The Public Utility Responsibilities of a Monopoly

     There has been a lot of talk lately about the danger of  Twitter bearing so much of the traffic of micro-blogging, and in the past couple of weeks, this has been demonstrated by it’s being knocked off the Internet under several attacks. I’m more worried about a different problem of large monopolies that have grown on the Internet, and for once, I’ll actually talk about my field as an example, selling used books.

bookshelves      I list on several different book sites. If something happens to any one of them, it doesn’t tip the balance of my survival as a bookseller. Except one, Amazon. As time passes, the percentage of sales generated by Amazon increases, right now for me it’s somewhere around 75%. They are very successful at what they do, getting their name out there, and when people think book nowadays, they think Amazon. Now Amazon is a private profit-making company, and in general I support their right to do pretty much whatever they want. But what social responsibility does such a company have to people who make their living selling through them?

     This applies to Ebay, and social network sites also. They may be a private company, but they function more as a public utility. I’ve know several people who have, rather arbitrarily, been booted off Amazon. There is no real recourse, it is next to impossible to get re-listed with them. I’m sure this is sometimes justified, but Amazon considers the purchasers of their products the customer, not the person paying commissions that sells their product there. And the customer is always right, right? So in any questionable dispute, they tend to side with their ‘customer’, and this has obviously worked well for them. But the bookseller who is denied access to the largest medium by far for selling books is now either pretty much out of business, or hurt badly if they do manage to survive.

      I’m not sure what the right answer is to this problem, as I said earlier they are a private company that has assumed some of the cachet of a public utility. What are their social responsibilities when they wield that much power? I do think they should have a much fairer and accessible review process for getting re-listed. I would love to hear other’s views on this. Just in the interests of disclosure, I’m having no problems with them. In fact, they recently told me not to worry about a claim someone was making for a book order over 9 months old. But I do worry about the future of these private/public entities.

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5 Responses to The Public Utility Responsibilities of a Monopoly

  1. Excellent post to start with.
    I do agree with you that the re-listed, or any reversion of a decision, should really be addressed in a more transparent way by the companies.

    In the case of Amazon, they are making a profit out of people using it to make their business and it is wrong to stay on the side of the customer just because. Anyone who has to deal with customers knows that they are often wrong and, their use of the premise “Customers are always right” as a final argument shows, how wrong they can be sometimes.

    Is there a social responsibility? No. The fact that they somehow extended their core business and that that expansion has turned them in unwilling Public Service providers should not get in the way of their own private rules and profited oriented goals.

    Is there a danger in always being on the side of the customer? Sure there is. Amazon’s logo might come right next to the word “Book” in any new media dictionary but the fact is that any business is about people. Your customer base will buy books from you no mater if you are listed on Amazon or not. Treat them well and the message will spread along. Along with the message that Amazon sucks 😉

    Is there a self responsibility? No doubts.

  2. Bruce says:

    I sell on Amazon and it is like walking on eggshells listing and selling there. I am starting to list a whole lot more than books and will continue to do that just in case I get booted from amazon again, been booted once and re-instated. Play carefully on Amazon’s turf and watch your step!

  3. booksbelow says:

    Thanks Fernando, I do tend to agree that their success as a business model shouldn’t make them responsible as a public utility. Hopefully our system of free enterprise will self-correct their near monopoly if they don’t act more reponsibly towards their vendors. Self-interest is always the best motivator!

  4. booksbelow says:

    Thanks Bruce, I always live in fear of being booted from Amazon for some ill-defined reason. Knock wood. 🙂

  5. madrozie says:

    Pretty cool post. I just came by your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed browsing your posts.

    Any way I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon!

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