Follow the reluctant adventures in the life of a Welsh astrophysicist sent around the world for some reason, wherein I photograph potatoes and destroy galaxies in the name of science. And don't forget about my website,

Tuesday 15 November 2011

An Open Letter To amazon.wherever

Dear Amazon,

As you well know, I have purchased a host of wonderful items from your online store over many, many years. It would be fair to say that your chronic lack of shipping charges, coupled with your competitive pricing, occasional spectacular offers and excellent pre-order service, have not only made my life a good deal easier, but also prevented me parting needlessly with a most numerous number of shiny pound coins. Certainly while I was in the UK I would not have dared describing you with anything other than the most gushing of terminologies.

Alas, I am woe to report that this honeymoon period of so many happy years is now well and truly over. In these last few months I have found myself wrestling time and again with your shipping policies, and this is not the naked mud-wrestling with Jeri Ryan I would incalculably prefer to have in mind. Instead it's more the case of wrestling with a enraged bear that's just been given an enema made entirely out of bees.

Why yes, actually, I would like to see Jeri Ryan wrestle a bear. Is there some reason I shouldn't ?

It is true that you cannot be held responsible for the nonsensical "region encoding" which afflicts DVDs and blu-rays. Although this repressive policy of restricting what information one has access to depending on where one lives is nothing short of censorship by another name, it's not your fault. It's also true that you ship region 2 DVD's from the UK to Puerto Rico at considerably lower prices than you ship region 1's from the United States (despite Puerto Rico being a US territory, and therefore subject to the same domestic shipping prices as the States themselves).

Screw statehood. It's obvious that Puerto Rico should join the U.K.

For this you should be both praised and scolded. It is right and proper that I can effectively bypass the insanity of region encoding in an entirely legal way for minimum cost (the only penalty being that it apparently takes two weeks for the aircraft to cost the Atlantic - I suggest you might want to upgrade your Zeppelin to one of these new-fangled aeroplanes). Kudos for that. But this doesn't make it any the less baffling that it is cheaper to ship an American show from Britain than from the United States.

They also cope well with volcanic ash

Such weirdness is a forgiveable part of a complex automated world-spanning business empire. What is less so are your policies on what can be shipped to where. While you don't have any problems with wrapping up a DVD and whisking it - very slowly - across the Atlantic, apparently video game discs are allergic to airship travel. I expect it brings them out in a nasty rash. Fortunately it seems your .com division has some means of protection, but can charge 3x the shipping price compared to the U.K. for the privilege.

Of course, shipping anything electronic at all to Puerto Rico would be unthinkable. I'm sure you wouldn't want the natives getting ideas above their station. After all, who needs electricity in the tropics ? Everyone knows we spend all our time drinking rum out of coconuts with little umbrellas in. So of course I couldn't possibly need a pair of extremely small, lightweight and easy to pack headphones. Didn't stop you shipping me a rather hefty laptop cooling pad for some reason though.

Electricity ? No, it's powered by rice and beans.

The most bizarre aspect of all this concerns your flagship product, the Kindle. Given that you must inevitably bow to publisher's wishes, it is just about comprehendable that you cannot release electronic versions of books to a worldwide audience at the same time. Understandable yes, forgiveable no. This is taking all of the benefits of internet globalisation and feeding them to the Rancor. Which in my view is totally mammoth. You will pay the price for your lack of vision (although Emperor Palpatine probably wasn't thinking about lost revenue from book sales when he said this).

Admittedly, no-one with a pet Rancor will care much about shipping policies
But, as I said, this is at least understandable. What isn't is the fact that this applies not only to modern books but also to classics which are available for free in other countries. They say that you should never attribute to malevolence what you can attribute to stupidity, and this is surely a classic example. There is no motive, rhyme or reason to restrict a free product, and simultaneously point out in big clear freakin' letters that you can easily find this content for free elsewhere.

So, thank you amazon. For the largest internet retailer your shipping policies are remarkably anti-globalisation, and it certainly nice to see someone leading the charge to ensure everyone is treated differently based on wherever they happen to live. For the life of me I just can't think how that isn't an example of racism and bigotry, but of course that is illegal so I must be wrong. Good luck with that one.

Lots of love from



P.S. Not that this will stop me buying stuff from you. Except in those cases where you refuse to take my money, as you often do.

P.P.S. Given my years and years of customer loyalty, it'd be nice if you'd approved my amazon store card. How exactly did you come to the conclusion that I have no credit history ?

P.P.P.S. I'm going to think about Jeri Ryan now, and possibly a bear. Maybe some bees too. Bzzzz !

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