New Book by Communication’s Emily West, ‘Buy Now: How Amazon Branded Convenience and Normalized Monopoly,’ Published by MIT Press

A new book exploring the rise of e-commerce juggernaut Amazon by Emily West, associate professor of communication, has been published by MIT Press.

Emily West
Emily West

Amazon is omnipresent in our daily lives—we stream movies and television on Amazon Prime Video, converse with Alexa, and receive messages on our smartphones about the progress of our latest orders. In “Buy Now: How Amazon Branded Convenience and Normalized Monopoly,” West examines Amazon’s consumer-facing services to investigate how Amazon as a brand grew so quickly and inserted itself into so many aspects of our lives even as it faded into the background, becoming a sort of infrastructure that can be taken for granted. Amazon has promoted the comfort and care of its customers – but not its workers, West says – to become the ultimate service brand in the digital economy.

Cover art for Emily West's book Buy Now

“I set out to understand how Amazon had become so ubiquitous, so rapidly, in our lives and in our homes, almost without us noticing,” West says. “Buy Now brings attention to the strategies that Amazon uses to keep us hooked within its extensive, interconnected suite of products and services, and how its brand logics work more through building relationships with individual consumers through repeated interaction than through extensive advertising campaigns and image-heavy branding. Simply put, the book reveals how Amazon became the ultimate service brand in the digital economy.”

As consumers spend increasing amounts of money and time with Amazon, they simultaneously provide the company with a treasure trove of proprietary data about us that it uses to solidify its dominance in the markets that it operates in. West says Amazon has achieved or is approaching monopoly status in a variety of business areas and uses the delight and convenience of consumers to justify that level of market concentration.

West unpacks how Amazon has cultivated personalized, intimate relationships with consumers that normalize its outsized influence on ourselves and our communities. She describes the brand’s focus on speedy and seamless ecommerce delivery, the positioning of its book retailing, media streaming and smart speakers as services rather than sales, and the brand’s image control strategies.

West, co-editor of “The Routledge Companion to Advertising and Promotional Culture,” also considers why pushback against Amazon’s ubiquity and market power has come mainly from among Amazon’s workers rather than its customers or competitors, arguing that Amazon's brand logic fragments consumers as a political bloc.

“Amazon’s chief guiding principle since the beginning has been ‘customer obsession,’ and it routinely defends its business practice in the name of the delight and convenience of the customer,” West says. “Consumers should be fully informed about the consequences of Amazon’s market dominance and be more visible and directly involved in societal debate about the power of tech platforms like Amazon. These debates include whether trade laws and regulations require greater enforcement or updates that respond to the ways that digital platforms function differently, and have different kinds of market advantages, compared to traditional businesses. Further, both consumers and lawmakers should be mindful of the blurry lines between market power and powers of governance, which we increasingly see with Amazon in areas such as employment; packaging, product safety, and production information standards; corporate carbon emissions benchmarks; and taxpayer-supported business subsidies.”

Buy Now: How Amazon Branded Convenience and Normalized Monopoly,” is available now from MIT Press and from booksellers everywhere – including Amazon.