14 One-Click Facts About Amazon

Image Credit: Michael Radtke, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

With over 244 million regular customers buying everything from books to socks to uranium ore, Amazon.com has achieved founder Jeff Bezos’ goal of becoming "the everything store." Take a look at some lesser-known facts about the company that has unprecedented access to your wallet.  

1. They Got in Trouble For Selling Dolphin Meat.

And whale bacon. In 2012, environmental activists launched an email siege on the retailer after it was discovered Amazon Japan trafficked in meat products taken from whales and dolphins, including some endangered species. Over 100 items, including canned whale meat and whale jerky, were pulled.  

2. There’s a Giant Cave Bear in Their Lobby.

When Amazon began experimenting with an eBay-esque auction platform, Bezos himself completed a major transaction: he purchased a complete Ice Age cave bear skeleton for $40,000. The towering specimen now stands in the lobby of the company’s corporate offices in Seattle. (The cave bear is known for having a penis bone that was frequently fractured during fights. It is not part of the display.)

3. They Once Cleaned Out Toys "R" Us to Have Christmas Inventory.

Selling toys—particularly during the chaotic holiday season—can be a trying experience for retailers. Unlike many consumer goods, toys are frequently allocated by their distributors. In order to have enough stock to satisfy the 1999 Pokémon craze, Amazon employees gobbled up every last Pikachu from the Toys "R" Us website, took advantage of the free shipping, then re-sold the items to their own customers. (Toys "R" Us, which was just getting into e-commerce, had no system in place to identify mass-scale purchasing.)  

4. You Can Turn Your Kindle Into an Etch A Sketch.

Zhao !, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

E Ink technology relies on magnetic capsules the size of a human hair to display text. While that’s not quite how the fondly-remembered Etch A Sketch works—it used an analog stylus to move aluminum powder—it’s close enough for an app called Doodle to be able to transform your Kindle into a makeshift homage to the toy.

5. Their Fastest Delivery May Have Been 23 Minutes.

When same-day Prime service was instituted in Manhattan, the company claims one customer got their item in a record 23 minutes. (It was an Easy-Bake Oven.) 

6. Those Positive Reviews May Not Be Sincere.

Positive reviews are the currency of books on Amazon; a cluster of praise can often be a deciding factor in whether or not to hit "Add to Cart." In 2012, an Oklahoma business came under fire for offering four and five-star reviews in exchange for fees—up to $999 for 50 glowing endorsements. Similar services are currently being sued by Amazon on the grounds the company has policies against manipulating reviews.

7. You Can’t Buy an iPhone From Them.

You’ll find MacBooks, Apple TV, and other Apple products on Amazon, but there’s a very poor chance you’ll see a new iPhone offered. That’s because the companies don’t appear to see eye-to-eye in business matters, and possibly because Amazon’s Kindle offerings are competing for tablet market share with Apple’s iPad line. (Used phones are available via third-party sellers.)

8.  Their First Customer Got a Building Named After Him.

Amazon

Software engineer John Wainwright was a friend of Amazon employee Shal Kaphan: on April 3, 1995, he got the opportunity to place the first non-employee order from a now-quaint Amazon.com (above) for a book on artificial intelligence titled Creative Concepts and Fluid Analogies. Bezos later named a building after Wainwright to honor the occasion. He also named a building Rufus after a dog that would frequently join his owners at their pet-friendly offices.

9. They’ll Pay Employees To Quit.

In 2014, Amazon launched a "Pay to Quit" program aimed at reducing the number of unmotivated warehouse employees at its fulfillment centers. If a worker hands in a resignation, they’ll get $3,000. By 2017, the amount is expected to be $5,000. Less than 10 percent of the first wave of staffers offered the deal took them up on it.

10. You Can Tour Their Warehouses.

While an Amazon Fulfillment Center may not seem like a popular tourist destination, the company is offering the opportunity anyway. Four Phoenix-area warehouses are among the worldwide locations open for public viewing on certain days of the month—presumably with air conditioning. The company received criticism in 2011 for operating warehouses in excess of 100 degrees, parking ambulances outside to care for heat stroke victims.

11. Their Japanese Mascot is Pretty Adorable.

Kathryn Cartwright, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Danbo, the unofficial sentient shipping box mascot of Amazon Japan, is so popular among consumers that Danbo toys and other merchandise are readily available; memes featuring him in various predicaments are hugely popular. But Danbo (which means “corrugated cardboard”) actually originated in the pages of artist Kiyohiko Azuma’s manga work and has no overt ties to the company—though they don’t seem to mind him one bit.

12. The CIA is a Customer.

The Central Intelligence Agency signed a $600 million deal with Amazon in 2013 for cloud computing storage, part of Amazon Web Services (AWS). The partnership has raised eyebrows due to concern the e-giant might wind up sharing private customer information with the government: a petition is circulating that demands Amazon issue a strict policy of not sharing any data.

13. Bezos Wanted to Call It MakeItSo.com.

An avowed Star Trek fan since childhood, Bezos thought MakeItSo.com would be a fitting name for an online storefront he believed could deliver anything to anyone. That idea fell by the wayside for Amazon.com, named after the world’s largest river. (And because lists for Web links were originally alphabetized.)

14. They Don’t Actually Make Any Money.

Chez Pitch, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

With $89 billion in sales last year, Amazon has grown to monolithic proportions. But that same timeframe also saw the company lose $241 million overall due to massive operating expenses, putting their profit margin in the tank. With acquisitions, innovations, and generous return policies, the company has set its sights on long-term success, building an infrastructure that will pay off years or decades down the line. The next time you wonder how the company can afford low prices, spend billions in advancing technology all while offering free shipping on a 1.5 ton gun safe, the answer is: they really can’t.  

Additional Sources: The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon.  

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Marvel Entertainment
10 Facts About Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian
Marvel Entertainment
Marvel Entertainment

Nearly every sword-wielding fantasy hero from the 20th century owes a tip of their horned helmet to Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian. Set in the fictional Hyborian Age, after the destruction of Atlantis but before our general recorded history, Conan's stories have depicted him as everything from a cunning thief to a noble king and all types of scoundrel in between. But beneath that blood-soaked sword and shield is a character that struck a nerve with generations of fantasy fans, spawning adaptations in comics, video games, movies, TV shows, and cartoons in the eight decades since he first appeared in the December 1932 issue of Weird Tales. So thank Crom, because here are 10 facts about Conan the Barbarian.

1. THE FIRST OFFICIAL CONAN STORY WAS A KULL REWRITE.

Conan wasn’t the only barbarian on Robert E. Howard’s resume. In 1929, the writer created Kull the Conqueror, a more “introspective” brand of savage that gained enough interest to eventually find his way onto the big screen in 1997. The two characters share more than just a common creator and a general disdain for shirts, though: the first Conan story to get published, “The Phoenix on the Sword,” was actually a rewrite of an earlier rejected Kull tale titled “By This Axe I Rule!” For this new take on the plot, Howard introduced supernatural elements and more action. The end result was more suited to what Weird Tales wanted, and it became the foundation for future Conan tales.

2. BUT A “PROTO-CONAN” STORY PRECEDED IT.

A few months before Conan made his debut in Weird Tales, Howard wrote a story called "People of the Dark" for Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror about a man named John O’Brien who seemed to relive his past life as a brutish, black-haired warrior named … Conan of the reavers. Reave is a word from Old English meaning to raid or plunder, which is obviously in the same ballpark as barbarian. And in the story, there is also a reference to Crom, the fictional god of the Hyborian age that later became a staple of the Conan mythology. This isn't the barbarian as we know him, and it's certainly not an official Conan tale, but the early ideas were there.

3. ROBERT E. HOWARD NEVER INTENDED TO WRITE THESE STORIES IN ORDER.

Howard was meticulous in his world-building for Conan, which was highlighted by his 8600-word history on the Hyborian Age the character lived in. But the one area the creator had no interest in was linearity. Conan’s first story depicted him already as a king; subsequent stories, though, would shift back and forth, chronicling his early days as both a thief and a youthful adventurer.

There’s good reason for that, as Howard himself once explained: “In writing these yarns I've always felt less as creating them than as if I were simply chronicling his adventures as he told them to me. That's why they skip about so much, without following a regular order. The average adventurer, telling tales of a wild life at random, seldom follows any ordered plan, but narrates episodes widely separated by space and years, as they occur to him.”

4. THERE ARE NUMEROUS CONNECTIONS TO THE H.P. LOVECRAFT MYTHOS.

For fans of the pulp magazines of the early 20th century, one of the only names bigger than Robert E. Howard was H.P. Lovecraft. The two weren’t competitors, though—rather, they were close friends and correspondents. They’d often mail each other drafts of their stories, discuss the themes of their work, and generally talk shop. And as Lovecraft’s own mythology was growing, it seems like their work began to bleed together.

In “The Phoenix on the Sword,” Howard made reference to “vast shadowy outlines of the Nameless Old Ones,” which could be seen as a reference to the ancient, godlike “Old Ones” from the Lovecraft mythos. In the book The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, editor Patrice Louinet even wrote that Howard’s earlier draft for the story name-dropped Lovecraft’s actual Old Ones, most notably Cthulhu.

In Lovecraft’s “The Shadow of Time,” he describes a character named Crom-Ya as a “Cimmerian chieftain,” which is a reference to Conan's homeland and god. These examples just scratch the surface of names, places, and concepts that the duo’s work share. Whether you want to read it all as a fun homage or an early attempt at a shared universe is up to you.

5. SEVERAL OF HOWARD’S STORIES WERE REWRITTEN AS CONAN STORIES POSTHUMOUSLY.

Howard was only 30 when he died, so there aren’t as many completed Conan stories out in the world as you’d imagine—and there are even less that were finished and officially printed. Despite that, the character’s popularity has only grown since the 1930s, and publishers looked for a way to print more of Howard’s Conan decades after his death. Over the years, writers and editors have gone back into Howard’s manuscripts for unfinished tales to doctor up and rewrite for publication, like "The Snout in the Dark," which was a fragment that was reworked by writers Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp. There were also times when Howard’s non-Conan drafts were repurposed as Conan stories by publishers, including all of the stories in 1955's Tales of Conan collection from Gnome Press.

6. FRANK FRAZETTA’S CONAN PAINTINGS REGULARLY SELL FOR SEVEN FIGURES.

Chances are, the image of Conan you have in your head right now owes a lot to artist Frank Frazetta: His version of the famous barbarian—complete with rippling muscles, pulsating veins, and copious amounts of sword swinging—would come to define the character for generations. But the look that people most associate with Conan didn’t come about until the character’s stories were reprinted decades after Robert E. Howard’s death.

“In 1966, Lancer Books published new paperbacks of Robert E. Howard's Conan series and hired my grandfather to do the cover art,” Sara Frazetta, Frazetta's granddaughter owner and operator of Frazetta Girls, tells Mental Floss. You could argue that Frazetta’s powerful covers were what drew most people to Conan during the '60s and '70s, and in recent years the collector’s market seems to validate that opinion. In 2012, the original painting for his Lancer version of Conan the Conqueror sold at auction for $1,000,000. Later, his Conan the Destroyer went for $1.5 million.

Still, despite all of Frazetta’s accomplishments, his granddaughter said there was one thing he always wanted: “His only regret was that he wished Robert E. Howard was alive so he could have seen what he did with his character.”

7. CONAN’S FIRST MARVEL COMIC WAS ALMOST CANCELED AFTER SEVEN ISSUES.

The cover to Marvel's Conan the Barbarian #21
Marvel Entertainment

Conan’s origins as a pulp magazine hero made him a natural fit for the medium’s logical evolution: the comic book. And in 1970, the character got his first high-profile comic launch when Marvel’s Conan The Barbarian hit shelves, courtesy of writer Roy Thomas and artist Barry Windsor-Smith.

Though now it’s hailed as one of the company’s highlights from the ‘70s, the book was nearly canceled after a mere seven issues. The problem is that while the debut issue sold well, each of the next six dropped in sales, leading Marvel’s then editor-in-chief, Stan Lee, to pull the book from production after the seventh issue hit stands.

Thomas pled his case, and Lee agreed to give Conan one last shot. But this time instead of the book coming out every month, it would be every two months. The plan worked, and soon sales were again on the rise and the book would stay in publication until 1993, again as a monthly. This success gave way to the Savage Sword of Conan, an oversized black-and-white spinoff magazine from Marvel that was aimed at adult audiences. It, too, was met with immense success, lasting from 1974 to 1995.

8. OLIVER STONE WROTE A FOUR-HOUR, POST-APOCALYPTIC CONAN MOVIE.

John Milius’s 1982 Conan movie is a classic of the sword and sorcery genre, but its original script from Oliver Stone didn’t resemble the final product at all. In fact, it barely resembled anything related to Conan. Stone’s Conan would have been set on a post-apocalyptic Earth, where the barbarian would do battle against a host of mutant pigs, insects, and hyenas. Not only that, but it would have also been just one part of a 12-film saga that would be modeled on the release schedule of the James Bond series.

The original producers were set to move ahead with Stone’s script with Stone co-directing alongside an up-and-coming special effects expert named Ridley Scott, but they were turned down by all of their prospects. With no co-director and a movie that would likely be too ambitious to ever actually get finished, they sold the rights to producer Dino De Laurentiis, who helped bring in Milius.

9. BARACK OBAMA IS A FAN (AND WAS TURNED INTO A BARBARIAN HIMSELF).

When President Barack Obama sent out a mass email in 2015 to the members of Organizing for Action, he was looking to get people to offer up stories about how they got involved within their community—their origin stories, if you will. In this mass email, the former Commander-in-Chief detailed his own origin, with a shout out to a certain barbarian:

“I grew up loving comic books. Back in the day, I was pretty into Conan the Barbarian and Spiderman.

Anyone who reads comics can tell you, every main character has an origin story—the fateful and usually unexpected sequence of events that made them who they are.”

This bit of trivia was first made public in 2008 in a Daily Telegraph article on 50 facts about the president. That led to Devil’s Due Publishing immortalizing the POTUS in the 2009 comic series Barack the Barbarian, which had him decked out in his signature loincloth doing battle against everyone from Sarah Palin to Dick Cheney.

10. J.R.R. TOLKIEN WAS ALSO A CONAN DEVOTEE.

The father of 20th century fantasy may always be J.R.R. Tolkien, but Howard is a close second in many fans' eyes. Though Tolkien’s work has found its way into more scholarly literary circles, Howard’s can sometimes get categorized as low-brow. Quality recognizes quality, however, and during a conversation with Tolkien, writer L. Sprague de Camp—who himself edited and touched-up numerous Conan stories—said The Lord of the Rings author admitted that he “rather liked” Howard’s Conan stories during a conversation with him. He didn’t expand upon it, nor was de Camp sure which Conan tale he actually read (though it was likely “Shadows in the Moonlight”), but the seal of approval from Tolkien himself goes a long way toward validation.

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iStock
Why a Readily Available Used Paperback Is Selling for Thousands of Dollars on Amazon
iStock
iStock

At first glance, getting ahold of a copy of One Snowy Knight, a historical romance novel by Deborah MacGillivray, isn't hard at all. You can get the book, which originally came out in 2009, for a few bucks on Amazon. And yet according to one seller, a used copy of the book is worth more than $2600. Why? As The New York Times reports, this price disparity has more to do with the marketing techniques of Amazon's third-party sellers than it does the market value of the book.

As of June 5, a copy of One Snowy Knight was listed by a third-party seller on Amazon for $2630.52. By the time the Times wrote about it on July 15, the price had jumped to $2800. That listing has since disappeared, but a seller called Supersonic Truck still has used copy available for $1558.33 (plus shipping!). And it's not even a rare book—it was reprinted in July.

The Times found similar listings for secondhand books that cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars more than their market price. Those retailers might not even have the book on hand—but if someone is crazy enough to pay $1500 for a mass-market paperback that sells for only a few dollars elsewhere, that retailer can make a killing by simply snapping it up from somewhere else and passing it on to the chump who placed an order with them.

Not all the prices for used books on Amazon are so exorbitant, but many still defy conventional economic wisdom, offering used copies of books that are cheaper to buy new. You can get a new copy of the latest edition of One Snowy Knight for $16.99 from Amazon with Prime shipping, but there are third-party sellers asking $24 to $28 for used copies. If you're not careful, how much you pay can just depend on which listing you click first, thinking that there's not much difference in the price of used books. In the case of One Snowy Knight, there are different listings for different editions of the book, so you might not realize that there's a cheaper version available elsewhere on the site.

An Amazon product listing offers a mass-market paperback book for $1558.33.
Screenshot, Amazon

Even looking at reviews might not help you find the best listing for your money. People tend to buy products with the most reviews, rather than the best reviews, according to recent research, but the site is notorious for retailers gaming the system with fraudulent reviews to attract more buyers and make their way up the Amazon rankings. (There are now several services that will help you suss out whether the reviews on a product you're looking at are legitimate.)

For more on how Amazon's marketplace works—and why its listings can sometimes be misleading—we recommend listening to this episode of the podcast Reply All, which has a fascinating dive into the site's third-party seller system.

[h/t The New York Times]

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