically nothing. The current site is a pale shadow of its former self. I can’t even go there without noticing at least half a dozen things that set my DO NOT TRUST alarms screaming. Some of them honestly have no place on anything that isn’t a phishing site, much less the UI for the largest ecommerce company in the world. I’m sure it was demoralizing for those that remember the original, or helped create it.

          I am not as willing as you are to give Jeff a pass (it’s still his company, and everything it’s doing now is with his approval and would be within his power to change if he wanted) but I do acknowledge that it was providing a genuinely valuable service early in its history.

    1. fajensen

      Only solution for me is to travel to US and engage a lawyer

      Just a crazy thought: Could one maybe sell the idea of suing Amazon for copyright infringement in each and every country it does trade in to Larry Ellison?

      I believe he is still royally pissed off about Oracle losing out to AWS on that golden defence contract. Oracle are well know for suing everyone, especially their customers.

  12. Carla

    “The second story, “Amazon Changed Search Algorithm in Ways That Boost Its Own Products,” is less horrid in that Amazon isn’t running a flea market that sells lead-contaminated musical instruments to parents with toddlers.”

    Lambert, in the second line of that sentence, I think you may mean:
    “is less horrid in that IT ISN’T ABOUT Amazon running a flea market”

    Of course my point is that Amazon is running that flea market, whether it’s the subject of the story or not.

  13. Todd Lewis

    You know you’ve lost control of the platform when you have to skip ads on YouTube on how to get rich through selling stuff on Amazon. Basic setup storefront they will walk you through. Outsource you orders to a chinese partner. Sit back and watch the cash roll in.

  14. Joe Wel

    I am concerned about Amazon’s treatment of warehouse workers and other workers. Then again, I have used them, even this year.

  15. Ciro Pantera

    Funny how Amazon took absolutelly everything from brick-and-mortar stores – including the bad press. Remember when stories were about how evil and cut-throat Walmart is? Now they almost feel like a mom-and-pop store when compared to the antics of the new evil empire.

    1. Peter VE

      When I go to Walmart, at least I can try the clothes on. My wife ordered several pieces of clothing for me from Amazon. Although the size was called XL, they barely fit her, a medium.

  16. Musicismath

    Book search on Amazon has become almost laughably bad. Library catalogues reward you for knowing an author’s exact name or the title, because the catalogue is designed to help you find the correct record. Newer versions of Amazon search, for the reasons outlined in the post, don’t work like that at all.

    I was searching for a colleague’s book yesterday. Despite inputting his exact name, Amazon search wasn’t interested in serving any results for it. Instead, it gave me dozens of detective novels in a popular series for Kindle Unlimited written by an author who shares his (incredibly common) first name.

    Just for the lulz, I tried searching for my own book (an edited collection with an academic press) by author. As far as I can tell, I’m not in the search results, most of which are also Kindle Unlimited historical or crime fiction written by authors with names almost (but not quite) entirely unlike mine. Searching author plus exact title results in a grudging hit for my own book, second in the list (of course) to an entirely unrelated (but presumably lucrative) historical novel for Kindle Unlimited.

    1. Richard Hershberger

      Do me a favor: search on my name. I post under my real name, not a nym. I am curious what comes up on someone else’s machine.

        1. Richard Hershberger

          No, though now that you mention it I wish I had. Mine is “Strike Four: The Evolution of Baseball” (shameless plug) on the evolution of the rules.

          1. ChrisPacific

            That one does not come up under “Richard Hershberger” for me (it has two hits, the one Lambert mentioned and also ‘Special Forces – The Fight Against Terror’).

            It suggests an alternative search for ‘Hershberger’ below under which your book is the first hit. I have no idea why it appears in this search but not the full name search. The author name is right there, and spelled correctly.

            It also suggests ‘Richard’ as an alternative which is populated with stuff about Richard III.

      1. Musicismath

        Top three results: Special Forces: The Fight Against Terror (season 1); Strike Four: The Evolution of Baseball; The Global Jazz Trio Live in Detroit. In that order.

        1. Musicismath

          You’ll be pleased to know a search limited to Books brings up Strike Four: The Evolution of Baseball ahead of Dystopia Rising Tabletop Corebook!

  17. Richard Hershberger

    I think we have passed peak Amazon: not in corporate revenues necessarily, but in customer service. In addition to the stuff already discussed here, there is the mere fact that search results are cluttered up with ads, designed to look like search results. But yeah, the bigger issue is that you don’t know what you will get. Yes, you can return it, but this is a hassle and a delay in getting what you want. (I also wonder if at some point they might become less accommodating about returns.) I first ordered from Amazon over twenty years ago. In recent years I find myself less willing, with a happy confluence of queasiness about its corporate ethics and its customer satisfaction.

    1. ChrisPacific

      The last time I bought something from them, they quoted me a delivery deadline of four months. I didn’t notice this until after completing the order – it never used to be something you had to check.

      For the record, they failed to meet it. Had I not submitted a complaint I think I might still have been waiting today.

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