Have you had enough of Amazon shenanigans? We are finally quitting Amazon and here’s why. I know our small actions won’t make a dent in the behemoth’s bottom line (which is all Bezos cares about), but I can no longer support Amazon’s practices with my pocketbook.
I’m finally quitting Amazon altogether. It’s been a work in progress; we’ve been moving in this direction for quite some time. But a couple of weeks ago, I reached the threshold of my tolerance for their shenanigans.
For the last couple of years, I’ve thoughtfully reflected on how and why we use Amazon. The company has a pervasive presence in most of our lives. Amazon (and its founder, Jeff Bezos) have an incredible amount of influence over our lives that, in my opinion, isn’t always used in the most ethical ways. Not only does the company have a history of poor treatment of workers, but they ruthlessly use their data to crush competitors and take advantage of customers’ tendencies.
Simply, I don’t think any company or person should have that much power or influence. Amazon isn’t alone in this capacity. (Google, Apple, and Facebook/Meta are examples of other companies with similar capital and influence.) Although I do feel like Jeff Bezos is particularly egregious in his exploitation of power.
But… here we are. And few really seem to care? The convenience to order things online on a whim overrides our critique of what power the company can yield. We all just keep filling our homes with “stuff” shipped from gigantic warehouses filled with employees who don’t receive the best treatment.
The Last Straw
About a month ago, I received an email from a content marketing agency that really made me angry and was the last straw. A content marketing agency is a company that connects bloggers (or content creators) with companies for marketing campaigns. In this case, the agency was searching for bloggers to do pro bono work for Audible, an Amazon company, to promote the Audible Stories program.
Pro bono work for Amazon??! And right now??! Are you kidding me??!
I exchanged a few email messages with the agency expressing my displeasure with this “opportunity” as I expected them to be an advocate for the publishers in their network as much as a representative of their paying clients. They were respectful and confirmed that Audible was requesting this pro bono work.
Because Audible was offering Audible Stories for free for the time being due to the pandemic, this was considered a campaign to raise awareness for a company “giving back” and merited pro bono work by bloggers.
Below is the feedback I provided to the agency, which outlines the reasons for my displeasure.
My initial email was short and stated I thought the campaign was disappointing. They responded with a short reply that they appreciated my feedback and I was welcome to ignore this campaign and apply to other paid campaigns. (Duh…) Then I followed with:
I appreciate your response, and I fully recognize that [the agency] can pursue whatever they choose. But as an agency who, in part, should be looking out for the best interests of the publishers, this is not in that spirit. We all know that Amazon doesn’t need any advocates right now; they’re doing just fine.
First, Audible Stories is “nice” but it’s also basically a loss leader that Amazon hopes will get people to sign up for the paid product long term. This campaign is asking publishers, who don’t often make a ton of money and will likely see significant declines in income as the economy declines due to long-term COVID impacts and reduced marketing budgets, to do free marketing for the company that has arguably been the single biggest beneficiary of COVID. That’s just backward.
Second, Audible Stories costs Amazon next to nothing. They already have all the products and infrastructure, and it’s all web and app-based. To “let” people use this product for free is a drop in the bucket for Amazon, if it even costs them anything at all. As we move forward in these uncertain times, it’s companies like Amazon, who have significantly benefitted from this circumstance (and have been flourishing for many years) who should be “footing the bill”, including the marketing and messaging bill, of these products. Not publishers. It’s the least Amazon can do to be a good steward to the communities that keep them in business.
Amazon is spending millions of dollars on campaigns to communicate how safe their warehouses are (to offset media coverage that has suggested otherwise). We’ve probably all seen these ads pop up while online and on social media. Maybe some of that PR budget should be spent on shouting from the rooftops about this Stories “give back” campaign.
I suppose you could argue that publishers can share this information and use their affiliate link if they are part of the Amazon Associates program. I’m not well-versed enough in the program to know if a Stories sign up now that leads to an Audible membership later would result in any compensation for the publisher. But given that Amazon has short-lived cookies for their Associate program, I’m guessing that wouldn’t translate to any significant source of income.
Amazon has a history of taking advantage of workers and/or paying poor wages for its own financial benefit. This is yet another example, albeit a bit more creative, of Amazon asking others to do their marketing for free that will hopefully / likely provide a financial benefit for them.
You mention that you have been doing pro-bono campaigns for companies that are “giving back” – whether they have resources or not. I’m not suggesting you do an audit of a company’s financial information before determining if [the agency] can support their “giving back” campaign. But if this community is going to spend its time doing pro-bono work for anyone, certainly we can come up with some more beneficial recipients of that effort than a marketing loss leader for one of the largest companies in the world who is thriving more than even precisely BECAUSE of the pain everyone else is enduring.
Some examples you might consider: sustainable brands that promote workers rights or environmental protection, black lives matter campaigns, companies supporting efforts to get more PPE to people at reasonable prices, companies helping people grow Victory Gardens to help create food sovereignty when grocery store shelves haven’t been so full, just about any B Corporation… the list is pretty endless.
And if you want to get kids reading more ebooks, how about you work with the American Library Association and do a campaign to encourage people to get library cards, teach people how to get free ebook access from those libraries, and support these organizations that are making great use of their tax dollars to support and uplift the community? Libraries use apps (like Libby and Overdrive), just like Audible, that have thousands of free books available to their patrons. This also sets up people to use these apps for free forever, not just until Amazon decides they no longer want to support it (and then asks people to pay to sign up later).
If we broadly think about who needs pro-bono help from publishers right now, Amazon would literally be one of the very last companies on that list. This is far from the best use of what I expect you believe is a talented publisher community. Audible Stories is far more PR and marketing than giving back by doing something that libraries already do for free in perpetuity.
In the end, [the agency] is of course welcome to run the business however they please. But I do believe that promoting this campaign reflects poorly on [the agency]’s reputation as a company that I assume intends to facilitate mutually-beneficial relationships between companies and publishers and be a steward to both the online and human communities in which it operates. I can only believe that your team is talented enough to source better pro-bono campaigns than this one.
Thank you for your time.
I’m sure they went ahead with the campaign and some bloggers chose to do the promotion for free. Those content creators have every right to do that. But hopefully, my detailed email will encourage the agency to think more critically in the future about what types of campaigns are mutually beneficial for their content creators and marketing clients.
Audible Has Its Own Bad Habits
Not only does Amazon have a litany of bad habits, but Audible itself isn’t an innocent subsidiary. Specifically, Audible has a program called Audible Exclusives (or Audible Originals). These are books that are only available on Audible. This means that not only are independent bookstores prohibited from selling these exclusive audiobooks, but worse, libraries are not even allowed to buy and lend these books. This is ridiculous!
Libro.fm, an audiobook platform that supports independent bookstores and about which I’ve raved in the past, lays out all the details of why the Audible Exclusive program is harmful. Libro.fm has an interest, of course, in having access to sell these audiobooks, so one might argue that their perspective has a biased, ulterior motive. That’s true, but that also doesn’t make their perspective wrong.
Further, I understand that retailers often make exclusive deals with companies to sell special products or collections. But not allowing libraries to lend these audiobooks is entirely inappropriate. Many people rely on libraries as their main or only access to books. Certain disabled people rely on audiobooks for accessibility purposes. Broadly preventing libraries from lending certain audiobooks is far different than having exclusive rights to the limited edition mauve-colored sweater that’s only available at a particular retailer.
Audible also encourages creators to use their exclusive program by offering them a premium payout on sales, which only encourages more creators to put their content behind the Audible paywall.
Some of the Audible Originals are terrible. I’ve wasted my time on one. But there are also popular books like The Handmaid’s Tale that are included in the exclusive collection. To not allow libraries to offer these to their patrons is awful. Amazon and Audible already have a lot of influence over the publishing industry, and this program will continue to strengthen their grip.
Single Greatest Beneficiary of the Pandemic?
Amazon might be the single greatest beneficiary of the global pandemic as people turned to Amazon to have so many things delivered when brick and mortar stores were closed and other online retailers struggled with supply chain logistics in a variety of ways.
Now, Amazon is exploiting the pandemic as an opportunity for bloggers, many of whom make very little money for a lot of work, to do their free marketing? I was so frustrated by this. It might not seem like much to get worked up about, but it was the last straw that led me to decide I was done with Amazon. I’d had enough of their garbage.
Cutting The Amazon Cord Isn’t Seamless
Like many people, our life is a bit entangled with Amazon. We have Amazon Prime, and our subscription extends for a few more months. Our boys watch certain shows on Amazon Prime, though we have already told them they won’t be able to watch those shows when the subscription ends.
We’ve significantly reduced our purchases from Amazon. In 2017 and 2018, we placed 64 and 55 orders, respectively, with Amazon. In 2019, we reduced our purchases to 27. And this year, we’ve made 8 purchases from Amazon (in the first six months of the year). I can assure you it will be zero through the rest of the year.
We no longer use Audible as I replaced it with other audiobook apps. We purchase all our books from Bookshop, Better World Books, or other book outlets. I started buying all my camera equipment from other online retailers (who were actually quite helpful when I emailed asking about which products fit my needs best) and a local store near my home.
We still use Goodreads (another Amazon company), though I’m in the process of finding an alternative for this site, as I really like having a tracker for books I’m looking forward to reading. However, I prefer Amazon not to have access to even more data about me.
Most notably, I use the Amazon Associates program on my blog, which is an affiliate program that allows me to earn a small commission on certain purchases made through links on my blog. Over time, I plan to replace all those links, but they are in many posts and will take a while to work through all of them.
The Caveat | Amazon Web Services
While I’m actively cutting out almost all Amazon services, there’s a caveat that I’m going to ignore for the time being. Amazon provides web hosting services to tons of people and businesses. Amazon Web Services (AWS) comprises a small portion of the company’s net sales but represents a large majority of Amazon’s operating income, which loosely equates to actual profit. In other words, AWS is much more profitable for Amazon than its retail services.
To provide some context and concrete details, the charts below reflect information from Amazon’s 2021 audited 10-K. I’ve included data about AWS net sales and operating income as a percentage of the respective total balances for Amazon as a whole.
The first chart shows that AWS represents 11 – 13% of Amazon’s total net sales (which loosely equates to revenue) between 2019 and 2021.
However, AWS is a much more profitable business segment than the company’s retail sales segment. As a percentage of total operating income (which loosely translates to actual profit), AWS represents 59 – 75% of the total profit for Amazon. When viewed through the lens of how the company actually turns a profit, they are really more of a web services company than a retail giant.
Some might consider that excluding Amazon from my life would also mean not using any websites hosted by Amazon. I don’t host my blog or any websites I own through Amazon Web Services, so I’m not paying them any money directly for these services. I don’t have control over other companies that do, but you better believe I’ll be recommending other hosting services that compete with AWS.
In the end, I’m working on cutting Amazon out of our life aside from the third-party websites that use AWS. According to their 2021 audited 10-K (publicly available financial statements), Amazon had $33.4 billion in net income for the year 2021. In other words, while my actions speak volumes about my values, Amazon isn’t going to miss me.
I know my little voice is a drop in the ocean for Amazon. But I have to stand up for my values, and hopefully, as we start socializing some of the egregious and unfair bad habits Amazon and its subsidiaries employ, we will encourage others to find new companies to support that are more responsible and better for our local communities.
Do you have Amazon Prime? Do you use Audible or Amazon? Do you think you could live without them? I challenge you to give it a shot. Check out my growing Amazon Alternatives series for ideas about how to cut Amazon out of your life and replace it with plenty of really fantastic alternatives.
Jen Panaro, founder and editor-in-chief of Honestly Modern, is a self-proclaimed composting nerd and an advocate for sustainable living for modern families. In her spare time, she’s a serial library book borrower, a messy gardener, and a mom of two boys who spends a lot of time in hockey rinks and on baseball fields.
You can find more of her work at Raising Global Kidizens, an online space to help parents and caregivers raise the next generation of responsible global citizens.