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An Open Letter to Jeff Bezos

Mr. Bezos: Tear down that wall.
Mar | 11 | 2010

Mar | 11 | 2010

This post might not be a wise move but I never claimed to have a perfect batting average in the wisdom department. David probably shouldn’t tick off Goliath in general. In this case, when it comes to selling books, Amazon is clearly the 800 lb gorilla in book sales. Maybe I shouldn’t write this post.

On the other hand, how do you effect change if you don’t express your dissatisfaction with the status quo? Not by silence. What the hell …I’m going for it.

Why I’m Miffed

The source of my disgruntlement is Amazon, but not as a customer per se. I’m writing as an author and one not happy with its customer service. I’m particularly miffed at the time that it is taking Amazon to post my book videos to the main page of each. The two in question are:

By way of background, Amazon has been allowing authors to post audio or video content on their book pages on a limited basis. For a few examples, see Chris Anderson’s Free: The Future of a Radical Price or my friend Scott Berkun’s latest Confessions of a Public Speaker. Both of these have informative multimedia files attached to their book pages, allowing would-be readers to watch or listen to the authors talking about their books. I can’t help but think that each “extra” makes it more likely that visitors will buy each book, something that benefits everyone: the author, the publishers, and ultimately Amazon.

In my case, both of my publishers (Cengage and John Wiley & Sons) are allowed to submit videos for Amazon’s approval and did. I could understand any difficulties if I didn’t have proper publishers, but that’s not the case.

Customer Service at Amazon

Here’s the vexing part of the last few weeks. Amazon has amazing customer service. Take a look at BusinessWeek’s customer service rankings. Amazon is routinely high up on the list. On a personal level, I buy items from Amazon very often and, for books, almost exclusively. I have zero complaints with regard to shipping, its return policy, its selection, and the overall experience. That’s why I keep coming back. I’d argue that customer service and pro-consumer offers such as free shipping have allowed Amazon get to be so big, so powerful.

Possible Reasons for the Delays

Now, I could understand the problems if I had filmed long videos or if they were of questionable quality. However, neither of those arguments holds any water. I didn’t go all Blair Witch on these.

Don’t believe me? Judge for yourself.

I’ve been gently asking my publishers about the nature of the delays over the last six weeks. I truly believe their responses: they’re doing everything that they can do make this happen. Evidently it’s very hard to talk to a “person” there to expedite things–or at least understand what’s going on.


This makes me wonder about a few other things:

  • Why does it take Amazon more than a few weeks to enable “Search Within Book?”
  • Is customer service different for customers and authors?
  • Aren’t authors and vendors customers in some sense as well?
  • Is this the beginning of a sense of complacency at Amazon?

What do you think?

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  1. Dan Keldsen

    Phil – I think it’s clear that while the systems and processes that Amazon puts in place for the majority of it’s business is quite incredible and in the top 1% of execution, for some reason, they have not dedicated the time, money and resources to automating much of the digital work involved in activating authors and publishers.

    I submitted physical paperwork (which stunned me) 3 years ago, to have my blog included for Kindle distribution. 3 years later, I’m still not directly available via the Kindle blog network. My colleague, Carl Frappaolo, didn’t bother to submit, and he *is* in the network.

    I believe, and would love to be corrected, that the delay in publishing “search within book” is because they take physical books (regardless of whether electronic versions exist), chop the spine/etc. off, scan/image the book, index/OCR, and finally turn on the capability to search the book.

    They appear to have defaulted to the lowest common denominator (for consistency?) in translating content into searchable bits, rather than running processes in parallel depending on urgency, pre-existing digital versions, popularity, etc.. No doubt there is a giant warehouse full of books to be scanned as a result.

    The editorial process behind videos, I suspect has similar bottlenecks. Perhaps they could Mechanical Turk a crowdsourced vetting process if they “normal” staff is overburdened?

    Overall, it seems they have a gap in their systems – fully automated systems, fantastic – crowd-enabled systems, also fantastic, but the hybrid chasm in the middle, has classic issues of too much control applied and not enough resources.

    Perhaps we can combine forces to help them with consulting, eh? Certainly sounds like the near perfect intersection of what we both do.

  2. philsimon

    Hey Dan

    Great comment. I had a few issues with their “keywords” for the first edition of my first book. Some of them were laughable.

    I’d love to know what others have found. I might reach out to a few of my author friends here…

  3. Pat Gray

    I’ve seen plenty of companies that treat their customers like gold and their vendors like dirt (and occasionally vice versa), and most companies put the least amount of attention towards their smallest supplers.

    In he case of authors like you or I, we’re the smallest of the small vendors, supplying content for far less than a fraction 1% of their products.

    All this may not be “right” in the grand scheme of things, but with customers demanding competitive pricing I would imagine amazon has to cut corners somewhere!

  4. Cy Taylor

    Phil, Your comments are warranted. In fact, I’d love to write a similar blog post about a major financial institution that I’ve been ‘battling’ since September. Customer service leaves a lot to be desired.

    It’s mind boggling because everyone knows customer service can make or break a company.


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