Playing The Amazon Game

Cory Doctorow has some fresh ideas about how you can use Amazon but still support local businesses. He acknowledges it’s difficult to avoid patronizing the internet superstore. It’s not as simple as “voting with your wallet” or being a conscientious consumer.

“Voting with your wallet” is a dubious occupation at best, but it’s actually counterproductive if you find yourself driving or phoning around for hours, looking for local merchants to buy things from. That’s time you could be spending pursuing structural changes to our society’s structural problems, or just relaxing with a book so you’ll have the energy to pursue those structural changes later.

This is the experience I’ve had even ordering online. I spend way more time and energy, for example, trying to get supplements from three different stores (while also paying more) than I would just ordering quickly from Amazon. I’ve got two big box hardware stores within five minutes, but I still sometimes have to get home improvement supplies from Amazon.

You used to hear complaints from those at brick and mortar stores that customers were coming in to look at items in the store and then buy them on Amazon. Doctorow recommends turning the tables on Amazon with respect to this “show-rooming.”

For years, local merchants complained that their customers were “show-rooming” them: wandering their shelves to make sure the thing they were about to buy on Amazon suited their needs, then whipping out their phones and buying the goods on Amazon. I’m saying we should turn Amazon into the showroom: hijack its organization, reviews and recommendation algorithm to help us spend money locally.

He admits that there is a question of legality about his proposed solution, which would involve obfuscating part of Amazon’s core functionality. However, he reasons that the technique would be in keeping with Amazon’s own philosophy of disruption.

This won’t fix the Amazon problem, but it will fix part of the Amazon problem. Turning monopolies into dumb pipe is a time-honored tradition, the very soul of the gospel of disruption, which Amazon has preached since its earliest days. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

I certainly would like to try out the Library Extension from which Doctorow bases his theories around what would be possible.

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Canned Dragons by Robert Rackley
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