Big Apple Bezos

So the allergy season undid me and I bailed for New York, a junket that involves cashing in some frequent-flyer miles and crashing on various friends' couches. The City is an expensive place, after all, and a girl's got to conserve her money for the important things, like closing the bars at dawn. (Now, could someone tack this paragraph to Mark Sidran's forehead to show him that decent and responsible people can handle having a night life? I'd be much obliged.)

If it weren't for the kindness of friends, though, several weeks of New York would be pretty hard to afford on your humble correspondent's (non-dot-com) salary. Which is why it pains me, pains me that a fellow Seattleite also hanging out in Manhattan isn't likely to afford me a spot on his floor, not even for a couple of nights. I don't even mind that it's on the West Side, surely the most overrated piece of property on this island since the original beads that bought it.

If Jeff Bezos wants to live on Central Park West, that's his affair, but for $7.5 million can't he afford a guest room?

Oh, I'm not bitter; after all, he's not the first person to want to unload a big pile of Amazon stock in favor of something . . . substantial. Not that the unbookseller isn't a hopeful place, at least in some parts of the building. That wouldn't include the bus stop outside, where a great many of Amazon's permatemps found themselves, ousted in favor of permanent employees from the Seattle distribution center, itself around 260 full-timers thinner than it was a couple of weeks ago. Sources state that the Seattle distribution center's staff has decreased from 300+ employees to about five dozen.

I'm happy for the distribution folk who are happy to make the move; there are plenty of places at Amazon that look more amusing than the warehouses. But are permatemps not human? Do they not bleed? If you make them work 70-hour weeks, do they not get tired? If you tell them that they're on track to be hired as soon as their positions are made permanent, do they not think it's a positive development?

Positive for North Dakota, maybe, or West Virginia—places where Amazon is actively staffing up. In case you haven't noticed, Seattle's ungodly expensive. It's one thing for Jeff to be kickin' it in places where a year's rent can buy a decent car (or a lot of cab rides), it's quite another to have the riffraff hanging about. Now that all that dot-com cash is making Seattle as expensive as NYC, Amazon money will buy a lot more employees in the sticks—employees, by the way, who are a damn sight more docile than the increasingly discontented Emerald City crew.

(If I were a gossipy woman, by the way, this is where we'd talk about those rumors that the Redmond Menace was BC-bound. Wasn't that fun? And would a move have meant that Frisbee breaks would be replaced by impromptu hockey games? The mind reels. But Microsoft is staying here, the 520 bridge will continue to clot like sour milk twice daily, and I'm not done beating on Amazon for the week. Back to our story.)

I said hopeful and I meant hopeful. Our man Bezos was sounding pretty darn chipper at the recent BookExpo America convention of independent booksellers: Hey, the Net's only going to be a small part of book retailing! No need to fear Amazon, gang! But give the man a minute to clamber down from the stage and you'll get the fine print: On the other hand, those darn e-books are going to kill a lot of you guys. Bummer, dudes.

Ahem. Now that you're a New Yorker, Jeff, you'll find that people are pretty direct here. So I'm going to lay it out for you. E-books? Please. The thing that hurts the slim-margin independents of the world is the deep-discounting that big stores like you can wring from your distributors, not to mention your personal twin states of grace (no sales tax, no need to turn a profit). Even cutting your staff is bad for those guys, since in this unholy stock climate the Amazon stock price actually goes up when you do layoffs. As I see it, the best hope your average indie has is for you to get settled in Manhattan, realize that independent bookstores are part what of makes New York the greatest city in the world, and decide to keep a few around for atmosphere. Hey, it's a living—and better than moving to North Dakota.

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