Sunday, August 12, 2018

Part One- Just as the Winners Get to Write History...

     ...so rapacious, lazy-eyed corporate cunts such as Jeff Bezos get to write annual shareholder letters.
     Every once in a while in lickspittle writer blogs who think Jeff fucking Bezos is the greatest thing to happen to books since Johan Gutenberg or in places like the aptly-named Motley Fool, someone writes breezy articles extolling the brilliant wisdom of the Wizard of Seattle. Nowhere in these blogs is whispered even the merest rumor of the evil that Amazon has inflicted on the planet earth, starting with the publishing business, in its 22 year-long reign of terror. And the author, perhaps having a day as lazy as Bezos' right eye, decided to outsource the majority of his August 4th article to Jazzy Jeff, letting him, without challenge, speak his peace in 20 annual letters to his shareholders from '97 to last year.
     So, in the spirit of fair play, I decided to devote the better part of yesterday to offer rebuttals to Bezos' missives to his fellow elitists, kind of a constantly-engaged bullshit detector pointing out Jeffie's lies, omissions and revisionist history in every one of that score of letters.
Because of our emphasis on the long term, we may make decisions and weigh trade-offs differently than some companies. ... We will continue to make investment decisions in light of long-term market leadership ... rather than short-term ... Wall Street reactions. 1997
      Even 21 years ago, Jazzy Jeff was already looking forward to the day when Amazon would grow large enough to make corporate acquisitions that would cost literally tons of people their jobs, encourage workers to quit by offering them up to $5000 and even axing hundreds of corporate positions because they fucked up and tried to grow too quickly. So, in those respects, yes, Amazon is exactly like Wall Street, only deadlier to the American worker and consumer because, as Bezos predicted 21 years ago, they'll think in the longterm and not from trading bell to trading bell.
During our hiring meetings, we ask people to consider three questions before making a decision: Will you admire this person? ... Will this person raise the average level of effectiveness of the group they're entering? ... Along what dimensions might this person be a superstar? 1998
      Amazon enjoys a reputation for the cult of the customer, that no savings is too deep if they can pass it on to their hundreds of millions of loyal customers all over the planet earth. To a lesser extent, despite its layoffs of late, they also for some reason enjoy a rep for hiring lots and lots of good people and not only lots of people but, as Trump once bragged on the campaign trail, "only the best people."
     What Jeff couldn't have known was the day in the future when his own corporation would one day hire a Neo Nazi group to do security for several of their sweatshops "fulfillment centers" in, appropriately, Germany. Then, of course, there's Amazon's sleazy tactic of using multiple layers of contractor and subcontractor temp agencies to hire almost exclusively low-paid temp workers who sometimes work in 120 degree conditions and are given picking and packing goals that would exhaust an electron. But, hey, a guy who hasn't actually worked in over 20 years knows precisely what it feels like to be worked to death like a bee drone in a prison-like environment and he says it's not as bad as all that!
The current online shopping experience is the worst it will ever be ... but it will get so much better. 1999
     So, what does the Prematurely Bald Wizard of New Mexico have planned? Well, a couple of years ago, he was actually floating in public the idea of warehouses in outer space. Which, obviously, would require those low-paid temp workers to be repurposed into astronauts. And, at the same time, Bezos had seriously proposed using drones to deliver packages to your home within minutes. And, should that fail, Jazzy Jeff has really brilliant backup plans- Charging people at least $10,000 to deliver its shit or even letting random strangers into your home for the low, low price of $250.
     Sorry, Jeffy, but I was happy using old-fashioned, terrestrial-based, land-bound and non-invasive UPS and USPS.
In retrospect, we significantly underestimated how much time would be available to enter these categories and underestimated how difficult it would be for single-category e-commerce companies to achieve the scale necessary to succeed.2000
     In other words, we got greedy and stepped on our own dicks, being just another (sadly temporary) victim of the burst dotcom bubble of the 90s.
Focus on cost improvement makes it possible for us to afford to lower prices, which drives growth. Growth spreads fixed costs across more sales, reducing cost per unit, which makes possible more price reductions. Customers like this, and it's good for shareholders. Please expect us to repeat this loop. 2001
     Cue the hooded chorus to sing the sonorous song of the Cult of the Customer. Of course, what the little man behind the curtain doesn't tell his shareholders, not that many if any of them would give a flying fuck, is that cutting unit costs on goods still comes out of someone's pockets and Jeffie would much rather it not be his own. That's why he never says even in a semi-private letter to his investors that that money comes out of the pockets of, again, his low-paid, overworked temp workers, undercutting prices at the expense of what were then his serious competitors (Barnes & Noble and the late Borders, Inc). 
     That also comes about in the deep-cutting discounts Amazon demands, and often gets, from Big Five Publishers. And, if Amazon doesn't get those long-term, deep-cutting discounts from big and small publishers alike, they simply axe the publisher's entire catalog of titles and bloating "co-op promotional fees" by 30 times as they did between 2011 and 2012. And it's easy to cut off your own nose to spite your face when book sales make up less than 25% of your annual profit.
     So, far from Amazon being the Great Priest of the Cult of the Customer, they're really the multi-headed Dragon of the Cult of Corporate Profit, if this graph of its frightening fortunes from 2004 to last year is any indication.
One of our most exciting peculiarities is poorly understood. People see that we're determined to offer both world-leading customer experience and the lowest possible prices, but to some this dual goal seems paradoxical if not downrightquixotic. 2002
     I have to admit, calling Amazon's virtually non-existent customer service "exciting peculiarities" is a masterpiece of semantics worthy of a Frank Luntz on a Wheaties day. What Jeffie was saying 16 years ago was that if you want good customer service after the sale, real world retailers will have to pay for it but we just won't invest that much into it. In fact, they're even willing to cut off even more of their own noses to spite their faces by axing with Kafkaesque suddenness peoples' Prime accounts without a word of explanation from Amazon's "customer service" department whose sole remit is seemingly to keep sending out the same generic form email over and over telling them they're at fault.
     "Exciting peculiarity", indeed, Jeffie!

Owners are different from tenants. I know of a couple who rented out their house, and the family who moved in nailed their Christmas tree to the hardwood floors instead of using a tree stand. ... No owner would be so short-sighted. Similarly, many investors are effectively short-term tenants, turning their portfolios so quickly they are really just renting the stocks that they temporarily "own." 2003
     Does anyone hear the ghost of F. Scott Fitzgerald in the background? If so, why? Oh yes. The opening line of The Great Gatsby: “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me." Bezos was ostensibly talking about long term strategy but what he was really talking about in barely-concealed dog whistle language was his contempt for the short term investors as opposed to his long term major shareholders.
     But some shareholders whose veins don't bleed fountain pen ink have several problems with how Amazon makes them money, such as Bezos selling to police departments facial recognition technology. And, in 2014's third quarter, Amazon didn't grow according to crystal ball forecasts and investors lost a ton of money or didn't get what they were promised with, typically, hardly an explanation from Bezos or anyone. Maybe they should have directed their shareholders to Jayapal so he could send them a letter informing them they'd violated in some unspecified way Amazon's corporately-generated and self-dealt TOS.

A company can actually impair shareholder value in certain circumstances by growing earnings. 2004
      It's hard to understand what the fuck Jeffie is trying to say here but his obsession with revenue streams and paying little attention to profit is well-known in the corporate world. As proof of this, see above to 2014's disappointing 3rd quarter and Bezos's arrogant refusal to explain to his shareholders why he'd lost them money as he was on his way to becoming the world's richest man.

We can estimate what a price reduction will do this week and this quarter. But we cannot numerically estimate the effect that consistently lowering prices will have on our business over five years or ten years or more. Our judgment is that ... [this] creates a virtuous cycle that leads over the long term to a much larger dollar amount of free cash flow. 2005
     There he goes with free cash flow again. I don't understand what Bezos' obsession is with liquid cash flow especially if it comes at the expense of long term viability for his long-term investors for whom no one I know cares about. One is also perplexed how the making of billions of dollars every quarter at the expense of workers, authors, vendors and eventually shareholders can be possibly construed as "virtuous" without a tortuous redistribution that would've done the Spanish Inquisition proud.
     Of course, a closer examination of the letter in its full context tells us Bezos was marrying this idea to the concept of using data to make better informed decisions, which was really the entire evil scheme behind the Kindle, which harvests data that's then collected in vast data centers and its much more difficult to find cloud facilities that are near CIA HQ in Langley, Virginia for reasons other than mere coincidence.
We must convince ourselves that the new opportunity can generate the returns on capital our investors expected when they invested in Amazon...that the new business can grow to a scale where it can be significant in the context of our overall company... [and] that the opportunity is currently underserved and that we have the capabilities needed to bring strong customer-facing differentiation to the marketplace. 2006
     This is boilerplate corporate doublespeak that's intelligible only to other plastic corporate types. In other words, when seeking to diversify, Amazon asks itself three questions, all of them geared toward making itself and its shareholders richer and fuck the working class who are caught in the middle of these world-eating corporate machinations (see Whole Foods, job losses).

We identified what we believe is the book's most important feature. It disappears. When you read a book, you don't notice the paper and the ink and the glue and the stitching. All of that dissolves, and what remains is the author's world. 2007 
     In other words, Gutenberg had his time but I can do it better because it's not as if the book has any physical value to the reader, anyway!
     This one passage strikes at the very heart of the breathtaking corporate arrogance of Jeff fucking Bezos, who actually thinks the more than iconic book can be replaced well within his own lifetime with a hunk of plastic in which titles can capriciously disappear without, again, receiving any explanation or refund, and in which our reading habits are captured, scrutinized and sifted for any value down to the last page you read in bed last night. And, while some people have been conned into believing the Kindle is the book of the future and the medium doesn't matter, the fact remains paper book sales have been inching up and Japan, to name just one country, has been notoriously cold toward the Kindle. (And more about Jeff's ironically "disappearing books" a bit later.)

However, if used exclusively, the company employing it will never be driven to develop fresh skills. Eventually the existing skills will become outmoded. Working backwards from customer needs often demands that we acquire new competencies and exercise new muscles. 2008
     Cult of the Customer, yada yada. Yeah, we get it. Again, if Bezos and his corporate psychopaths gave a flying fuck about the customer, their customer service department would actually be worth that unproffered flying fuck. For instance, before Amazon lets you even write a review about anything, they first stipulate that you stuff $50 in their bulging, bottomless pockets before they'll deign to give you the privilege of writing that review. And, since your Kindle is on a constantly monitored network that would do Big fucking Brother proud, those who put Kindle titles on your device can just as suddenly and silently remove them without any explanation, refund, redress of grievances or any appellate process. Because you never actually buy a Kindle title, you only lease it, a codicil conveniently buried in their corporately-generated TOS that they count on nobody reading.
     They've also cracked down on erotic content whether or not it fits into the genre. Nine years ago, ironically, the same thing happened to George Orwell. And then there's the new scandal just coming to light about self published novelists having their accounts terminated and books banned for literally no reason and, as usual, with no explanation.


     But they care about you... the people. (Part Two comes tomorrow.)

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