Thursday, April 17, 2008

Amazon and Lighthing Source unveil plans for expansion

There has been no more news to report at all this week regarding the big Amazon debate, with everything on both sides of the pond suddenly going very quiet indeed. Business for them must be booming though, as a report on the online edition of today's Daily Mail states that Amazon are opening their biggest warehouse yet in Swansea, which is set to be the size of ten football pitches.

The depot will be literally crammed full with not just books, but with every conceivable product, from trainers to lawnmowers to bread makers. There will though be no friendly and helpful shop assistants, just an army of unsung and no doubt underpaid, workers whose sole aim will be to pick and pack goods to be shipped throughout Europe.

Reporter Julie Mount states that yesterday she got her first glimpse of the facilities when First Minister Rhodri Morgan MP lined up alongside local dignitaries to welcome in the new way forward. Morgan declared that "At a time when there's a lot of doom and gloom around, this is a shaft of light for Wales. Amazon is an iconic global company right at the forefront of the e-economy and one of only a handful of truly world brands that have emerged since the Internet changed the way we live our lives. This is one of the biggest investments announced in Wales since devolution began nine years ago. It is a powerful shot in the arm for the Welsh economy and the Swansea Bay area in particular. I am proud of the role that the Assembly Government has played in attracting Amazon to Wales."

I wonder if he would say the same if he were a US or for that matter, UK based print on demand author. Somehow I think not! Global brand my foot - as this comes at the expense, like so many others before them, of all the little ants that they have trodden on and squashed.

Amazon estimates it will take on 1200 employees in five years in order to cope with their ever increasing demand, with many more taken on as seasonal Christmas temps.

While it may appear to be good for the Welsh economy, one has to wonder at the wider implications regarding the rise in the Internet, as it will undoubtedly lead to the demise of many more small independent, and even larger chains, as they simply cannot compete with Amazon's low prices and aggressive marketing. Even my employer, as the UK's largest and arguably most successful electrical retailer are threatened, as there is due to be a big announcement made to the city and the company's staff on May 15th. Rumours are rife within the company regarding store closures, and it seems that my own job may be threatened, as High Street stores like mine will if the rumours are true, be amongst the first to go.

Over reliance on service sector jobs such as those provided by Amazon can be a dangerous thing, as it is pretty much a dead end job, with little skill and no career development. As manufacturing union Unite warned, "These jobs do not provide the foundations for young people to flourish and play a full and constructive role within their communities." At least retail gives you the opportunity to develop skills and interact with people by not just selling, but also providing customer service. Picking things off a warehouse floor and placing them in boxes is just a means to an end.

The second story, from Publishers Weekly, which is somewhat ironic really, concerns print on demand printer Lightning Source, who like Amazon are also opening larger premises.

The report states that they are expanding their current facilities in Milton Keynes from 12,000 to 60,000 square feet. The new plant is due to open later this summer, and will enable them to add 12 more print lines. Managing Director David Taylor described it as a long term strategy for the future. He went on to explain that the UK division printed a staggering 2 million books in 2007, a number which is set to increase this year by a further 25 percent.

Reading this, and bearing in mind that print on demand is even bigger business in the United States, it really does make one wonder once again, what the hell Amazon think they are playing at.

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