Amazon this week touted the items most frequently bought, viewed, read and listened to by its best customers over the past year. Among them are its always-listening, Alexa-enabled surveillance and entertainment devices — and the George Orwell classic about a totalitarian surveillance state, “Nineteen Eighty-Four: A Novel.”
Amazon’s Echo Dot and Fire TV Stick streaming devices — equipped with microphones to enable Alexa voice control — were some of the items purchased most frequently by subscribers to the Prime service in the U.S., the company said. Also on the list were avocados and a genetic ethnicity test.
Prime, an essential part of Amazon’s main retail business, provides unlimited, faster delivery and a wide range of media, including the company’s Amazon Originals shows, music and video games, for $119 a year.
(There were indications, however, that Prime shipping times promised by Amazon were stretching out to several days, rather than the previous two-day standard, let alone the one-day shipping that the company is spending an estimated $1.5 billion on in the current quarter. This is also the first holiday peak season for Amazon without the services of FedEx.)
Incidentally, the number of Amazon Prime subscribers — more than 100 million around the world — has not changed enough to be updated by the company since it was first revealed in a Jeff Bezos shareholder letter more than 19 months ago. That much-anticipated disclosure, in April 2018, came 13 years after the company began the program.
Included in the Prime deal is access to more than 1,000 books and magazines, which Prime members can read, up to 10 titles at a time.
In a news release highlighting the most popular Prime content, Amazon casually noted the popularity of “1984” among its Prime customers. It was among the most-borrowed Prime Reading titles in the science-fiction and fantasy genre, listed alongside Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change” in business and investing; Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” in literature and fiction; and “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” by J.K. Rowling in young adult.
Recall that “1984” — as it is frequently short-handed — describes a dystopian future of war, propaganda and ubiquitous surveillance.
A market researcher recently forecast that there will be more than 1 billion surveillance cameras deployed around the world by the end of 2021, up from 770 million now. A little more than half of these are expected to be in China, according to IHS Markit.
In addition to its voice-computing system, Amazon is pushing a range of home surveillance cameras, along the way inking partnerships with local police departments across the U.S. through its Ring subsidiary.
“1984” was published in 1949 and has become relevant at times in the intervening decades — famously, in an Apple Computer Super Bowl commercial introducing the Macintosh during the novel’s titular year — but perhaps never more so than today.
The book was atop Amazon’s best-seller list in early 2017, spurred by the comments of President Donald Trump’s adviser Kellyanne Conway, who called then-press secretary Sean Spicer’s exaggerations of the crowds at Trump’s inauguration “alternative facts.”
“1984” has since fallen out of Amazon’s top-100 best sellers, but Prime customers are still checking it out in droves.