Welcome back to Amazon Chronicles, your admittedly irregular blog/newsletter about all things Amazon – plus the users, customers, workers, and industries in its shadow.
It's been two weeks since my last newsletter – I took a break for the US's Thanksgiving holiday, and very sadly, our beloved Boston Terrier Beedie passed away.
In that time, Twitter (the company and the platform) further deteriorated under the already-infamous leadership of Elon Musk. I'm still reading and posting there [@tcarmody], but I've also moved to Mastodon and Post.news.
I also concluded that I should get my newsletter off of the Twitter-owned Revue platform as quickly as possible. So this newsletter is coming to you from Ghost, my fourth newsletter platform (Tinyletter => Substack => Revue => Ghost, which isn't counting my time using Mailchimp to write Kottke.org's newsletter), and my third in a little more than a year. Here's hoping it sticks: I certainly would rather not move house again.
At this point, some of you are doing the math in your head and saying "two weeks? It's been a lot longer than that!" Well, this was the other problem with my time at Revue: its delivery mechanisms were terrible! The emails that actually got delivered (far from all of them!) were frequently routed to spam, and the SEO was a joke. So a steady stream of readers continued to faithfully sign up for my old newsletter at Substack, sometimes recommended by other users, thinking that was the best place to get their Amazon fix. Something like 600 people did this after I stopped posting on Substack and paused paid subscriptions over a year ago! That's a lot of people who never got even one newsletter!
So, as part of the migration, I've merged both the Revue and the Substack list into a single new master list, some 6200+ readers strong. I've also started the process of migrating both archives to this site, and moving over paid members from Substack as well as Revue.
Both of these things will probably happen over the next one or two weeks. In the meantime, if you get a bill from Revue or Substack, I apologize: the only way I can migrate the Stripe data as I understand it is to keep those payments active until they can be transferred here to Ghost. (On the plus side, compared to Revue and especially Substack, you can count on much more of your membership payments actually getting to me, as Ghost doesn't take a percentage of subscriptions.)
Now, migrating free and paid subscribers from an older iteration of the newsletter means that at least some of you now reading this have already unsubscribed from this newsletter once, probably during the time it was at Revue. Again, I apologize. If you want off this train, please, go ahead and unsubscribe now. At Ghost, I pay a fee based on the total number of free subscribers, so I don't want you to stay on the books if you don't want to be here any more than you do.
But once upon a time, you signed up for this newsletter for a reason: you read something that you liked, a trusted friend or news source recommended it, or you need to keep tabs on Amazon and observed that the other general-purpose sites covering the company are even flakier than this one. (Trust me, I know!)
So, please – give me a chance to win you over again.
My wedding has happened, my dog is gone, my health is better than it's been in years, and I'm eager to do the work.
Even two weeks ago, I was ready to throw in the towel about writing about Amazon, at least in the way that I was doing it. All the news around the company was too depressing, and it was grinding on me in ways I couldn't even explain to my psychiatrist. I've always been ambivalent about the place, but maybe you are too: a loyal customer with genuine fascination for how the company works, who is nevertheless a critic of how they practice business, trying to understand how one company warps seemingly all of spacetime with their hegemony over commerce, infrastructure, and the cloud. Wouldn't it be more fun to write about things I was genuinely excited about?
I would like to do that! And with luck, I can find a way to do it here, along with my Amazon news and updates. Again, this newsletter was never supposed to just be about Amazon, but about the world Amazon was helping to shape – which is another way of saying, our entire world, from our streets to our screens. But, you know, warped spacetime and all that.
However, by thinking about what made writing about Amazon depressing, I also hit on what I think is a useful framework for understanding what is happening to our world, and Amazon's place in it, right now. And my best summary of that framework is this:
The heroic phase of the tech giants is over.
This idea is going to require some unpacking – among other things, it requires a mix of journalistic aggregation and close-reading theories about the history and future of capitalism. I just don't have enough room in this newsletter to do it. Suffice to say, I don't mean that tech was good but now it's bad, or that tech was powerful and influential but in the future it will be weak and unprofitable. It's not that simple, I'm afraid. Still, stick with me, and through my writing, plus the voices of some trusted interlocutors, I'll try to explain what I mean.
Get ready to wonk the fuck out.
With that as a teaser, I'll use the rest of my space here to highlight a few of the many stories about Amazon from the past week or so that help illustrate my thesis about the end of tech's heroic phase.
Amazon CEO Says He Doesn’t Regret Hiring Spree as Company Starts Layoffs [Sarah Needleman, Wall Street Journal]
Amazon Rescinds Job Offers in Retail Organization [Theo Wayt, The Information]
Winging It: Inside Amazon’s Quest to Seize the Skies [Caitlin Harrington, Wired]
The Unfulfilled Promise of Serverless [Corey Quinn, Last Week In AWS]
Longtime Top Amazon Exec Jeff Blackburn to Retire [Jennifer Maas, Variety]
As Amazon shrinks, some workers’ last day comes 2 days before Christmas [Lauren Rosenblatt, Seattle Times]
Amazon Kindle Scribe review: absolutely adequate [Alex Cranz, The Verge]
Amazon to warn customers on limitations of its AI [Jeffrey Pastin and Paresh Dave, Reuters]
The last two items in particular have a rich irony: Amazon knows its AI can be discriminatory, enough that it has to disclose a warning to its own customers about using it – but the company still thinks it can replace its own recruiting team and evaluate its own new job applicants with the same AI!
There's eating your own dogfood and then eating your own shit. This feels like the lattter. More than any of these other stories, none of which are particularly flattering, this one makes me feel like Amazon is either unprepared for its next phase or simply does not care enough to avoid a dismal future. Still popular, still profitable, but utterly dismal. A future not worth emulating or anticipating.
But if you want to know why I think this, you'll have to 1) read these articles 2) tune in for the next issue.
Thanks to everyone who sent their well-wishes on my wedding! Despite my bearishness on Amazon and the tech world's immediate prospects, I am actually happier than I have ever been. It makes writing about the depressing stuff a lot more bearable.
Comments are currently closed, but if you have any questions, tips, or anything else that's relevant, you should just be able to reply to this newsletter and I'll see it. Thank you all for reading, and have a good weekend.