Charles Stross On Amazon’s Business Model

In which he ignorantly bashes libertarians:

I’m not going to lecture you about Jeff Bezos either, although I do want to note that he came out of a hedge fund and he’s ostensibly a libertarian; these aspects of his background make me uneasy, because in my experience they tend to be found in conjunction with a social-darwinist ideology that has no time for social justice, compassion, or charity. (When you hear a libertarian talking about “disruption” and “innovation” what they usually mean is “opportunities to make a quick buck, however damaging the long-term side effects may be”. Watch for the self-serving cant and the shout-outs to abstractions framed in terms of market ideology.)

Emphasis mine. Jonah Goldberg, hit this guy with a cluebat.

39 thoughts on “Charles Stross On Amazon’s Business Model”

  1. Right, libertarians hate people and don’t care about anything but screwing people out of money. Why they waste time hating on us, as we sit here not calling the shots, is beyond me.

    Of course, this all ignores the fact that it is the statists that are stealing from some to reward others, creating a new kind of Darwinian evolution that rewards the less fit at the expense of the fitter.

  2. I want Stross to name one alternative to free markets that doesn’t have ill long-term side effects. If he mentions public education and Britain’s NHS, Jonah needs to swing the cluebat harder.

  3. Sounds to me like Charles Stross thinks his own taxes should be higher. After all, there’s a lot more he could be doing to advance “social justice”… if he’d only dig deeper and work harder for the State.

  4. I’ll repeat the Bilwick Rule: As with “neo-con” and “trickle-down economics,” use of the terms “Social Darwinism” and “Social Darwinist” (other than in, say, the field of intellectual history) is almost always like a sign worn atop the user’s head, with a downward-pointing arrow and the message: NO REAL THINKING GOING ON IN HERE.

    And by the way, what’s wrong with making a fast buck? Is it morally inferior to making a slow buck? Sounds like the New Puritanism of the Left (which William Buckley, paraphrasing Mencken and describing, as I recall, George McGovern and the McGovernites, “the dark suspicion that someone, somewhere, is making a profit). Reminds me also of David Friedman’s quip: “Greedy capitalists make money. Virtuous statists steal it.”

  5. If you believe the guy hitting you with a cluebat is evil, you aren’t likely to derive anything positive from the impact.

    Which is why discussing just about anything with a liberal is like discussing evolution with a Creationist. They both think you’re going to Hell, so what’s the point of listening?

  6. Stross has written some good stuff, as have Ken MacLeod and others from the Scottish socialist group of sf writers.

    But to greater or lesser degree the adjective “socialist” must always be kept in mind. They can lift their pints between Edinburgh and Glasgow and theorize their time away like left bank Parisians of another era. But they’re often good enough writers that I just apply the same – and often greater degree – of “suspension of disbelief” about their social projections as I do for any other sf.

  7. You know, if you actually read Stross’s article, you’d see (bolding his) “And the peculiar evil genius of Amazon is that Amazon seems to be trying to simultaneously establish a wholesale monopsony and a retail monopoly in the ebook sector.” In other words, he claims that Bezos is trying to use libertarian theory to destroy competition.

    I don’t have a dog in this hunt, so I won’t argue the merits of Stross’s case. I will say that, in any free market, there are strong incentives to creating monopolies. A monopoly is good for the monopolist, and lousy for everybody else.

      1. You have managed to seize the capillary of Stross’s argument. The thrust of the argument was that Bezos is using libertarian concepts as a cover to create an anti-competitive system.

        Apparently it’s working, because instead of looking at whether or not Amazon is suppressing competition we’re arguing about social Darwinism.

        1. That’s pretty crafty of Stross to put a deflection in his own story to distract people from his main point. Brilliant! Well, maybe not…

          The interesting thing about eBooks is now any author can get their book published. How that’s anti-competitive is beyond me. It’s certainly not nearly as bad as the few paper publishing houses consolidating and then restricting which work gets turned into books.

          As for other book selling competitors, there’s a long litany of the mistreatment of conservative tomes by Borders and other brick and mortar companies. Amazon is successful because it doesn’t go out of its way to alienate a large number of potential customers. They may not be able to sell “Mars Run”, but I don’t blame their business strategy.

          Alas, I’ve only purchased a few eBooks, because I still prefer paper (It’s Dems that don’t want to kill trees). The eBooks I purchased were from Amazon, and the reason I purchased them is despite being published works; they were primarily offered for sell in the UK. Getting the books in the US required second hand retail outlets, which interestingly enough sell their products via Amazon’s Market Place (damn Bezos monopolistic business strategy!).

          1. The interesting thing about eBooks is now any author can get their book published. How that’s anti-competitive is beyond me. It’s certainly not nearly as bad as the few paper publishing houses consolidating and then restricting which work gets turned into books.

            Yes, because I have lots of time on my hands to sift through the publisher slush piles for them.

            In other words, I remain to be convinced that increasing the supply of published books is necessarily a good thing, or that the publishers (who run their operations for profits) are running an evil closed shop just to keep “John Smith” out of the hands of the punters who just have to read his opus.

    1. There is nothing stopping any author or publisher from putting up their own web site with an online store and setting their own prices. I’m not sure how much other companies charge for transmitting data but I’m guessing Amazon is competitive.

      1. No, there’s not. The problem is that Amazon may be able to use pricing and availability of product to make independent sites not economically viable.

        1. The internet is still one place where the hurdle to compete is still low enough that anybody can. The problem is they don’t see themselves as potential competition. Independent publishers will continue riding the old model to it’s death.

          Sadly, ebooks are one of the few items where a competing brand could be effective against Amazon. Don’t hold your breath.

          pricing and availability

          That’s why you put pricing in the hands of the authors with a flat commission to the brand.

          As for availability, Amazon is about data processing, not warehousing. There is no reason anybody else couldn’t compete. When Amazon puts pressure on publishers, that just makes the competition more attractive. The publishers can list their wares on multiple sites. Amazon has a brand advantage (meaning more eyeballs) that’s all. That can be won away from them but requires a real effort.

        2. Here’s a solution that Chris Gerrib will love. Raise giant taxes on successful businesses like Amazon. Then take the confiscated wealth and give it to Obama’s bankster buddies!

          Social Justice!!!111one1

          1. Government for the people, a despairing Rutherford B. Hayes noted in his diary, was supplanted in the Gilded Age by “government of the corporation, by the corporation, and for the corporation.” It was an era when government held the keys to corporate and private fortunes—land and subsidies for railroads, tariff protection for manufacturers, mountains for mining companies, timber lands for lumber kings, court orders to prevent strikes, and state militia and federal lawmen and U.S. Army regulars to break strikes and shoot strikers. “Government by campaign contributions,” in Henry Demarest Lloyd’s words, gave America the most violent strikes in the industrializing world.

  8. I like what Glenn said about libertarians – we want to take over the government and then leave you alone.

    1. Which is why the only people that should be in govt. are those that don’t want it.

      So why is the media always telling us that so-and-so has no fire in the belly?

  9. For some one using the net, I think he seems to not really get the net. Information flow is no longer through channels. Viral works. If you create something interesting or unbelievably absurdly silly that everyone wants to see it, they will flood you. Store fronts are easy to set up and manage. I know lots of folk who do it. Many musicians I know (and I was part of that business for quite awhile) have disintermediated and create and sell their own music on line… and actually make money at it, some thing which does not happen if you go with the usual recording contract unless you have several really big albums… and the majors pretty much decide which ones are going to get pushed for airplay. That’s why the old model in music is pretty much down to a record buying audience of 14 year old girls. And by this point, even they are probably deciding what music is cool based on friends surfing and passing on links to bands.

    1. Are your musician friends making a full-time living at music? I hear this “go viral” talk a lot. It works for a few people, but not most. And under the current system, Stross makes a nice living as a full-time writer.

    2. They make a full time ‘decent’ 6 figure income? Which I’m pretty sure Charlie Stross does.

      Plus his blog gets 100,000s of uniques a month (according to him) which suggests he understands this stuff pretty well.

      1. That doesn’t mean Stross understands it; it means he’s good at generating web hits. Big difference. 🙂

        And “decent” can mean something well below a six-figure income. Shocker, I know.

  10. Jonah Goldberg, hit this guy with a cluebat.


    Here’s something Mr Stross wrote about Mr Goldberg:

    [ PS: Any further postings on the subject of Jonah Goldberg will be deleted. The guy’s an intellectual prostitute (like unto a US neoconservative version of Julius Streicher) and unworthy of any consideration. In particular I see no reason to turn my blog into a soapbox for his reprehensible and vile ideology. — Charlie ]

    I would pay money to watch that fight.

  11. I rank “compassion”, “social justice”, and “true love” as the typically phony platitudes that the human race, Westerners in particular, dabbles with.

    1. For example, when the statists/corporatists mention “social justice”, what they really mean is that they will reward failure and punish success. Case in point, “social justice” means that banksters who make crappy business decisions get rewarded with government bailouts. Meanwhile, small businesses that made prudent business decisions are punished with more taxes, weakened dollar, and more regulations that seemingly reward giant banksters.

      Do you really want me to continue on and describe how fake “true love” is as well?

    2. Compassion and true love exist, but self interest is far more dependable between random people. What we need are societal rules that make creating wealth more profitable than taking it from someone else.

  12. Chris (“Wesley Mouch is My Hero”) Gerrib will be happy to know that George (“Darth”) Soros’ Mailed Fist Productions is working on a movie called “Atlas Chained.” In that movie, evil capitalist “Jeff Bozos” will be brought to heel by the forces of “progressivism,” who legislate his Bozos’ company, “,” out of existence.

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