The Jungle Book
The following article by David K. Wheeler begins four Fridays of conversation on the topic of personal finance. In brief, we'll address book-buying, cutting back, giving more, and money in marriage.
One year ago a remarkable thing happened. In the cold turn of October, a railroad turned the corner from somewhere to elsewhere on the sky gray cover of Contingency Plans, my debut poetry collection. You can buy it in stores. You can find it on the internet.
That day also underscored a tension for me. A writer and bookseller, I’m fiercely independent, liberally minded, and altogether outspoken about the influence of one particular sales giant. To have my book generate income for them gave me the most curious pause. Never have I experienced elation and disgust in such unison.
I make liberal use of the word hate in discussions about Amazon, and it has to do with their being the major competitor to me and mine, but it goes deeper. The announcement came last fall that Amazon will compete as an actual publishing house—creating what CEO Jeff Bezos considers an “end-to-end service.”
For me, the homogeneity is disconcerting enough. One house—with remarkable sway—procuring, editing, printing, promoting, and selling books, all from within. No outside agents, editors, publicists, or booksellers guiding the process; a flow chart linking writer to reader with a great big AMZN.
I understand Amazon’s prerogative to expand, but quality seems to suffer under their heavy hand. I’ve cited examples on my blog. But consumers keep going back. Probably because Amazon prices are so low. It feels like a scam when I tell a customer I’ll charge them an easy ten dollars more than Amazon—but whose scam? Customers will opt to order a book online if I don’t physically have it on my shelf—even when I can have what they’re looking for the next day!—because Amazon makes books appear on their doorsteps. What’s there to do?
A Glove to Fit the Hand
When I’m not selling books, I go to the old home game. I like to watch the Mariners with my friend Bobby; he knows things. With him it’s Baseball 101. Seattle was playing the New York Yankees earlier this season, and I needed some clarity.
“Why does everyone hate the Yankees?” I asked. “Is it because they win all the time?”
“That’s part of it.” Bobby then taught me a valuable lesson about how money plays a role in what many consider a sacred game: People that hate the Yankees hate the Yankees because the Yankees don’t appear to care about anything but winning.
Maybe that’s true; maybe it’s not. But from the standpoint of many, the hallowed game of baseball—sportsmanship itself—has been sacrificed in Yankee Stadium to a big hungry god of their own design. Technically they play by the rules—technically.
Bobby elaborated and I discovered a glove to fit the hand. My beef with Amazon has to do with a modicum of decency as yet lacking on their part. To me, Amazon operates with no respect for its competitors and only vague awareness that its customers exist. Blatant greed has them seeking to cut out all entities mediating them and their profits. Those entities are people and services that raise the quality of products delivered. That attitude affects jobs and livelihoods in many ways more than just beating out the competition for a sale.
I’m suspicious about endeavors to omit positions, especially in a market suffering unemployment, debt, and economic disparity.
But it’s foolish for me to blame Amazon alone. It is symptomatic of a greater national, buffet-style consumerism. Some of that is necessity, resultant of circumstances being protested this very minute through the Occupy Movement, but enough of that is also selfish consumer entitlement that probably started with business models like Henry Ford and Harry Gordon Selfridge pervading the American mind.
Amazon, like all businesses, responds to a market. We have done most of its work for it.
Beauty from messes is one thing left I believe in. I edit for T. S. Poetry Press, the very publisher behind my book. Our books are print-on-demand through a subsidiary of Amazon because its prices makes what we provide possible. Our primary focus is poetry. A niche press is hard to imagine working right out of the gates in traditional publishing.
I edit even while my hatred of Amazon boils because I believe in the T. S. Poetry project. Beauty from messes—it’s what God does; it’s what grace is. It’s how I describe my poetry in the book that resides within the jungle of tension, titled to imply the full flux surrounding it, Contingency Plans.
For me, there’s no question when I find projects and people whose beauty shines in the jungle, but when we’re tempted to add-to-cart, we must ask, Are we tempted because something’s beautiful, or because it is cheap?
Image by Moominsean. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr. Post by David K. Wheeler, author of Contigency Plans.