Thursday, 8 June 2006

Internet killed the radio star

Yesterday was a Ben Elton day for me.
A couple of days ago, while walking to the train station, I saw a poster on the wall of an alleyway advertising a one night stand up show by Mr Elton in Melbourne, next month.
I don't have much of a history with Ben Elton. A few months ago I got a CD of a stand up show of his from the library and it was great; since then I realized the guy is behind Blackaddrer and Maybe Baby. Since then we bought and read a book of his, Popcorn; I must say, I didn't really like the book. I found it tried to be so clever it was patronizing and rather obvious, while in other respects it was as simple as the Da Vinci Code.
But that stand up CD was brilliant so we looked to buy tickets.
We looked at Ticketek's website, and it offered us shit seats at the side of the very back. More annoyingly, it wanted to charge us almost $10 commission, even if we were to just pick the tickets up at the box office. Then Jo suggested buying through the box office directly, and then I noticed that it's just the building opposite where I work, so I went there yesterday and got better tickets (back, but center) with zero commission.
I thought the internet was cheaper to run and that therefore it should offer cheaper prices, but Ticketek disagrees. Fuck the internet.

I left work early yesterday and found my way, one way or another, to the big Dymocks book shop on Collins Street. While looking for the books that I intend to order from Amazon, just to see if I can get them elsewhere, I saw that Ben Elton has a new book in paperback to do with World War I.
I said it here before that I have some sensitivity to that war, so I got the book. Reading the back cover, I saw that he has a book on companies fucking up global warming, so I bought that, and then I noticed he has a book on pollution, so I bought that as well.
Talking about those, I also bought a Noam Chomsky book (I think it's his latest). I read bits of it on the train ride home, and it's funny because by now, after reading that Dictatorship of the Proletarian article recently, I find reading political articles very interesting (I read those on a daily basis in The Age, but they're way shorter). The funniest thing of all was the second paragraph in Chomsky's book, which said there are two big dangers to the world that could mean its end - nuclear war and global warming. The funny thing about that is, I said exactly the same thing in my "An Inconvenient Truth" blog-entry, written just a day before I bought Chomsky's book.
Anyway, by now you know why yesterday was a Ben Elton day. What you don't know is that I asked the people at the Dymocks shop why they sell books for way more than Amazon, and they actually took me behind the counter to show me that they buy their books from their distributors at prices higher than what Amazon sells the same books to me, a simple individual. Apparently, because of their buying power, Amazon get huge discounts which they can hand over to their clients.
In general, that's good. However, monopolies are not that good, and Amazon is shaping up to be one, at least in the Australian book market. I also cannot say I like them much, even though they mean that I can now put my hands on most books I that I crave. I had a couple of incidents where I could just go crazy, like the time I ordered a "best of Blur" CD at a really cheap price from them, only to receive an email saying the CD I ordered is no longer available, but instead they have another CD called "best of Blur" that happens to sell for much more yet feature exactly the same songs. Also, try to contact them for help and see whether you won't find committing suicide is much better than receiving one of their dumb answers.
Bottom line is that while they provide some necessary services, Amazon is also dangerous towards everyone else in the market. A balance should be found, but in the mean time this shows that the internet can do evil just as it can do good.


uri said...

I’ll give you their price shifting policy which is, well, shifty. But I’m very happy that Amazon is out there.
I only had one complaint, and that was when they sent me a wrong book.
I wrote them about it, and they apologized, sent me the correct book, and told me that it would be to expensive for me to return the first one (from Israel) so I could just keep it or donate it to a local library.
So you see we didn’t have quite the same experiences.

Moshe Reuveni said...

My saga with Amazon has been when I changed my email address with them, but they continued to send me emails to my old address (which belonged to a place of work I was about to leave).
I kept sending them emails telling them about this problem with much detail, and they kept sending me back instructions on how to change my email address. Then they would send me an email asking for my feedback, I would tell them their service was shit, and we would go through the whole deal again.
If I am not mistaken, it took 8 attempts until someone appeared to have read my request.
I agree that Amazon is good; it's even more than good; but they should not be left on their own with no proper competition.
As far as the Australian market is concerned, it's sad to see - again and again - how certain people who have control over a key thing (such as the import of books) can get away with broad daylight robbery.