Amazon Prime Past Its Prime

A blog post only someone who has nothing better to complain about could write. This blog post is the quintessential first world problem complaint. And yet, I write it, maybe to save someone else from the same mistake.

I made my first order with Amazon in August of 1998. I bought a copy of James Blaylock’s Winter Tides, and it was amazing. I used my computer to have a book sent to my house. The future had arrived.

Over the course of the next 20 years (wow, that alone is a weird concept to me), I have bought books, movies, and music from Amazon. In the last few years, as they’ve expanded, I expanded what I was willing to buy. I’ve dabbled in Christmas shopping on the behemoth, even groceries a few times. I have two books exclusively for sale on Amazon. And for more than a few years now, I’ve been a Prime member.

When it was first introduced, it seemed like a lot to pay for free shipping. But as time moved forward and what Amazon offered increased, it started making sense. That it included the Amazon Music and Video stuff was ancillary, just a bonus – we got Prime for the free shipping. And as we bought more through Amazon, it made more and more sense. In the early days of being on Prime, it was amazing. Why wait to order something to justify the shipping when you could just have it sent as needed? It became easier to check on Amazon for something rather than to see if you could find it local. Convenience ruled, delivered by UPS in as little as a day or two.

In the last few years, though, we’ve seen a dramatic shift in Prime. Maybe it’s an East Coast vs West Coast thing. Maybe the East Coast packing and distribution centers for Amazon are just better at their jobs. At first, we blamed the apartment complex we lived in for some of the problems. But after a while, it became obvious the problem was at the source. Orders mysteriously delayed. Orders not showing up for days and days past the supposed 2 day guarantee. When things do finally show up, half the time they are sent in a way that guarantees they will be damaged.

Part of the problem is that in order to cover the cost of shipping, at least for folks living in the Portland, Oregon area, Amazon isn’t using a real delivery service. They’ve hired drivers to bring packages around in their cars like a Lyft for deliveries. We get deliveries at 8 at night from sketchy looking guys driving beat up cars with a pile of packages in their backseat. I’m sure it’s a great way to make a buck, though I wonder how far Amazon covers their insurance while they’re carrying my precious cargo in the backseat.

But for me, a bibliophile, the real killer is in the one thing Amazon should know how to do: sending books. The last three times I’ve ordered books from Amazon, they’ve come in variations of a padded envelope. The result? The books move around loosely, covers get bent, pages get bent. Permanent creases are made as the book shifts around, bending back the cover, and then is put under the weight of a hundred other packages while it’s transported. Why pay for the privilege of receiving damaged books?

Sending books in a way that almost guarantees they are damaged by the time they arrive, and having over half our packages take a week despite their “guaranteed Prime shipping” makes me think there’s no reason to continue paying for Prime. Maybe Amazon Prime is past its Prime?

Reading in 2018

In the past, I’ve sat down the first week of the year, looked over how many books I read the year before, and made a guess for how many books I thought I could read in the year ahead. Typically, that meant adding ten to the previous year’s goal. Each year, I met (or exceeded) my goal, each year adding more books.

Not this year.

The tipping point was in trying to hit my goal for 2017 (spoiler: I did). One of the last books I read in 2017 was Sanderson’s new book, a 1200+ page book. That’s when it struck me how arbitrary it was to try and read a number of books. Why make reading a competition? Committing to a number of books only makes sense if everything you read is roughly the same length. But if you read three books that are around 300 pages, and one book at 1300 pages, is it any wonder it took you longer to read four books? To some extent, the frame of mind of reaching a goal skews how and what you read. You could stop reading that book that failed to catch your interests after the first 100 pages…but if you just power your way through it, at least you can count it on your list (doesn’t actually happen that often, but often enough). So I made a decision.

2018, then, will be a year of reading for the fun of reading.

My first reading goal for 2018 is independent of the number of books, but instead based on the types of books I want to read. I’d like this year to be a fair mix of books feeding both my imagination and my general knowledge. I’ve done this in the past to some success, and I’d like 2018 to be a year dedicated to it: for every fiction book I read, I plan to read a nonfiction book. The nonfiction doesn’t have to be a history book, or a science book; the only qualification is that it has to be nonfiction.

My second reading goal of 2018 is for the fiction books, I’d like to take a good stab at reading the Malazan Book of the Fallen series. Years and years ago, I read the first book, and tried to read a few of the follow up books. I was lost, confused, nothing made sense, and there were no wikis or guides at the time to help make sense of things. Something’s changed since then, though. This last month, I reread the first book, Gardens of the Moon, and it all just clicked. I got it, it all made sense,  I understood it.  Next on my fiction list is book two.

My third reading goal is to enjoy it.

In fact, I have a list already forming of the books I’d like to read in the coming months. This list doesn’t stretch far, and leaves a lot of room for additions, but it’s a stab at some books I’d like to read.

  • The Witch of Lime Street (nf) – Houdini, Doyle, and Spritualism
  • Deadhouse Gates (f) – Malazan
  • The Professor and the Madman (nf) – The story of the OED
  • Memories of Ice (f) – Malazan
  • Killing the Flower Moon (nf) – Forming of the FBI
  • The Gathering Storm (nf) – Churchill’s first volume on WW2

At an average of a week or two per book (roughly), that should last me into February. I read 51 books in 2017. Who cares how many I read in 2018?

 

The Data Isn’t There

This summer, as you all have no doubt noted, I’ve had some real trouble with writing. My recollection, anecdotally, is that summer’s tend to be the doldrums of my writing year. I know that in Fall and Winter, especially when I lived somewhere those seasons were expressed with cold temperatures and turning leaves, my writing time and pace increases. This current lack of productivity, I’ve been telling myself, is just my natural writing rhythm during the summer.

Only, the data doesn’t quiet support that.

I should start by saying my data isn’t perfect. Over the course of a year, I’ll change up my writing tools more than once. My word tracking system is less than agile when it comes to adapting to new data sources, especially since that usually requires me to do some fiddling to make it work. Right now, for instance, I’m using a bastardization of Jamie Rubin’s scripts, with markdown as my format. Friends who have heard me praise, then moan, then praise again the virtues of Scrivener will now doubt roll their eyes at that. That does mean, though, some of my productivity isn’t always captured perfectly by the scripts I’m using.

That said, the data of my writing trends since July of 2014 (when I first started formally recording them) tells an interesting story. The biggest revelation to me, insomuch as the data is trustworthy, is the volume of writing being accomplished. Yes, quality is more important than quantity, I agree, but there’s definitely been a shift in the last three years. I went from at best a few hundred words per session, to at my peak last year writing thousands of words a day. It’s a peak I haven’t had since, but more on that later. The data also shows a clear trend of increased writing, followed by month long gaps. At least in that I’m not atypical this summer. But my recollection that I’m like this every summer? The 2016 data refutes that completely. In fact, the 2016 July data suggests I was really active last summer.

So, that peak in the data. I racked my head on why and how that was, but it was my lovely wife who pointed out that obvious. While I may have sat on it for a long, long time, it was last summer that I was both finishing the first draft of Chrysalis, getting it copy edited. It was also when I decided to take my first foray into self publishing with A Scent of Roses.

Sadly, none of that helps me this week. I’ve let myself slide too much lately, filling writing time with other things, chiefly The Last Guardian and then Mass Effect 3 (which I picked up for a song through a Father’s Day sale on the Playstation Network). The time for writing again is upon me. Tomorrow, I’ll post the excerpt I’ve been working from for The Mermaid’s Tears. The book is (believe it or not) far enough along that I don’t think it will diverge too much from this blurb. Let me know what you think!

Also, on sale this week for just 99 cents, you can get Chrysalis for your Kindle! Member of Kindle Unlimited? Then you can read it for free every day!