The one who got away. Or not.
A few years ago, I was looking for a business mentor.
To hire. Basically, a coach. Just that the word “coach” got on my nerves, which was one of the reasons I needed one since no one was hiring me since they didn’t know what I actually did.*
*What I actually did? Um, something very much like coaching.
Anyway, I’d narrowed it down to three likely candidates, none of whom I could really afford, but I knew that the success of my business was going to depend on someone pointing me in the right direction. Or really, any direction.
I was going to meet — in person — with candidate #1, because he lived in San Francisco, which is where I was at the time.
But then he wanted to meet at a Starbucks.
Me (inside my head): Starbucks? You want to be the one to help me grow my small, local business and you don’t even support small, local businesses? You have your own small, local business and you still don’t support small, local businesses?
Me (out loud): You know what? I’m not really ready for this right now.
Parenthetical mini-lesson here, if you’re interested.
All of a sudden it was alarmingly clear that my stupid lists of pros and cons about working with this person versus that person were so completely irrelevant.
I needed to work with someone whose values matched mine and that was that.
And I found a business mentor who also had a serious yoga and meditation practice. The kind of guy who was more concerned about how much rest I was getting than how much I was getting done.
Everyone who’s anyone in the business world says you have to niche niche niche. But the truth is, if you have a personality — and a set of values — that your Right People can identify with, it really doesn’t matter.
You heard it here first. Okay. On to the actual point.
Fast forward to this weekend.
The mass freaking-out over Amazon’s general asshattery was pretty huge.
Twitter got completely taken over by the #amazonfail tag, which beat out even “Jesus”, “Easter” and the super creepy kid who launched the virus that was hijacking people’s accounts (including that of my gentleman friend, who got locked out of his).
Basically, for anything to beat out a badass Twitter virus and Easter … it had to be big. And it is.
Here’s why people are furious with Amazon, if you’re not caught up:
Amazon changed their sales ranking system to remove or “derank” certain books that (according to them, of course) are “adult” or otherwise inappropriate.
It’s just that — extremely conveniently — what they’ve decided is “adult” and inappropriate turns out to be mostly books related to themes of GLBT sexuality, feminism, or sex education.
Oh, and stuff like Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
So … Ellen DeGeneres: A Biography is deranked. And … The Complete A**hole’s Guide To Handling Chicks is not. So yeah, people are upset.
Not only is it just an asshat thing to do, the ranking system is how customers find books. So if certain books (ones that are somehow related to sexuality, with an additional emphasis on those that have to do with homosexuality and queer culture) aren’t ranking, their sales go down. Which further “deranks” them.
So there are a couple things going on here. The result (whatever the intention), which comes across as as bigoted and obnoxious. And then, purely from a business perspective, you’ve got pretty much the least level playing field that ever was.
So yeah, that’s awful. But why is everyone so surprised?
Here’s what is puzzling me.
All over the internet, people are up in arms over this. Authors, friends of authors, people who write books, people who buy books. People are dropping their Amazon links in favor of Powells links. In droves.
Which is awesome.
Except … why now? I don’t get it.
That Amazon is not the nicest company in the world? How is this even news?
For one thing, they’re the reason you don’t have a bookstore in your town. They Walmart-ed them out of existence.
(I argued in my post about why it’s not the economy that even under the toughest of circumstances, there are still all sorts of things you can do to survive and even to thrive. So it’s not necessarily an excuse. But it’s a hell of a challenge.)
But that’s not even the half of it.
They’ve hatched one ploy after another in what many people have labelled an attempt to secure a monopoly on print on demand (POD) services by putting everyone else out of business.
The threat was this: if other POD companies wanted to sell their books on Amazon, they’d have to use (and pay for) Amazon’s printing system or the buy buttons on their books would be turned off. Slimy. And probably illegal.
Oh, and they sell fur. And cock-fighting videos. And so on.
If you’re a small business owner, supporting small business should not be a new concept.
Of course I’m happy to see all the authors I follow on Twitter switching to Powell’s as the place to sell their books.
But if we want to succeed as independent, quirky, small businesses — if we want the itty biz dream — taking a stand in favor of our fellow independents should be the norm.
As I said in my anti-Starbucks rant in the milk song post (which made me insanely happy to reread just now because it reminded me of Mario):
If you’re an independent small business owner — even if you don’t think of yourself as one because it’s just you and your laptop and maybe a cat — step up and support your fellow creative, independent neighborhood person who is working himself (or herself) ragged, pouring heart and soul into giving you a human experience.
And I ranted about how we shouldn’t buy from Amazon when I wrote about Seth Godin’s Triiibes. And then I mentioned the Starbucks thing again here (which got me hate mail) and here (which didn’t). I asked you guys to help keep Portland’s nonprofit women’s bookstore In Other Words alive.
So yeah, I’ve talked about this so often that I know people are sick of it. Yes, it is my “thing”. But it’s a really big deal to me. Because you know what?
HERE’S THE POINT. IT’S IMPORTANT.
It SHOULD NOT HAVE TO TAKE being offended by policies of discrimination to make us take our business elsewhere. We had no business doing business there to begin with.
And Amazon has cried “glitch”. And there’s already a new hashtag on Twitter called #glitchmyass.
So much for the Amazon Fail. I still say that I, uh, fail to understand why it’s taken everyone so long to get upset enough to stop buying from them. But I like it.