One Year Ago: Nowhere To Hide from Amazon’s Reach


Originally published on January 31, 2001 and brought to you today as a time capsule.


Somewhere out there, I’m sure, is a corner of cyberspace that has not been touched, or dare I say tainted, by Amazon.com. But if such a place exists, Jeff Bezos will find it soon.

The latest intrusion of Amazonia is in the world of micro-payments — which is exactly what the Internet needs to make it a much more inhospitable, much less fun and much more depressing place.

That’s right, Amazon is going to make it easier for other Web sites to get moneyfor their content.

Nice guy, that Bezos. Seems now that his first-born child — online books and music — is all but done with its amazing juvenile growth spurts, he has to look elsewhere for revenue streams to make the numbers get bigger. Where’s he looking now? In your pockets, of course.

Armchair-ity

What’s happening is this: Amazon is going to mobilize its 1-Click system — the one it has defended with aggressive lawsuits in the past — to enable micro-payments.

Oh, the spin out of Seattle, Washington is that the system will enable “donations” and the early wave of adopters are sites and organizations that stay up and running on the good graces of contributors. For instance, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) has signed on.

Amazon’s effort even has a warm and fuzzy name: Honor System. And during the test phase, any payments made will be refundable, making it truly voluntary.

Gee, Thanks

Now from a business perspective, the move is inspired — an elegant solution, as the expression goes, that seems to serve everyone on both sides of the transaction.

Amazon can take a tiny bite out of every small payment, and businesses that don’t have the wherewithal to charge suddenly have a new source of income. Almost everyone gets served.

Well, the customer gets shafted, but what’s new there?

Mark my words, Amazon’s so-called altruism is nothing but a front, a shield behind which to hide the real invasion.

Trojan Horse

Before long, the real soldiers, armed with money-grabbing devices, will pop out. That’s because Amazon knows that 1-Click can serve as a way to handle small payments for just about everything that is currently, and historically, free.

And if everyone is going to start paying for content anyway, as many prognosticators believe, why not have a piece of the action, even if it’s only as a glorified middleman.

From Amazon’s point of view, it’s easy money. The system is in place, the data on file. And third parties will do most of the work. It’s like getting a commission on a sale they didn’t even make.

A Charge in the Web

Now the same impulse is driving Yahoo! and many others in the portal or e-commerce or content biz to start charging for what was once free. But that doesn’t make it right.

At a minimum, there’s now little joy in Amazon reminding us — at least 29 million of us or so — that we’ve used their site to buy things before, and that the company has our credit card information on file, ready to be swiped and charged again for whatever our heart desires.

There were no tricks. We gave Amazon the information without coercion, knowing it would be useful to the company in the future. Now they have all my information and when I do buy, 1-Click is a big time saver.

But it’s no fun knowing that Amazon has got me. Chances are, they’ve got you or someone you know, too.

Big Hearts

What’s most disturbing, ultimately, is that the Web’s outer reaches are suddenly being caught up in the commercial sprawl once confined to the center.

Amazon is letting everyone know that the Honor System is ideal for small sites, the type that aren’t set up to handle credit card payments or those for whom the cost of processing a payment for a US$2 article would make it a money-losing proposition. You know the type. They’re the ones that give stuff away for free.

Amazon will do most of the work for them, so all they have to do is put up a toll booth and let the dough roll in. Meanwhile, Web users will mourn the passing of another section of the Internet they once considered their private sanctum.

Did you think you could hide from Amazon forever? No way. Not when there’s revenue to be had.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

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Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.


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