I just learned from NPR that, starting January 4, Amazon will block most small businesses from selling used Apple products on their platform. In November, Apple signed a deal with Amazon to sell more of its products on the world’s biggest e-tailer. To land those big-ticket products, Amazon had to give Apple the authority to o.k. all third-party vendors offering Apple merchandise:
The change will allow Apple and Amazon to have more control over inventory and pricing of Apple products. But, smaller sellers and folks who flip iPhones right after they go on sale are likely to be hurt by the deal. Also, customers shopping for used (but not refurbished) Apple products may find a much more limited selection on Amazon. In both cases, those sellers and customers will be more likely to go to rival online sites like eBay instead.
Amazon has already been adding more restrictions to its marketplace over the years, making it harder for small sellers to put up products on Amazon if they aren’t working directly with the brands they list. Amazon inked a similar partnership with Nike last year that allowed both companies to reduce counterfeits on Amazon and gain stronger control over unauthorized third-party sales of Nike products [Ben Fox Rubin, “Apple Pumps Up Its Amazon Listings with iPhones, iPads, and More,” CNet, 2018.11.11].
Motherboard reports that gaining “authorized reseller” status from Apple will likely be a challenge. Independent repair shops can pay Apple a fee to gain “authorized” status to do a limited set of repairs on some Apple devices. Resellers can still sell used Apple products through Amazon’s Renewed certification program, but that certification is only available to vendors with sales in the seven-figure range.
One could argue that Apple has every right to protect its brand and control third-party resellers’ exploitation of its brand for profit. One would lose that argument in court:
The United States Supreme Court has ruled that people who legally own a product may legally resell it, and federal law protects that right under something known as the “first sale doctrine,” which says that copyright holders give up their copyright to individual copies of a work once it is sold: “the first sale doctrine, codified at 17 U.S.C. § 109, provides that an individual who knowingly purchases a copy of a copyrighted work from the copyright holder receives the right to sell, display, or otherwise dispose of that particular copy, notwithstanding the interests of the copyright owner,” the US Department of Justice explains.
“The first sale doctrine has never required an owner to get permission to sell their property,” Perzanowski added. “But Amazon is leveraging its power over its marketplace to give Apple power that the courts and Congress never have and never would” [Jason Koebler, “Amazon Is Kicking All Unauthorized Apple Refurbishers off Amazon Marketplace,” Motherboard, 2018.11.09].
In another effort to stifle the resale of Apple products, Apple requires its recyclers to shred Apple devices:
Apple rejects current industry best practices by forcing the recyclers it works with to shred iPhones and MacBooks so they cannot be repaired or reused—instead, they are turned into tiny shards of metal and glass.
“Materials are manually and mechanically disassembled and shredded into commodity-sized fractions of metals, plastics, and glass,” John Yeider, Apple’s recycling program manager, wrote under a heading called “Takeback Program Report” in a 2013 report to Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. “All hard drives are shredded in confetti-sized pieces. The pieces are then sorted into commodities grade materials. After sorting, the materials are sold and used for production stock in new products. No reuse. No parts harvesting. No resale” [Jason Koebler, “Apple Forces Recyclers to Shred All iPhones and Macbooks,” Motherboard, 2017.04.20].
Repairing and reusing electronics has far less environmental impact than shredding and reprocessing their component materials. But Apple is fighting state-level legislation that would protect consumer access to spare parts and independent repair services. Apple is more interested in cornering its market than protecting our rights and our planet:
Gay Gordon-Brown, who heads the Repair Association, says plainly: “If you can’t repair stuff, you’re forced to participate in the throwaway market.” Besides the personal affront over what many consider the inalienable right to do what we want with our own stuff, not allowing freedom of choice in the repair of our electronics is just bad for the planet. With the e-waste problem continuing to grow, everyone has a lot to lose – sellers and buyers alike [Vianney Vaute, “Why Buyers Should Beware the New Apple-Amazon Deal,” Forbes, 2018.11.30].
I produce this blog daily on a Macbook Air, purchased four and a half years ago. It is my seventh laptop in 24 years. This laptop is light and durable. It performs as reliably as the NEC Ready 120LT that I purchased for $800 in 1998 after a disastrous experience with a $3,000 Gateway laptop that I purchased in 1997 and had to send back to the factory for repairs three times that year. The NEC Ready still boots up, but it has no wireless. The Macbook Air is somewhat more functional.
My Macbook Air is the only Apple device I use. Apple’s control-freakism (a clear outgrowth, I am learning from Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, of its founder’s obsessions) inclines me to get all the use I can out of this computer and avoid buying my eighth laptop for as long as possible… but I wonder: will I find any other computer vendor less inclined to control and accelerate my consumption?