Amazon, the Cthulhu of retail, finds itself embroiled in a spat with a major book publisher. It's gotten nasty. And, remarkably, Amazon is losing the PR battle. Why? Perhaps because Amazon—where workers are "ground into a tired heap"—deserves to have a bad reputation.

To briefly recap the feud of the moment: Hachette, a large publisher, is in a contract dispute with Amazon over the terms for selling Hachette's e-books on the site. In response to the dispute, Amazon started slowing down shipments of books from Hachette authors, raising their prices, and generally discouraging customers from purchasing any Hachette. This has the effect of casting Amazon (accurately) as the big bad business bully, throwing its weight around in a way that hurts the authors you know and love.

Though the dispute has been brewing—and the book industry has been criticizing Amazon—for weeks, Amazon itself is just now starting to try to defend itself. Here is their thoughtful response to their valued customers who, as book lovers, are concerned about this matter: "If you order 1,000 items from Amazon, 989 will be unaffected by this interruption. If you do need one of the affected titles quickly, we regret the inconvenience and encourage you to purchase a new or used version from one of our third-party sellers or from one of our competitors."


It's good that Amazon is bad at public relations. We would not want the company's low prices and slick talk to sway the public's attention from its many drawbacks. One of those drawbacks, which we have been chronicling here for some time now, is the fact that employees at all levels of the company say that it is a harsh, unfriendly, and inhuman place to work. Amazon, at this moment, appears to be treating its suppliers, its customers, and its workers poorly. Quite a trifecta.

We now bring you the words of another Amazon warehouse worker, just so that we can all keep these things in a proper perspective. Bolding ours:

I work at an Amazon fulfillment center, and have done so for almost 6 years since it first opened in my area.

The physical, labor is grueling – i walk about 15 miles a day, 4 days a week (10 hour shifts) Picking orders into totes.

The 3 days off is a plus, except when we work 5 or 6 days during Thanksgiving to Christmas or if overtime is necessary to meet customer orders).

I have always prided myself on being an athletic, fit person – but this is a bit ridiculous. Breaks are 15 minutes but they expect you to use 5 minutes as 'travel time' to and from the break room so it is really merely the state mandated 10 minutes. Some of the walking times to the break rooms can be 3 to 4 minutes though. The FC [fulfillment center] is 1 million square feet.

If your hours get messed up, you are expected to go to talk about getting it fixed during your break or lunch (!)

The push is for rates, rates, rates and everything is run to be 'uncomfortable' in terms of pushing everyone to the limit

I started out as a PA (Lead) but got fed up being a mouthpiece for mgmt. And with the reactive rather than proactive approach to dealing with problems and so dropped down to a tier I associate (lowest level). You basically work as a supervisor of a hundred people but get the pay of a lowest level associate plus a few dollar differential (at first it is smaller but slowly increases every 6 months till you top out in 2 years).

In Picking (which is where I have been the last year) there is no one who stays more than a few years before being ground into a tired heap. Some say Packing is better cause you don't have to walk, but the repetitive motions ask a lot over time and the rates are formidable.

I have worked in Inbound, ICQA, and Picking.

I want to write a book about the place, and have college degrees, but am not sure where to go to publish (I'm thinking Amazon may not be the best choice).


[Photo: AP. If you're an Amazon worker who would like to share your story, email]