Subprime Day

The way to build the world’s most successful bookstore has nothing to do with knowing your customers or recommending the “best” books or even making money, and everything to do with developing software, recruiting investors, and hiring a bunch of people who used to work at Walmart.

What to read instead of shopping online

Photograph by thisisbossi.

Earlier today, the New York Times explained “how to make the most of Amazon Prime Day 2018.” This corrupt exhortation is as clear a sign as any that Prime Day is now a national holiday—a triumph of branding. While the Times urged its readers to buy a carry-on suitcase and Amazon’s own surveillance-enabling smart speakers, Amazon workers in Europe were striking to protest inhumane working conditions. In March, Business Insider reported that in 2017 Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and CEO, made $107 million every day. That same year, Amazon paid no federal income taxes. The following are excerpts from the pieces n+1 has published about Amazon and Bezos over the years. We’re pleased to confirm that none of them is about the virtues of Prime Day. —The Editors


Code Red by Alex Press

If the most advantaged of Amazon workers led the way, insisting on collective bargaining agreements that applied to everyone within the company, the denizens of the global Amazon fiefdom—a population of invisible workers, including many from particularly marginalized countries—could be unified under one big contract.

Desperately Seeking Cities by Nikil Saval

Most city dwellers, it turns out, live lives of quiet desperation for Amazon. What was happening to Philadelphia disclosed the emptiness not just of this city, but of what people all over the country had learned to think cities were good for. The value of the Amazon HQ2 contest is that it has laid bare a fundamental contradiction of contemporary urban life. Amazon appealed to cities—cannily, it must be said—to narrate themselves: what makes them unique, such that Amazon should locate there?

The Interview by Heike Gessler

A young woman lifts yellow crates from one pallet onto another, empty one beside it. She doesn’t bend her back as she does it, holding it as straight as a rod; she performs all her work calmly, following a well-practiced choreography. This dance, this piling dance, which then becomes a box-counting dance and segues into a dance for the location of various products on the sample shelves, is masterfully accurate and ends with lackluster succinctness.

Training Day by Heike Gessler

Robert moves to the middle of the room, the projection of the Amazon home page across his face, stretching down to the middle of his stomach. He folds his arms in front of his chest. What happens otherwise, he asks, and gives the answer himself: “Grandma wants to buy cat litter, so she goes to the store, lugs the heavy package home, and needs help to carry it upstairs, but the students on the first floor are still asleep, and they can’t help her. So what can Grandma do? She orders from us, and then the young, fit postman brings the package to her apartment door, and everyone’s happy.”

The Everything Warehouse by Ingrid Satelmajer

As the warehouse system became a more precise instrument of Amazon’s goals, it has shed most of its early quirks. Early accounts of the company give us colorful tales about warehouse workers—one skipped around a fulfillment center “belting out Russian arias”—or the executives, paper-pushers and other administrative employees who were brought into the warehouses from Amazon’s offices to help fill orders during the holiday rush. More recently, there are news reports covering how, in 2011, the company hired a private ambulance company to be on hand as workers collapsed at inadequately air-conditioned facilities in Pennsylvania, and how, in 2013, fulfillment center workers in Germany launched the first-ever series of strikes against the company.

What Seems To Be the Problem Here? by Ruth Curry

The way to build the world’s most successful bookstore has nothing to do with knowing your customers or recommending the “best” books or even making money, and everything to do with developing software, recruiting investors, and hiring a bunch of people who used to work at Walmart. Jeff Bezos both created and dominated the industry of his choice, online retail. His success has all but ensured the failure of anyone else who wants to sell not just books but consumer goods of any kind, and I wonder how many corporate biographies will be possible after this one.

The Stupidity of Computers by David Auerbach

Amazon still has troubles. Aside from the haziness of categories like “erotic,” there can simply be problems in importing the metadata. Amazon claimed that several reports on meat imports and exports were authored by the trio of “Chilled the Fresh,” “Frozen Horse,” and “Ass Meat Research Group,” as a consequence of using the report title as a list of authors.

Reality Publishing by Darryl Lorenzo Wellington

Before long, I was hooked, checking the board every few days, keeping tracks of distinct characters and general turns in the flavor of the dialogue. Initially the posts were characterized by ebullience and community. I was taken aback by how often the contestants gushed with gratitude and used the first-person plural, joining all their praises in a chorus of thanks. “We want to thank Amazon for doing this.” “This is our chance—our shot.”

Book Review Nation by The Editors

Over the years the reviews have been manipulated, hijacked, and reviled; Amazon has tried to brand them with its “Top 500 Reviewers”; the reviews qua reviews are often unfair, ill-informed, and poorly argued. (“Not only does Portrait of the Artist make no sense, but it also steals all of its tricks from Faulkner.”) And yet, nearly ten years after their advent, the Amazon reviews are still essentially anonymous, unfiltered glimpses into the habits of red-blooded American readers.

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