“Plus Tips”, Or Why Your Next Book Won’t be Delivered by an Amazon Un-Employee

20490063906_22b64c6173_hArs Technica signed up to drive for Amazon’s outsourced delivery service a few days back, and their report identifies a couple fundamental problems with the so-called “sharing economy”.

Late last year, Amazon launched a pilot program in one of its biggest Amazon Prime Now markets to ship more packages within that service’s two-hour window. It was a “sharing economy”-styled system where anybody could sign up to deliver Amazon’s packages—and get paid $18 an hour while doing so, plus tips.

As independent contractors, Amazon Flex drivers are expected to cover all their own costs for driving, insurance, and wear-and-tear, and multiple Washington car insurance companies confirmed to Ars that interested drivers should look into business-driving insurance plans. Drivers in other participating Prime Now cities, which are up to 28 metropolitan areas in the United States, will want to check with their insurers for more information.

So not only do you pay Amazon extra for faster delivery, they also expect you to pay a second time in the form of tips. And to make matters worse, Amazon expects its workers to carry their own commercial insurance.

And they call this the “sharing economy”?

Pull the other one; it has bells on.

This is no more and no less than a ploy to pass overhead costs on to customers and workers in a ploy to boost Amazon’s bottom line, and in the long run, it’s going to fail.

As one commenter pointed out over at Ars, this is less a “sharing economy” than a  “unregulated subcontractor economy”. It exists in a legal loophole which, in the long run, will be closed by regulators.

All it would take is for regulators to require that a company verify that its contractors have commercial insurance. (Similar regulations require employers verify the employment status of their new employees.) That one change would make this type of part-time delivery gig unprofitable for most drivers, and more or less kill the industry.

And that is going to happen sooner rather than later.

Uber has gotten a lot of negative coverage over the past couple years, including for encouraging drivers to get personal insurance rather than commercial, and for misleading drivers on how they should register their vehicles.

The media isn’t the only one to notice those two sins; regulators have also noticed, and at some point they are going to act. So if you want to get a book delivered via the  “sharing economy”, you should follow up on that today.

Since I live in neither Arlington nor Springfield (the two closest Amazon Flex delivery areas) I cannot. But you might.

P.S. In 2014 B&N partnered with Google to deliver books and other good through Google Shopping Express in several US metro areas. Does anyone know whether that service is still available?

image by JLaw45

Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder of The Digital Reader. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills weekly. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.


  1. Chris Meadows5 July, 2016

    The tip hasn’t bothered me. It’s like a delivery fee, but it actually goes to the driver who went out in the rain or snow or whatever to bring your package to you. If you don’t want to pay out a little something for the convenience of someone bringing stuff right to your door on request, bestir your lazy rump out of your chair and go to Wal-Mart.

    1. Nate Hoffelder5 July, 2016

      Except I already paid the delivery fee – to Amazon. I resent getting stuck with another fee on top.

      This isn’t pizza, or any other situation where a tip is customary. This is Amazon trying to charge me twice.

  2. Sounds to me like the real problem is commercial insurance can kill what could otherwise be a decent living for a person. Over-regulation and fees kills commerce.

    1. puzzled8 July, 2016

      This is all fine and wonderful, until you get into a serious accident caused by one of these drivers. And their insurance company determines that because they were doing commercial on a personal policy, you aren’t covered for your costs in the accident. So, you’re lying there in intensive care and no one will pay your medical expenses. Not to mention repairing (or replacing) your car.

  3. Fjtorres5 July, 2016

    A lot (most?) of the people participating in these kind of operations have no jobs and haven’t for years. Their choices are the jobber economy, which as Maria said, at least lets them provide for yourselves, or the dole.

    But if this kind of low level employment offends your sensibilities, fret not. All those jobs will be gone in 5-10 years as Uber et al migrate their businesses to self-driving vehicles and drones.

  4. Sergegobli5 July, 2016

    Let them eat cake.

  5. Sergegobli5 July, 2016

    >> from FJTorres: A lot (most?) of the people participating in these kind of operations have no jobs and haven’t for years.

    Do you have some information to support that statement, or is it just opinion entirely unsupported by facts?

    1. Fjtorres5 July, 2016

      Uber is looking to expand into my mother’s area and I’ve been tracking the debate and, for a change, the local media is actually talking to the jobbers.
      So call it “second-hand experience”.

      It’s not as if these jobs are great or anything.
      But, like dishwashing, janitorial duty, or chicken dissection, they beat unemployment.

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