The California Globe has not found much opportunity to praise elected California Democrats. But Attorney General Rob Bonta is right to sue Amazon for its anti-competitive, unfair, and just plain piggish policies. Conservatives ought to join liberals who are finally taking the forceful stand against the tech monopolies that conservatives have promised for years, but seldom delivered.
The Globe has quite a bit of personal experience here.
Google routinely demonetizes legitimate stories from the California Globe for no discernible reason. Obviously, Google does not want its advertisers to see their brands placed next to nude photos or foul language or images of graphic violence. We understand that (and agree). We painstakingly follow their published rules, since Google holds a near monopoly in the business of serving network ads. A site like ours cannot stay in business if it fails to remain in the good graces of the tastemakers at Google.
So why was a story like this one demonetized? It’s about ultra-late-term abortion, but included no graphic images, no foul language, nothing outside the rules. Unless, apparently, you happen to support the practice of late-term abortion. There’s no appeal, no second chance, you just get a notice that says you’ve been demonetized, and the message is clear: Don’t run stories like this if you want to remain in business.
Facebook is another constant scold. During our wildly successful bumper sticker campaign against the outrageous excesses of the lockdowns, our ads were constantly declined. No reason given. The luck of knowing a few higher-ups at Facebook was the only thing that stood between the Globe and permanent banishment.
And now it’s been revealed that Facebook was actually scanning the private messages of people it suspected of wrongthink regarding January 6. Does anyone realize how troubling it is to have private companies tattling on Americans’ private conversations?
It would possibly be believable that these were the innocent overreactions of rogue individuals. Except that these breaches of our civil liberties always go in the same direction. It’s always liberals policing, demonetizing, scolding, de-platforming, and shadow-banning conservatives. Why weren’t the private messages of people plotting 100 nights of BLM riots in Portland similarly shared with the authorities? You know why, and so do we. Because the people at Facebook consider the riots in Portland, Seattle and Minneapolis righteous, while the riot at the Capital represents an existential threat to democracy. These distinctions are in the eye of very few beholders, and they all work in Silicon Valley.
Which brings us to Bonta’s decision to file what is so far the biggest and most meaningful threat to Amazon’s, incredibly unethical business practice of forcing its vendors not to sell their wares cheaper elsewhere.
At a news conference on Wednesday, AG Bonta said, “If you think about Californians paying even just a little bit more for every product they purchased online over the course of a year, let alone a decade, which is what is at issue here, the collective magnitude of harm here is very far-reaching. … The ‘everything store’ has effectively set a price floor, costing Californians more for just about everything.”
What that means is that if a rival e-commerce company came up with, say, a cheaper way to deliver, and could thus sell diapers more cheaply than Amazon, Amazon’s contract would force that vendor to raise the price at the cheaper site or else be banned from Amazon. That just seems unfair on its face, but it’s doubly so when you consider exactly how dominant Amazon has become in the e-commerce marketplace, and how it got that way.
Let’s take a look at books, the original category killer.
Books are now a trivial portion of Amazon’s business, and an increasingly trivial part of the public discourse as the populace gets stupider and stupider. But it’s an instructive example, because of the way Amazon’s business practices completely unraveled an industry that plays a meaningful role in the intellectual life of our citizenry.
The company that owns California Globe, Sea of Reeds Media, also owns a site devoted to books, Book and Film Globe, and also the type of small, quaint, independent bookstore that every town should have — The Book House in Millburn, New Jersey.
The founder of this company played a small role in the process of Breaking History, the White House memoir of former Trump senior advisor Jared Kushner (buy it here!). The team was thrilled when the book hit No. 1 on the New York Times best seller list. A feat made all the more delicious considering the shockingly personal pan it received in the Times itself. Not to mention an outright lie by California Congressman Eric Swalwell, who falsely accused Ivanka Trump of misstating that the book had been No. 1 on Amazon. (The world still awaits the congressman‘s apology, but the same groups that constantly fact check California Globe apparently aren’t as interested in the truthfulness of our elected representatives.)
Any independent bookstore has a hard time competing against Amazon. But here’s some data for you. The list price of Breaking History is $35. The best price The Book House can get from its distributor is $20.30. So if the store marks it up $5 — a razor thin 24% profit margin — it sells for $25.30. Amazon sells the book for $21.12 — its retail price is only 82 cents higher than an indie’s wholesale price.
This upends the model of retail stores that’s existed since the dawn of money.
The nicest thing one could say about Amazon’s monopolistic, hog-like behavior is that it’s not ideological. Amazon bullies the left and right equally. So at least there is that.
But it’s long overdue that elected officials like Bonta, who are in office to protect both our commercial interests and broader societal interests like access to a wide variety of ideas, are finally doing their job.
It is ironic that conservatives, who have been crying for a decade about Big Tech’s obvious progressive lean, got virtually nothing accomplished on this front. It’s the liberals who are finally taking a look at Section 230 and other Clinton-era Big Tech pantsings. Obviously, progressives leading the charge now portray it as some sort of heroic stand against people who put on Viking hats and march on the capital. Rather than, for instance, the total de-platforming of the leader of the opposition party. But whatever. At least they’re doing something, and hopefully these changes will benefit all sides.
For now, Godspeed to Attorney General Bonta, and let’s hope Amazon embraces the idea that everyone, including Amazon workers and customers, will benefit if stores other than Amazon survive.