My Letter to Jeff Bezos

January 05, 2019

Jeff, 

I’ve been selling MacBooks on Amazon for years, and I have a perfect feedback rating that I’ve worked hard to uphold, but as of today (January 5th), Amazon is prohibiting me and thousands of others from selling Apple products.  I’m sure you’re aware that Amazon is cutting off small Apple sellers and refurbishers today because they don’t qualify for the “Renewed” certification (which requires sellers to prove they buy $2.5M worth of inventory a quarter). 

I’m not writing to complain about my own situation.  Unlike hundreds of small Apple sellers who have gone all-in with Amazon and will have a very hard time adjusting, I’ve been in business for ten years and have diversified my customer base.  I sell about a third of my inventory on Amazon, and another 20% to wholesale customers who also sell on Amazon, but if I shift my sales to other platforms, I’ll be OK.  For now, at least.

I can imagine why you made the agreement.  Striking a deal with Apple in order to sell their products directly on your site makes good business sense, and it’s certain to be lucrative.  As a large group of small sellers, we’ve made you many millions of dollars, but I doubt we can compete with an Apple partnership.  Cutting out a large quantity of small sellers in favor of a handful of giant ones must certainly lower administrative costs as well.

What I’m concerned about is this:  While this decision is conceivably good for Amazon, there is a bigger picture.  You have been so successful, so dominant in the space you occupy, that your company represents a full 50% of the total Internet marketplace.  And so when Amazon decides to exclude certain sellers — small family businesses, mainly — a full 50% of the Internet’s total opportunity is suddenly unavailable to them.  It’s Amazon’s right to do that, to make a business decision in agreement with another company.  (And besides, there’s still 50% of the Internet left!)  But what happens when Walmart makes a similar agreement with Apple?  Newegg?  Maybe eBay even falls into line, because certainly you’ve won over a big chunk of their customers and they need to compete.  What happens when 70%, 80%, 90%, or more of the Internet’s total opportunity becomes unavailable to the average individual, to the beginning entrepreneur, to small businesses?  How would you, Jeff Bezos, have fared if the Internet’s landscape looked like that in 1994 when you started selling books out of your garage?

$2.5M in quarterly inventory may seem like a reasonable requirement to some, but most businesses just aren’t that big.  Many independent, privately-owned companies only buy a tenth that much inventory yearly, and that doesn’t make them illegitimate.  Not only that, but these small businesses are often the ones that repair and refurbish the electronic devices they sell, and put time into processing low-end computers, whereas the large companies you’re certifying generally don’t bother, and simply scrap low-end and broken electronics.  Once the small business community is cut out, older products won’t be represented, and millions of Apple devices will be scrapped.  Millions of perfectly viable low-end computers and phones and tablets will not find homes.  Apple and Amazon will certainly drown out these concerns with the same old tired marketing spin and fear rhetoric, telling us it’s about customer experience and safety, but what it comes down to is that small businesses will die and perfectly usable electronics will go to waste.

It’s bigger than that, even — it’s a question of what we want the Internet to look like.  Whether it’s selling computers, speaking opinions, having a bank account, or offering a service, is it right that access to any given opportunity on the Internet should be entirely decided by two or three massive companies?  That the average person, the individual hoping to be independent and start a small business, could be effectively locked out of the supposedly “free and open” Internet because of a decision between corporations?  That’s where we’re headed, and that’s what has me worried.

I don’t know what the answer is.  Many believe antitrust regulation is the way to go, and it very well may be, but I would hope the same ingenuity that started the Internet, that championed a limitless new free and open space, would find a way to make it free and open again.

I really hope that you have this issue on your radar.  As one of the truly powerful people in the world, you have the capacity to make positive change.  You have so much power that a good part of the future of the Internet, and the future of opportunity, and fairness, and other basic principles in our society could very well rest on your shoulders.

Jeff Bezos, please tell me that we can rely on you to do the right thing for the interests of the world, and not just the right thing for the interests of your company?

Sincerely,

John Bumstead

 

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