When I last wrote in December, I said that I hoped I would have a chance to bring back this newsletter, and behold! Here it is, once again. This is the third extended hiatus this newsletter has taken in the 3+ years since it began, but I can assure you: all three were unavoidable.
In this case, I took off time to work on other projects and to find a new platform from which to publish. I looked hard at just about every email option out there: Buttondown, Ghost, Mailchimp, you name it. I even thought about taking the whole show over to Patreon, which has been a good home for me for years, but I wanted something that would still give me options to write in the hybrid supported-by-members-but-free-to-the-public model I outlined a long time ago in my essay "Unlocking the Commons."
Ultimately, I liked Revue for making its import options easy, for its integration with Twitter (still my favorite social platform and the source of most of my subscribers, free and paid), its low overhead costs, and even (surprisingly) its limited design palette. Maybe that design part will change! That would be great — I have ideas! But for now it's useful not to have to make so many decisions.
I was also willing to make an educated-but-hopeful bet that Elon Musk will not own the company outright anytime soon, spawning a deluge of his fans deciding this is the hot new newsletter platform for trolly unaccountable dipshits. Fingers crossed!
Likewise, thank you to Substack for committing to letting writers own their content and subscription lists, and making export as easy as possible. I did not and do not see eye-to-eye with Substack on many of their choices! Perhaps especially in the years that followed my choosing them as the platform to host my newsletter! But that one, I think most of us can agree, they got right.
The one thing I wasn't able to carry over from one platform to the other is the paid subscriber list. Members of Amazon Chronicles will get one last pitch from me at the old Substack site to carry over the support to the new one, but I am expecting at least some attrition, for a half-dozen reasons.
For now, reading this, if you decide that a free newsletter about Amazon and the industries, communities, media, tech, and culture in its shadow is something you'd like to pledge to support, you can check out my new Members page. Sharp-eyed readers will notice I'm setting the baseline support figure slightly higher, at $6/month instead of $5. This reflects both the changing economies of newsletters (folks are out here charging a lot more money than they did in 2019) and the fact that if you pay $6, I actually make about $5 after Revue and Stripe's cut, which makes the math in my head much easier than the $4 and change thing I was mentally working with before.
My goal is still to get about 500 paying members to make this a viable concern to publish more than sporadically. My current numbers from the Substack version are at about 130 paying subscribers out of a total of 6000 readers, so there some distance to close, even if everybody from Substack signed up. I will do my best to continue to be transparent about those numbers and what they mean, so you know as readers what you're getting into.
In the meantime, I have some original stories cooking (and/or cooling) from the work I was doing in 2021, including interviews with experts on content moderation for Amazon's services (newly relevant and complicated with the creation of Amp) and a deep dive into the origins of Alexa.
For right this minute, though, who'd like an old-fashioned link roundup? I know I would!
Amazon in the News
Amazon is adding a 5% surcharge for fuel fees and other costs to companies in its Marketplace program [Bloomberg]. Inflation is much less of a problem when you can just pass along the costs to someone else! Yet another reason the Marketplace concept is so, um, robust.
imdbTV is being rebranded as Freevee [Hollywood Reporter]. I know we all hate new names for new/old services, but this seems unusually bad. I mean, Fire TV was right there before the hardware people snapped it up! Why not Fire TV+? Anyways, this is a good product that could move the needle on how basic-cable-like streaming services get paid for if it's successful, but it's not really free, as such. Nor is "free" the best selling point when you want to emphasize how good the content is (and presumably your advertisers are)? Anyways. We've all been wrong before.
The Fortunes of MacKenzie Scott [New York Times]. A fascinating profile that (with almost no access to the principals involved) paints a multifaceted lifetime portrait of one of Amazon's major shareholders and a crucial part of its foundation story (as well as a major philanthropist and the Amazon founder's ex-wife). Did you know Toni Morrison was MacKenzie Scott's undergraduate thesis advisor at Princeton and lifelong mentor afterwards? I certainly didn't. When they mention the benefits of an elite education, most people don't bring up "Toni Morrison could fundamentally change your life," but they really should. ("You might be part of a tech and commerce startup that completely changes the world and makes you incredibly wealthy" is much better covered these days.)
Amazon Expands Its "Made For You" Clothing Line [TechCrunch]. It's… more t-shirts, just in different fabrics? I kind of thought they'd have gotten into sweatshirts, yoga pants, and bodysuits by now. To be clear, I really like my Made For You t-shirts and wear them all the time. And they have expanded their customization options a bit. But this is still touching just a fraction of the addressable market out there. They could also use some factories/shipping centers outside Southern California, too.
Amazon Wants the Staten Island Unionization Vote Thrown Out [New York Times]. You probably heard about this! What's a little unusual is that Amazon is alleging unfair practices both against the new Amazon Labor Union and the National Labor Relations Board, which oversaw the election. I don't know how well suing part of the federal government usually turns out. All depends on the judge and the evidence they can muster, I suppose. But I doubt this lawsuit will do anything to put out the fire in the bellies of people trying to organize Amazon workplaces in the US and elsewhere.
Maryland Gives Up on Its Library E-Book Law [Publishers Weekly]. Some backstory: in January, Maryland passed a law requiring publishers and booksellers to offer digital books to public lending libraries "at reasonable terms." In February, a federal judge ruled that this new state law was superseded by the federal Copyright Act, which gives those stakeholders broad discretion on setting prices, including to libraries. Maryland's attorney general's office has decided not to enforce or further challenge this ruling. New York state has a similar law that is likewise stalled and unlikely to ever take effect. So for the moment, library e-book licenses will continue to be quite expensive.
Amazon's Astro Robot Moved Into My House [Wall Street Journal]. Joanna Stern won the race to be the David Pogue of our generation (aka, the best, most charming, most multimedia-savvy reviewer and critic of cutting edge technology) a long time ago, but this kind of story is simply perfect for her. In a seven and a half minute video, Stern explains how Amazon's $1000 robot caused "so much drama, excitement, and privacy questions" after introducing it into her home.
As always, there is a ton more Amazon and Amazon-related news I could point out to you, but I hope you'll take this as a down payment on more to come.
Thanks for reading! If you have any questions about anything subscription or membership related, you should be able to reply to this message. Let me know if you're seeing my email caught up in spam: that shouldn't happen, but it is a hazard with any mass mailing delivery service.
I have so much more to say about Amazon! I hope I will see you again soon.