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A View From Under the Long Tail 123

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the witty-retorts dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Here's a funny article by James Boyle in the Financial Times on what it really feels like to be part of the long tail economy." From the article: "Where Amazon's normal customer service seems to be run by suspiciously cheerful MBAs from Stanford, who break off from counting their stock options to write apologies and deliver refunds, 'Amazon Advantage', the ironically named system for selling wares, is clearly based on the last days of the Soviet system. The problem with their representatives is not that their native language is not English, it is that their native planet is not Earth."
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A View From Under the Long Tail

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  • by BWJones (18351) * on Friday September 29, 2006 @12:26AM (#16241587) Homepage Journal
    This is not really an indictment against Chris Anderson [thelongtail.com] or his most excellent work on the Long Tail concept so much as it is a demonstration of Amazon's lack of infrastructure (or management) in their Amazon Advantage [amazon.com] program.

    I've heard from more than one person of their frustrations in dealing with this program which has lead me to delay efforts to publish a couple of items through them...

    • by AKAImBatman (238306) * <akaimbatman@gmai ... m minus language> on Friday September 29, 2006 @12:46AM (#16241681) Homepage Journal
      it is a demonstration of Amazon's lack of infrastructure (or management) in their Amazon Advantage program.

      I have no idea why people insist on using confusing examples for the Long Tail concept. THIS [atariage.com] is the Long Tail. Brand new games created for a system that's 30 years old, with a very specialized fan base. In a traditional market, you would NEVER be able to make money off of this. But in an Internet-enabled environment, you can theoretically reach every member of this esoteric market in every region in the world, with a very small advertising budget.

      The only reason why Amazon keeps coming up is that they collectively sell lots of esoteria, thus managing to hit a farther end in the population dropoff (i.e. the longest part of the tail) than a business like AtariAge could reasonably profit from.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by David Off (101038)
        > The only reason why Amazon keeps coming up is that they collectively sell lots of esoteria, thus managing to hit a farther end in the population dropoff (i.e. the longest part of the tail) than a business like AtariAge could reasonably profit from.

        That is not the example Chris uses though. He sites the author who had been in the doldrums for years then, via Amazon's "readers who bought this book also bought X" is rediscovered. The agregation of lots of small sales is important but also the data mining
    • by Deb-fanboy (959444) on Friday September 29, 2006 @01:55AM (#16241979)
      "find an alternative, and you will see Amazon fix itself." too true. I have had very poor service from Amazon when I have used it as a (customer in the UK.) First I bought a usb thumb drive which arrived late because the vendor claimed "Amazon never passed on the order". Then I ordered a book on Python for my little geeklings (my children) who were showing interest in learning some programming. Strike while the iron is hot I thought. However this thought was not shared by Amazon. After a month I received an email saying that the book would be delayed a further 6 to 8 weeks. So I cancelled and instead went to http://computermanuals.co.uk/ [computermanuals.co.uk] who managed to get me the book delivered to the Scottish highlands next day! Guess who I am using for my tech books now. found my alternative.
    • by smchris (464899)
      Sounds like Amazon hired from within the publishing industry. I only had to order books for a school a couple times to get the impression that the publishing industry has a lot in common with the music biz as far as so-called "organization".
    • So, it's a free country - you can sit on your ass and blame it on The Man or start your own distribution system. As others in this thread point out, you can do this yourself. THAT's the point of the "long tail" argument: "Quit Whining and Do It Yourself Online.".

      Amazon seems to have a two-tiered system that brings out the worst in the long tail principle: Flawless, reliable service for fairly common items - I have returned several shipments or gotten them late and I have never had trouble working things out
  • by HMC CS Major (540987) on Friday September 29, 2006 @12:27AM (#16241595) Homepage

    When the Amazon system inserted random hieroglyphics into the description of our comic book it took many e-mails to reach a human - or at least sapient - being. When we did we were told reassuringly that Amazon's system for updating web pages was broken and that there was no prospect of fixing it. For this, we give them 55 cents out of every dollar and an annual fee


    Fund/find an alternative, and you will see Amazon fix itself. Until that happens, bend over and grab your ankles.
    • by njdj (458173) on Friday September 29, 2006 @12:50AM (#16241697)

      Fund/find an alternative, and you will see Amazon fix itself.

      A major point of the article is that this is not possible because of the network effect - people who want to buy a book online go to Amazon, because Amazon has all the books and "just works".

      As the article puts it:

      As an academic, I am very interested in network effects - the curious economic features of networks, which increase in value as they increase in size. Does this mean that customers will be "locked in" to the system that achieves ubiquity? (...) Does this threaten the efficiency that the networked economy was supposed to provide? As a vendor, I fume and rant, but am unable to convince myself that we can shift distributors: will the people who want our books trust an unfamiliar name?

      • Competitors to Microsoft exist: Apple [apple.com], Linux [kernel.org]

        Competitors to Yahoo exist: Google [google.com], etc.

        Competitors to MySpace exist: Facebook [facebook.com], etc.

        Competitors to YouTube exist: Revver [revver.com], Vobbo [vobbo.com].

        The network makes it difficult, but nobody's ever given up because something was difficult. There are always options, and yes - there can be significant barriers to entry, but it's never "impossible".
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by askegg (599634)
      There are alternatives - publish it yourself and cut out the middle men completely. 37 Signals did it with "Getting Real" with great success [37signals.com].
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by 1u3hr (530656)
        There are alternatives - publish it yourself and cut out the middle men completely.

        I've worked in publishing for 15 years. Producing the books has never been easier. Delivering the books to customers is now the hardest part. If you publish yourself, if you sell any at all (which is a whole other story) you end up with cartons of books in your garage and spend your days packing and posting and processing credit cards and cheques. Companies like Amazon earn their 55% by dealing with that. But Amazon, whi

        • by askegg (599634)
          I can't imagine the challenges you must face in the publishing industry at the moment. It seems anyone with a copy of Illustrator/PageMaker/inDesign/etc can produce a book and try to sell it. But what you are describing here is actual physical copies of the material - this doe snot apply in 37 Signals case. They charge your credit card and automatically produce a PDF document with the purchasers name all over it (probably to prevent piracy). The entire process is automatic and requires no manual interve
          • by 1u3hr (530656)
            produce a PDF document ...

            Okay, but this is a limited market. Most people want hard copy, especially for fiction and illustrated works.

  • Wow (Score:5, Funny)

    by OverlordQ (264228) on Friday September 29, 2006 @12:29AM (#16241605) Journal
    The article, which was written by a guy, whose name is James, who shares the first name of a President, who helped create the constituion, which was written a long time ago, which is quite as old as when Communism was envisioned, which we can blame the Greeks for, which make great olive oil, which comes in extra virgin, which covers the majority of the slashdot crowd. . . .

    Oh wait, what was I talking about again?
  • It sounds like a Tail of Too Shities!
  • by macadamia_harold (947445) on Friday September 29, 2006 @12:43AM (#16241667) Homepage
    Where Amazon's normal customer service seems to be run by suspiciously cheerful MBAs from Stanford, who break off from counting their stock options to write apologies and deliver refunds, 'Amazon Advantage', the ironically named system for selling wares, is clearly based on the last days of the Soviet system.

    well, with any service, there are going to be different tiers depending on what sort of customer you are. Obviously, direct Amazon customers get the top-level customer service. However, it doesn't make economic sense for Amazon to provide that same-level service for customers of a low-volume third-party-vendor selling their goods on an Amazon storefront.

    I'm not saying it's "right", I'm just saying it makes sense.
  • That sounds like the problem. Everytime I've experienced tech support as egregious and inconsistent as TFA describes, it was outsourced/offshored.
  • by Crash McBang (551190) on Friday September 29, 2006 @01:03AM (#16241747)
    Looks great at first, then you realize they've changed one middleman for a different, 'internet based' one. The only folks who come out ahead on this deal are UPS, FEDEX, and USPS.
    • by patio11 (857072) on Friday September 29, 2006 @01:58AM (#16241991)
      I sell software online. Selling software at Best Buy gets you, perhaps, 40% of every sale, and they won't even think of doing it at the number of units I sell. Unless its to guffaw. Shelf space is limited and projects have to be made on the scales of minor nation states.

      On the Internet, startup costs are negligible (I had capital investment of $60), and if you've got an aggregator which has a nation-state scale worth of eyeballs (*cough* Google *cough*) then you can pay them a weeee bit of money to send a sliver of those eyeballs over to you. Transactional costs amount to almost nothing: Paypal takes 4% of every sale. If you count the cost of AdWords, that comes out to 20%, but thats still a third of the traditional retail channel and AdWords scales *down* where retail only scales *up*. You might not think there is that much of a market for a one-screen application that makes reading bingo cards for teachers (www.bingocardcreator.com), but way-down-the-tail made $600 gross, $450 net. Not too terrible for an app which took a man-week to write and, literally, 20 minutes of work in September ("Lost your registration key? No problem, have a new one." "No, thank YOU, Ethel." multiplied by handful of emails).

      The other beneficiaries besides me? Google (Adwords), Paypal, and Uncle Sam. They'll get $90, $30, and $lots respectively as a result of September, all for doing zero marginal work: they just let the computer systems/country they established continue to operate, and they get more money.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by PCM2 (4486)
        $600 gross, $450 net. Not too terrible for an app which took a man-week to write

        Uh... yeah. Not too terrible. You made $15 an hour.

        • by Jedi Alec (258881)
          Uh... yeah. Not too terrible. You made $15 an hour.

          And quite likely had fun doing it, not to mention he got to work without an incompetent looking over his shoulder.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by gfxguy (98788)
            Yes, but I bet he has another job, too, and the fulltime job pays for health insurance, retirement plans, etc.

            Those extra (non-primary) jobs people take for extra income don't need to pay a lot to be worthwhile.

            Plus, as another reader pointed out, he probably had fun doing it, he was motiviated for some reason (wanted it for himself or a friend), so it's just extra money in his pocket. Nothing wrong with that, and it's a fine example of how a niche market can be worthwhile.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Secrity (742221)
          That $450 net was for one month's sales (and the month is not over yet). I would suspect that because this product is aimed at school teachers that September sales would be a major sales spike. The man-week development cost should be divided by the number of unit sales, which I would hope will be over a period of many months; his actual work during September (and presumably for most months) was or will be a fraction of an hour.

          I believe that the point is that the ability to sell this rather specialized pr
          • See, its not just the AdWords (AdSense is for content publishers, AdWords is for advertisers like myself) gives me an additional channel... its that AdWords* gives me *a* channel. I theoretically *could* put a classified advertisement in a magazine devoted to, say, elementary school teaching. And that would cost me hundreds of dollars, without guaranteeing that a single live soul ever saw my website or downloaded my trial. There are plenty of educational publishers which can afford to advertise on paper,
            • by Secrity (742221)
              That was exactly my point, AdWords is going to work much better for products such as yours than the traditional advertising in magazines, and the on-line distribution system is much faster and easier (and is less work for you) than somebody mailing you a check and you mailing them a CD. Mea culpa for typing AdSense instead of AdWords.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by lawpoop (604919)
        "The other beneficiaries besides me? Google (Adwords), Paypal, and Uncle Sam. They'll get $90, $30, and $lots respectively as a result of September, all for doing zero marginal work: they just let the computer systems/country they established continue to operate, and they get more money."

        Just *let them* continue to operate? Yeah, maintenance just happens on its own. When things wear out, they just get up and repair themselves.

        Have you ever visited a "3rd world" country? Personally, I'm happy to pay my ta
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by LunaticTippy (872397)
          I don't think you know what marginal work means.

          Google has to pay its bills and replace broken servers anyway. Uncle Sam has to maintain our first world glory anyway. Selling $600 worth of software over the uberweb didn't mean google had to install a new server farm, nor did a new canal have to be dug.
    • by Teflik (4823)
      That's the thing. He talks about how cool the Internet is, getting rid of the middle-man, then he starts doing business with a middle-man, Amazon. He's not really participating in the "new" economy: he wants to sell dead trees through a middle-man. (That's fine, if that's what he wants to do.)

      But the new economy that he claims to be studying would have him publishing his content directly online, digitally. No dead trees or intermediaries required.

      Maybe that's what he wants to do, maybe not. But he's c
  • I've heard the view under the long tail can be quite interesting [joecartoon.com]. Not something I want to witness myself though.
  • I call discrimination against extraterrestrials!
  • by Ed Almos (584864) on Friday September 29, 2006 @02:26AM (#16242081)
    Dear Amazon

    Because of your piss-poor service I have not bought anything from you for two years. I use your website to find books and then go to my local English bookstore to place the order. DVDs are obtained in a similar way by browsing your site and then walking round the corner to my local video rental shop. I am sure that I am not the only person who does this.

    Ed Almos
    Budapest, Hungary
    • by Kris_J (10111) *
      I am sure that I am not the only person who does this.
      Indeed not. I have a printout of my Amazon wishlist that I intend to take to a local bookshop fairly soon.
    • Well perhaps you living in Hungary has something to do with it. In the US, I've never had a problem with their service. In fact, the one time I had to return an item, it was probably the best experience I've ever had returning something.

      I'm the exact opposite of you. I go to the bookstore to browse for books and then order them online, especially for technical books. To each his own though.

      • by CaptnMArk (9003)
        I also had a good experience with them (US Amazon).

        I received a scratched DVD, and they sent me a new copy even without asking for the return. While I doubt this would be the case if it was a more expensive DVD (it was below $20), it's still nice from them.

        And I'm just on the other side of ol' Iron curtain, in Slovenia.
      • Well perhaps you living in Hungary has something to do with it.
        What's your point, exactly? It's okay for them to provide worse service in other countries they do business in since they're based in the US?
        • by alienmole (15522)

          What's your point, exactly? It's okay for them to provide worse service in other countries they do business in since they're based in the US?

          In some circumstances, yes. There are all sorts of issues which come up when shipping internationally that don't arise for domestic customers, and in particular, returns are much more expensive (not to mention that shipping is slower, in either direction). I don't know the specifics of anyone's bad experience in Hungary, but before blaming Amazon I'd look at wheth

    • by flynt (248848)
      Could be regional, US service has been exceptional every time I've ordered, which is often. They've taken back digital cameras no questions asked, and the one time they sent me an incorrect book, they let me keep it and sent me the right one overnight shipping. YMMV.
    • by B_tace (802354)
      Same here and I live in the US. They have screwed up so many of my orders that now I just order from Barnes and Noble. BN never messed up one of my orders. Oh, and it used to be that it was impossible find the phone number for Amazon on their website.

      And their supposed MBA support staff, yeah right!
    • Dear Ed, Amazon probably isn't too upset by this since, if you notice, there are ads on their pages. By browsing their site, you're participating in their business model, which includes ad revenue. Thanks a bunch, me
      • Does my ad-blocking self contribute to anyone's business model? Sometimes I wonder if browsing some site I don't want to support helps them even if I don't see ads. If their numbers are better they can charge more for ads. I am making their numbers better. Of course, I am costing them a tiny bit for bandwidth etc. Oh yes, if everyone did it the whole system collapses.
    • by Blakey Rat (99501)
      First of all, yes, I'm sure Jeff Bezos reads Slashdot and he'll get right back to you on that.

      Secondly, here in the US at least, Amazon service is incredible-- and here's the catch-- ONCE YOU FIND THEIR PHONE NUMBER. (You can Google for the number.) They sent me a video game box that was missing the DVD inside. This wasn't Amazon's fault, as they're not the company packaging the game DVD inside of the box, but they gladly sent me out a replacement with the quickest shipping and gave me a pre-paid stamp t
    • by fm6 (162816)
      Either your reading interests are very narrow or Hungarian bookstores are very good. Half the books I order from Amazon are limited-interest titles that local bookstores never carry.
    • by furchin (240685)
      Dear local English bookstore,

      Because of your high prices I have not bought anything from you for two years. I use your bookstore to find books which are interesting, then go to Amazon.co.uk to place the order. DVDs are obtained in a similar way by browsing your DVD section, then walking back home to my computer. I am sure that I am not the only person who does this.

      Furchin
      London, England

      PS: I think ultimately things balance out.
  • by argoff (142580) * on Friday September 29, 2006 @02:48AM (#16242187)
    This is a side issue, but I hear a lot of economics BS out there and every time I hear it I get pissed off.

    First off, an efficient high tech economy means that the "business cycle" is going to be more drastic and harsh not magically soft land and smooth out like every body preaches now days. "soft landing?", It is absolutely insane for people to say that.

    Second off, during the late 1800s the US economy experienced a period where efficient factory production drove down costs for every year for nearly half a century. This also had the effect of driving down pay and driving down profit margins, but it drove down costs faster than both - so people still did well. Now fast forward to 2006, and the US is going into the information age full blast, and hard drive farms that would cost over a million dollars yesterday, now cost a few hundred and can be held in your hand. In addition, overseas labor is driving down costs even more. But today there is one huge 'bigger than life' problem ... we have TOO MUCH FREAKING DEBT ... and our payment obligations are not going to go down even when pay and profit margins do. Translation: the US is in deep shit. (they will probably have to hyperinflate to stop a systemic collapse)

    Third off, having these huge amounts of debt and all these stock market bubbles and all these housing bubbles (today) is not a normal part of a free market economy. They happen specifically because investment is financed thru the banks, which is financed thru the Federal reserve, which is financed by nothing. I mean, when they need money to loan out - they print it up and loan it out. That means that over time, more and more money goes into circulation driving up prices, driving up debt, and driving out private savings. Hey lookie! The US has record high debt, record high housing prices, and record low savings. Hmmmmm.

    Fourth off, if we used money like gold that couldn't be printed up out of thin air. That would naturally limit the amount of debt in the economy and force finances to come from savings instead of print-ups. That would kill bubbles, but more importantly put investment power back into the hands of private savers instead of central bankers and government.

    In sum, the US economy is about to make a radical shift as the housing bubble violently pops and when it does the US will be in deep shit. This will happen because everything you have been taught about central banking and paper money is BS. Loaning out "modern" paper money (instead of real money like gold) leads to irrational allocation of resources that causes inflation, bubbles, too much debt, and puts investment power into the hands of inefficient central planners (bankers) instead of private individuals. Seriously, name one institution who ever thought they had too much money. At this point it is beond repair, so people would be very wise to collect guns, food storage, and gold like no tomorrow because all freaking satanic hell is about to break loose.
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Blah blah blah gold standard blah blah

      Beware the man of one book.
    • by guet (525509) on Friday September 29, 2006 @03:28AM (#16242329)
      Loaning out "modern" paper money (instead of real money like gold)

      The value of Gold is no more real than that of a promissory note. The important thing is scarcity, and paper money, if managed properly, can be just as scarce as any valuable commodity.
      • by Kattspya (994189)
        Yes, theoretically fiat currency could be as scarce as gold and not be overproduced. But could you name even one fiat currency that isn't inflating and hasn't been inflating? I didn't think so. Why then would you propose that paper money and gold money is more or less equivalent when they clearly are not other than in theory?

        If I'm not mistaken the price of gas measured in gold is lower than it's ever been.
        Source: http://gold.unanimocracy.com/2006/05/15/i-bought-g as-for-89-cents-per-gallon-today/ [unanimocracy.com]
        • by khallow (566160)

          Yes, theoretically fiat currency could be as scarce as gold and not be overproduced. But could you name even one fiat currency that isn't inflating and hasn't been inflating? I didn't think so. Why then would you propose that paper money and gold money is more or less equivalent when they clearly are not other than in theory?

          It's not clear to me that lack of inflation is a good thing. One of the problems with a noninflating currency is that isolated communities (hmmm, maybe parts of society with low mo

          • by alexgieg (948359)
            I don't know if I agree or disagree with your reasoning. But I noticed you mentioning the concept of "velocity of money", and I thought you might be interested in this Mises Institute article which tries to show it's a bogus concept: Is Velocity Like Magic? [mises.org]. A pretty interesting reading.
            • by khallow (566160)

              Hmmm, I don't buy their reasoning here, but we start by disagreeing on axiom sets. I don't think that's the problem here. For example, they claim that the purchasing power of money cannot be established. In a series of three transactions, one dollar is exchanged for a loaf of bread, half a kg of potatoes, and a kg of sugar. Then the claim is that an average value of a dollar cannot be established because the three goods aren't commensurable. But my take is that the acts of the transactions does make them co

              • by alexgieg (948359)

                (...) they claim that the purchasing power of money cannot be established. In a series of three transactions, one dollar is exchanged for a loaf of bread, half a kg of potatoes, and a kg of sugar. Then the claim is that an average value of a dollar cannot be established because the three goods aren't commensurable. But my take is that the acts of the transactions does make them commensurable. Ie, the amounts of the three goods in the amounts above are to the best of our knowledg worth one dollar each. The t

                • by khallow (566160)

                  Macroscopic concepts like "velocity of money" are a lot like frequentist statistics. It's applied to an economy with a lot of similar actors like frequentist statistics is a collection of methods applied to a large sample of similar statistical events. Neither need be correct and they usually don't make sense when applied to a small sample or group of economic actors. Nor are these methods universally accepted. But they don't need to be always correct or accepted in order to be useful.

                  This characteristic

              • I would say you're right, and it seems to me (a non-economist) that someone is trying, erroneously, to apply a macroeconomic concept to a microeconomic case. Sometimes it's better to keep the two separate.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by spike2131 (468840)
          But could you name even one fiat currency that isn't inflating and hasn't been inflating?

          The Yen was deflating fairly recently. It has since gone back to very modest inflation, which is a good thing because it means the Japanese economy is finally growing again.

          Currencies can inflate or deflate based on a number of factors, and the ability of the government to print more money is only one of them.

          Inflation isn't just a function of money supply, its a funciton of velocity - how quickly that money changes ha
          • by Kattspya (994189)

            The Yen was deflating fairly recently. It has since gone back to very modest inflation, which is a good thing because it means the Japanese economy is finally growing again.

            Did you not read my question? I'm not saying that fiat currency can't deflate or only inflate at a small pace over shorter periods of time. I'm saying that fiat currency will inflate at a much much higher rate than a gold currency.

            Currencies can inflate or deflate based on a number of factors, and the ability of the government t

          • But could you name even one fiat currency that isn't inflating and hasn't been inflating?

            > The Yen was deflating fairly recently. It has since gone back to very modest inflation, which is a good thing because it means the Japanese economy is finally growing again.

            Thank you for inserting some sense into "economics by sociology majors".

            Inflation isn't just a function of money supply, its a funciton of velocity - how quickly that money changes hands.

            Good point. I'm not an expert, but I believe it's s

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by dwandy (907337)

        if managed properly, can be just as scarce as any valuable commodity.

        except I agree with argoff (142580) [slashdot.org] that

        Seriously, name one institution who ever thought they had too much money

        So I think the point is that you can trust the greed factor will cause it to be impossible for it to be "managed properly". Creating a system with a natural limit (essentially a limit outside of our control) causes the system to work correctly.
        This is like saying that a command economy [wikipedia.org] can work if "managed properly"...and we

      • The important thing is scarcity, and paper money, if managed properly, can be just as scarce as any valuable commodity.

        I'm confused. My wife says our paper money is scarce and it's because of poor management. Does this mean we're getting rich?
      • by KZigurs (638781)
        IF managed properly.

        Now with gold there is that little issue that there is no alchemists working for the US government. With money, on the other hand... Let's just say that the government went to iraq what in itself is insane act from a sanity perspective. And now try to guess where the financial backing for that came from? You can look up the national debt amount per citizen in the internet. It will take a year or two for all of this money to come back into circulation, but when it will the terrorists will
    • While I agree in principle with some of your points...

      This also had the effect of driving down pay and driving down profit margins, but it drove down costs faster than both - so people still did well.

      Correction here-those who owned the factories did very well. Do you know what life was like for a 19th century industrial worker? Here's a hint: The labor strife didn't arise because safe working conditions and decent pay made life as a factory worker a desirable one.

      • by alexgieg (948359)
        Even so, it was better than living in rural areas. Were it not and people simply wouldn't go to cities to work in the industry.
    • by maxume (22995)
      Nah, not really. Go to your local mega mart and look around. All that stuff there is tangible wealth. Then go to a gas station and ask them how much gas they can sell you. Probably as much as you can buy. That's tangible wealth. Most of the giant, crappy houses that you are so worried about aren't made of paper. They are tangible wealth.

      By far, the most valuable asset that most people possess is their ability to work. This is how you get a loan for a house, the bank expects you to be able to work in the fut
      • by Secrity (742221)
        Most of the giant, crappy houses that you are so worried about aren't made of paper. They are tangible wealth.

        Wealth for whom? Most homes in the US are not owned outright by the 'owner', they are mortgaged. If the 'owner' of a house owes less money than it is worth, then the equity may be considered to be wealth. If the housing bubble bursts and the money value of a house is less than what the 'owner' owes on it, to whom is it considered to be wealth? As long as the 'owner' makes as much or more money
        • by maxume (22995)
          Housing is market like anything else. If the current owner defaults, the bank is going to try to minimize their loss, they will(generally) not sit on the house, they will move it at market price, which has an impact on that market. So the house represents wealth to anybody who feels that they are better off paying what it costs to live in they house than they would be otherwise.

          The point of the example was that they house has value regardless of how much paper you can exchange for it at a given moment. It i
          • And his point is the house isn't a tangible asset for you the mortgage holder until you have enough equity to ride out potential dips in the market. For the bank, yes, but not for you.
            • by maxume (22995)
              Who happens to own the house isn't particularly relevant to the 'economic collapse' stuff of top post of the thread. If there is a housing bubble and it were to burst, things would suck mightily, especially for those who lost their homes, but as long as the house doesn't get burned down, it is there for someone to use, so we probably won't end up with guns and anarchy like the post I first replied to seems to think.

              I don't have a mortgage btw, can't afford one. I am pretty disappointed about missing out on
          • by Secrity (742221)
            A house may be a tangible asset, but it doesn't necessarily have value unless somebody wants it and is able to pay for it. If a bank holds a house that can't be sold, it may be costing the bank money to hold it. One example I saw was in Seattle when the SST project was canceled, all of the houses in entire neighborhoods were empty, for sale, and many were in default. Currently, those same houses are probably worth a fortune; but at that time, nobody wanted to buy them at any price that the owners conside
      • by argoff (142580) *

        Nah, not really. Go to your local mega mart and look around. All that stuff there is tangible wealth. Then go to a gas station and ask them how much gas they can sell you. Probably as much as you can buy. That's tangible wealth. Most of the giant, crappy houses that you are so worried about aren't made of paper. They are tangible wealth.

        So what, there is industry and business in a gold based system too. Half the industrial revolution happened on gold. This "lets print up money and create wealth" attitud

        • by maxume (22995)

          So what, there is industry and business in a gold based system too. Half the industrial revolution happened on gold. This "lets print up money and create wealth" attitude might actually work if printing up money didn't water down the supply that is already out there, if it didn't take control from private savers and put in into the hands of central planners, if it didn't increase the general debt load ... but by definition it does.

          None of the things I talked about would change in value if the dollar coll

    • by caramuru (600877)
      An efficient high tech economy produces a less drastic - not a more drastic business cycle as stated in your first point, your other points notwithstanding.

      Most economic crashes resulted from excessive inventory buildups. The crash of 1873 is a classic example of this. In such a crash, firms forecast increasing demand for their goods and, consequently, ramp up production to meet this perceived demand. When the demand fails to appear, the firms (1) slash prices in the hope of unloading their inventories, (

      • by argoff (142580) *

        The high tech economy dampens the business cycle because it reduces excessive inventories. It does so in three ways. First, modern forecasting methods are much more accurate than the rough methods of forecasting used earlier (say prior to WW II). Second, the quantity, quality, and timeliness of the data going into modern forecasting models is much better than available previously. Finally, modern manufacturing is much more adaptable to changing product mixes forecasted by these models.

        That is a wonderfull

        • by caramuru (600877)
          I only addressed your first point on the business cycle. Other posters refuted your ill-conceived gold standard argument. The great depression is another example of an inventory-induced depression, later exacerbated by poor policy including tariffs. Prior to the great depression, money supply did not significantly increase. During the great depression, restrictive monetary policy was pursued resulting in significant and painful disinflation.

          Excessive debt can occur in a gold-based or a paper-based currenc

    • This will happen because everything you have been taught about central banking and paper money is BS.

      As soon as I read/hear a line like this - the author thereof goes automatically in the 'barking lunatic' bin, right beside the inventors of perpetual motion machines and magic braclets that increase your gas mileage by 10%.
      • by Anomalyst (742352)
        right beside the inventors of perpetual motion machines and magic braclets that increase your gas mileage
        Do you mean COPPER magic bracelets or CRYSTAL magic bracelets? Please be specific.
    • Third off, having these huge amounts of debt and all these stock market bubbles and all these housing bubbles (today) is not a normal part of a free market economy.

      Really? I would have thought that regulation of a free market economy would arise from three concerns, in rough order:

      1. fraud, including insider trading, etc.

      2. excessive debt

      3. market bubbles.

      I think the two 'aberrations' from a free market economy you raise are two of the three most common charasterics of such an economy (along with

    • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

      by taradfong (311185) *
      Make sure your conclusions are based on how the world works more than personal aversions to debt and a modern monetary system.

      The economy won't grow without debt.

      The US economy is not perfect but it is not teetering toward disaster. Read the Economist if you want to see the world the way it really is.

      And while housing prices might drop substantially, the term 'bubble' doesn't make much sense. Houses will never be worth zero. Having lots of people overextended on something is bad, but a house is a good th
    • by Valar (167606)
      "They happen specifically because investment is financed thru the banks, which is financed thru the Federal reserve, which is financed by nothing. I mean, when they need money to loan out - they print it up and loan it out. That means that over time, more and more money goes into circulation driving up prices, driving up debt, and driving out private savings."

      D. While student acknowledges that inflation is a monetary phenomena, he fails to understand that the federal reserve typically manipulates the money
  • I'm getting a worried about this assumption that Amazon customer service is always good. I have generally, but not always received excellent customer service from Amazon. I have at times had the impression of things not fully under control at Amazon. One rather comical situation arose when I ordered a book, and then a few days later was informed there would be a delay. OK...no problem. A couple of weeks later, another email, another delay on the same order. Amazon.com still had the book being sold as "shipp
  • Not so good service (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 29, 2006 @04:03AM (#16242503)
    Amazon's service is quite overrated actually. It usually works fine, and if there is a problem they usually fix it, but there are times when talking to amazon's rep is like talking to a wall.

    An example: For large orders, Amazons usually splits the items in several boxes - at no cost for the customer. This is usually fine, except for the fact that each box lists the contents of the whole order.

    If you are overseas, this means that you will have to pay taxes for the value of the whole order for each box.

    Last time my order was split in 3 boxes. I have to pay 16% VAT, so the net result is that I had to pay 48%.

    Add to this that UPS has a policy of dealing with customs without talking to the customer first - they pay the taxes (VAT, custom fees, etc), and then you pay them upon delivery. So talking to the customs officials is not an option, since by the time you know about this the boxes are already out for the delivery. Refusing to pay taxes is not an option, since UPS will not deliver. You can't tell UPS to return everything to Amazon, since they paid for the taxes and will keep the stuff hostage.

    In the end, I had to pay triple taxes. And still, Amazon refuses to acknoledge that the problem is that they don't write the actual contents of each box in the sleave.
    • by 5KVGhost (208137)
      Interesting. I suspect the reason Amazon operates like that is because their ordering and billing system is agnostic about what each box contains, or which warehouse it is shipped from. I think most companies think of the packing slips as a purchase reference for the recipient, not an inventory for the customs office or the shipping company. They probably should change it, but it might be a harder fix than you'd expect.

      The VAT system also sounds like it's designed to fail in a way that's more expensive for
    • by Blakey Rat (99501)
      I see your complaint, but why complain about Amazon about this? Almost every company does the exact same thing. I'd complain about your local tax office and UPS about being so bone-headed. Maybe in the first month Amazon did business in your country, you could expect a screw-up like this, but Amazon's been around for ages now and the fact that your tax office/UPS hasn't figured this out by now is plain pathetic.
  • by dmoynihan (468668) on Friday September 29, 2006 @07:46AM (#16243567) Homepage
    Common issue for small publishers--you get a purchase order from Amazon for 1 copy of the book, then a week later, 9 copies... then the book goes "out of stock... deliver in 3-4 months," then they order from you again, but if you ship too many copies, Amazon might bill you for stuffing the channel with 12 copies...

    A small press is pretty much guaranteed to lose money on Advantage, 'cuz you have to pay for shipping, etc. yourself to Amazon, then give the standard 55% discount, and there's no way of predicting needed quantities.

    What most indies do (admittedly, not Duke law professors), is say "screw it" to the Advantage program and sell themselves through marketplace.

    In my lifetime I've met one person who was happy with Advantage, but he was a famous man [barricadebooks.com] who has since died...

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by kira23 (1007391)
      I sell my CGI books through Amazon, and I've been quite happy with the Advantage program. They clearly use an automated system to determine how many books to order. If demand is constant, orders are (usually) constant too. When they place a small order (for 2 books, say), I just send it via media mail to save on shipping. Larger orders go by UPS. It's worked out well for me.

      Of course, after having gone through the hassle of working with "regular" distributors, Amazon's been a dream. They order consistently,
  • We all know what you get if you stand under the tail of anything, long or otherwise.

Business is a good game -- lots of competition and minimum of rules. You keep score with money. -- Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari

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