Hell Hath No Fury

Who the heck needs a feminist online bookstore, my younger self wondered, when I first heard of Amazon. After all, why else would one name the company after a member of a self–mutilating (for whatever practical reason) mythical female warrior tribe? If only I had been right, my now older, wiser self grumbles.

Heav’n has no Rage, like Love to Hatred turn’d,
Nor Hell a Fury, like a Woman scorn’d.

William Congreve (1670–1729), English playwright, The Mourning Bride

First off, let me state this: Despite having stopped business transactions with Amazon (and all its subsidiaries) altogether, I will continue publishing e–books compatible with Kindle e–book readers. That Amazon and I cannot seem to overcome “irreconcilable differences” is no justification for me to abandon their or my existing or prospective customers.

No Lovers at First Sight

About twenty years ago, I was desperately trying to get my hands on a certain book. My then favourite brick–and–mortar dealer didn’t find it in their catalogue and even the National Library was afraid not to be able to offer useful advice.

A friend mentioned Amazon. According to aforementioned considerations, it seemed rather doubtful that this one of all enterprises was the company to appeal to. Yet appeal I did, and, lo and behold, they did have that book in stock. In return for my credentials they would send a copy to my doorstep, hassle–free and quick.

Well, “quick” certainly is a relative time unit; considering that it took Phileas Fogg and his trusty employee, Passepartout, only eighty days to circumnavigate the globe once in the late 1900s, nearly two weeks for a book to travel from Seattle to Vienna in the late 1990s seemed to be a bit of a stretch.

Yet arrive it did, in excellent condition, and its content was certainly worth the wait. Nevertheless, I didn’t like the idea of obtaining tangible goods from an online platform located on the other side of the world. So I decided to rather return to my favourite brick–and–mortar store and have the shop assistant do the acquisition in the future.

My failure to do regular business with Amazon eventually caused me to be locked out of my account — “accidentally”, as I was assured by customer care upon request. Well, then.

My Book, My Say

Fast forward fifteen (or so) years, after having created a new account, I published a book on Amazon’s “dot–com” platform. Given that I came well prepared, this actually was a hassle–free venture — until … I tried to set the purchase price.

I certainly was informed that Amazon would lower the price according to settings made on competing platforms, but no one ever bothered to explain why they would set the price higher than their competitors, even though I had repeatedly gone to reduce the price manually.

It didn’t matter just how often I informed them that others had the book on offer at a lower price, or how often I changed the settings, they would stubbornly return to the price they preferred to ask for this item. Any requests didn’t even bounce back to me, they simply vanished. Our relationship was stuck in a cloud of impenetrable silence. It was unnerving.

The Book Custody Battle

Why I ceased to purchase e–books (the only form of books that should be sold on an online platform, in my humble opinion) from Amazon, I already explained in a different context.

Go Sleep with My Sister, Then

Quite recently, my refusal to buy from this platform led to an interesting (yet no less annoying) issue: I was denied to review a book I actually had read.

A fellow writer had sent me an advanced reader copy some time ahead of the official launch, and I had happily agreed to proofread it.

In order to review it on Amazon as a “certified” reviewer, I was supposed to buy it from this platform, and therefore had been offered the book for a limited time at a lower price.

Well, I was prepared to make an exception this once, and logged in to my account at Amazon.com. Yet in order to buy this book, I was transferred to Amazon.de, the German subsidiary. Whatever I tried, I was refused access to the purchase routine on my original account.

You may or may not know it, but holders of subsidiary accounts are presented with different content and have access to different features. That is to say, you may see the same product, but all customer–related information is different. You can, for example, review a book on, say, Amazon.de, but your review won’t appear on Amazon.com (or any of the other local subsidiaries), and vice versa. There may even be some logic in this, but it should be for the customer to choose what information they are after.

Being refused to review the book on Amazon.com, I wanted to cancel the order on Amazon.de. No luck. Eventually, I contacted customer support — and ended up on Amazon.co.uk.

So I am not able to buy an item from the dot–com mirror, and have to switch to the dot–de mirror instead (arguably because I’m calling from a German–speaking country), but when I contact their help desk, I’m automatically transferred to an English–speaking mirror (even though I’m calling from a German–speaking country)?

What kind of logic, I beg, would that be? Shaking my head in disbelief (not for the first time on that evening — and unfortunately not the last time, either), I reminded myself that I was communicating with a self–mutilating mythical female warrior. Mythical females as amazons may be, this one has some rather annoying real world attributes. “She” definitely wanted things to go her way. Nevertheless, whatever nonsense was to come, I was still set to take it in good spirits (which is probably why Amazon has become a global player in the first place).

This “one–click–purchase” was already becoming more of a “one–hour–purchase”; I really didn’t want to write it off as “complete boondoggle” just then.

Having my experiences with customer support via “contact forms”, I simply listed the issues I had faced, refusing to waste words, but, for good measure, expressed my expectation that this e–mail was unlikely to be read by a human being anyway (as I said, not my first request to a help desk).

The reply came inside of an hour (from the German mirror). In a slightly hurt tone I was informed that “of course, every e–mail will be read by a living, breath taking human being”. The rest was slightly incomprehensible, but ended with the promise that my order would be cancelled. Mission accomplished — at least in parts.

I still wanted to review the book. That, after all, was why I had come to the place. After terminating the session, I launched Amazon.com again, only to be told that I’m not supposed to review a book until I have actually obtained it from their site — at all.

No more talking about “certified” reviews. If I wanted to tell other buyers what I thought about a book, I had to buy a copy from Amazon first. (Now you know why I insisted on having actually read the book; it simply doesn’t matter whether or not you read the book you review, as long as you bought it from them. This is not Amazon’s attempt to keep trolls and spammers at bay — because having to log in to your account would suffice — but simply a means to accelerate their business.)

Since I already had a hard copy, I didn’t mind this once that I wouldn’t receive one after putting real money on the table, and started another attempt. Yet again, I was directly transferred to the local, German, subsidiary. It was no use. (No, that’s not to do with different value taxes, because that matter is usually dealt with during the checkout process.)

I sat back and leisurely reviewed my relationship of twenty years with Amazon. Terms not fit for printing came to mind, now and again. That was the moment when I decided that we had eventually arrived at a parting of the ways.

Filing for Divorce

Obviously, only a man thinks that a matter is settled, once no more can be said or done. And this man couldn’t be any wronger.

I unpublished my own book on their site and contacted Amazon in order to have my account closed. Amazon’s reaction was desperate, but, in a way, also hilarious.

First, I received an e–email with a not exactly short list of things I would have to go without, should I insist on closing my account. It also contained a link I should follow “after reviewing the items above” to write back and state that I wanted my account closed. (That I had done already, which was why I received the list of horrible things that might befall me should I jilt Amazon.)

Shortly thereafter, I received another e–mail, informing me that:

(…) as you can see below, the e–mail we received didn’t contain any text. If you tried to send your message as an attachment, unfortunately we’re not able to view those.
I’ve reviewed our previous contact with you and see that you’ve contacted us to close your account. Unfortunately we’re unable to close the account unless you state that you want to close your account.
Please write back to us stating that you want to close your account so that we’ll take appropriate action.
Please visit the following link to provide the information we requested: (…)

The reason for my e–mail to them containing no text was that the form they provided contained a comment box that was not marked as “required”. Anyway, what clarifying information could I have provided in this box? This form is part of the “close my account” routine. Am I really supposed to spell out my intention when the routine I had initiated has only one purpose? After all, the person who had received my e–mail had already confirmed to have “[seen] that you’ve contacted us to close your account”.

Nevertheless, I logged in to my still existing Amazon.com account, entered the “close my account” routine again, took care to enter “I want you to close my account and delete all information related to it”, and submitted the e–mail. Again. (Did you notice that this time I was not transferred to my local subsidiary?)

This time, I really thought they would get the point I was trying to make. Yet the next — and thus far last — e–mail from Amazon.com was simply a copy of the aforementioned list of items to be considered before closing my account — the link to do so was dutifully included too.

My Amazon.com account is still alive, and Amazon.de has begun to shoot me unsolicited e–mails, welcoming and thanking me for having decided on a Kindle, and offering wonders unheard of, if only I can bring myself to be more favourable.

Somehow, it’s like you try to divorce a woman and she, instead of signing the divorce agreement, just passes you on to her little sister. The wife is playing dead, and now I also have to get rid of the sister–in–law. Perhaps, I wonder, cognitive bias is key to become a global player — this would explain the present economic situation at least.