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Amazon's Big Monty Python Foot

posted Jun 5, 2016, 2:20 PM by Douglas Sun
After getting feedback from some of my wargaming buddies — and wargamers are part of our target market, being unusually aware of military history, even if they aren't specifically Civil War buffs — we have settled on the final form of our "Beards and Generals" t-shirts. As soon as Merch by Amazon [rpcesses the changes, they will be available for sale.

While we're waiting, however, there is some time for rueful reflection on how Amazon's search engine has treated us during our several-week trial run Earlier, I reported that we showed uo in the first page of results when you search the apparel category by "Civil War beards." However, Kim found that a more germane search, by "Civil War t-shirt" turns up an avalanche of Captain Americaprelated items, and we are literally nowhere to be seen, even many pages in.

Now, I have nothing against the Captain or his handlers at Marvel. But it seems to me that if you want a Captain America: Civil War t-shirt, yu should at least be expected to use "Captain America" as a search term. and leave "Civil War" to, well, the Civil War. This suggests to me that Amazon's search engine tilts the table to favor the big media companies and other such prominent brands, even if it means crushing small, indie creative/publishers under a huge foot, like the very end of the opening title sequence of "Monty Python's Flying Circus." Part of the promise of the digital age was that it was supposed to open up new opportunities for people to make themselves heard and known. But here we are, and it's just as difficult as ever for the little guy to stake his claim. Not entirely dissimilar from the iOS App Store, which is such a mess these days that it's impossible to get noticed without backing in the form of advertising and marketing from a major publisher.

Now, Amazon is free to run its business however it pleases. But I will point out that  one of its strengths —probably its greatest strength, since to launched Amazon Marketplace — is that you can find almost anything on the site. For many of its loyal customers (like me), Amazon therefore becomes our first option when looking for something that's even a little out of the way. If Amazon loses sight of this and favors the big brands and media conglomerates in such a domineering manner, it will lose that strength and become just another crappy retail experience. Like Walmart, which carries a broad but shallow inventory range, with the result being that its business model literally does not allow it to carry anything interesting, much less merchandise it in a way that gets shoppers' attention. That's one of the main reasons I don't shop at Walmart.

In a less bitter note, I will say that y=our public beta period gave me some interesting insight into how we can expect the designs to be received going forward. In our internal debates, I had assumed that the designs would fall flat unless we made absolutely clear that this was a mash-up between Civil War beards and aircraft recognition silhouettes. But even people who didn't get the specific joke still reacted favorably — either they just thought it was an attractivel design, or they found amusing the more vague notion that you could identify Civil War personages just by the shape of their facial hair. I was wrong, Just as I hope that I am wrong about Amazon irrevocably screwing us in favor of Captain America.