Amazon’s Ad Extortion Plot

According to Mrs. Sopwith, I have mellowed considerably over the years. This is a good thing because ol’ Sopwith used to be a pretty intense fellow. There are still a couple of things that can get me quickly riled up: The complete breakdown of personal privacy and the proliferation of the advertising assault by the media.

Now, I would much rather be posting about solder and such – but these issues are important.

Let me give you an example. Last weekend Mrs. Sopwith finally capitulated and said she would like to get a Kindle. Like many people, the Mrs. loves the physicality of a book and resisted electronic book reading. Now that we are going to do some traveling, she agreed to get a Kindle.

Sopwith currently has two Kindles. I think they are terrific. So – off to Best Buy. We look at our options with the salesman and decided the best fit for the Mrs. was a Kindle Fire HD.  The Fire HDX was overkill. So off to the checkout where I paid $139.00 US + CA sales tax.

When I got the unit home I plugged it in and did not fire it up until it was fully charged. Upon startup, I walked through the registration process and linked the Kindle with Mrs. Sopwith’s Amazon account.

Then – the nightmare began! When I was presented the Kindle home screen I was bombarded by flashing images, ads, and unending visual noise. It reminded me of running a web browser with the pop-up blocker disabled. I quickly traversed the menu structure to find the checkbox that would disable the ads. Alas – I found it, but to my horror I discovered I would have to pay $15 to disable the ads.

Yup – Amazon sells the Kindle Fire in two versions – with ads and without ads. And two different prices. By the way, Amazon does not call these ads – they call them ‘special offers.’

I got on the phone with Amazon support and the battle began.

Sopwith(S): Hello – I just bought a Kindle Fire HD for my wife at Best Buy and discovered you are going to charge me $15 to disable the ads. I am requesting you turn off the ads immediately and I am not willing to pay for this.

Operator(O): I am sorry sir – we cannot disable the ads without payment.

S: I am not paying you to remove something I do not want and I did not know you have two different prices for the Kindle.

O: That is why you should have bought the Kindle from us. We clearly state on our web site the price of a Kindle is reduced if you accept the ads.




S: Please look at my Amazon order history. I have spent thousands of dollars as a loyal Amazon customer. If you will not disable the ads without a fee, I will return the Kindle to Best Buy tomorrow and close my Amazon account. (Yup – I was pretty angry at this point).

O: Sir – I will need a supervisor to approve this, please hold.

Ultimately, Amazon agreed to disable the ads without a fee. They hit the magic button and told me to reboot the Kindle. When I did so, the entire personality of the device changed. Incredible resolution and no noise. Exactly what I thought I purchased.

In the closing discussion with the Amazon operator, I asked her how many calls she has fielded with complaints about this “Amazon Ad Extortion Plot.” She said, “Sir, I have worked here at Amazon for more than two years. Yours is the first complaint I have received about this issue. Most people like the special offers and appreciate Amazon informing informing them of good values.”

I thought long and hard about this last statement from the operator. I came to three conclusions:

1) Ol’ Sopwith has lost touch with the current state of communicating and should learn to deal with the changing landscape.

2) Most people who purchase the Kindle do not notice or take offense to the ads because they have capitulated to the reality that this is how the world works today (Complete surrender to the marketing machine).

3) Amazon has gotten more aggressive in cost recovery because the margin on a Kindle is razor thin.

I think Amazon went over the line with this and it has damaged our once excellent relationship. Mr. Bezos – this was a bad marketing decision and goes against the principals you publicly state are important to Amazon’s success.

I would like your thoughts on this.


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