The environmentalist Jay Westerveldt coined this term when he encountered one of those hotel cards advising him on eco-friendly "towel management" practices, way back in 1986 (this one is from a recent hotel stay of mine). Of course this is nothing new, smart marketers have cleverly invoked the best interests of the environment for years to get us to choose their products and causes.
Since the environment can't respond to marketers directly or speak for itself, in 1992 the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released their first “Green Guide” offering clear guidelines for manufacturers, marketers and publishers in making environmental claims so that they could avoid greenwash. The FTC guidelines boil down to:
- Don’t exaggerate or lie about environmental claims.
- Back up any environmental claims you make with proof.
An example of an exaggeration would be a statement from your bank that reads, “Go Paperless to Save the Environment.” An example of an outright lie would be claiming that a product is biodegradable when it isn’t.
Amazon's propaganda email aimed to 1) sway and recruit me in their e-book battle with Hachette, claiming that taking Amazon's side in the massive e-book war was in my (and every author's) best interests and 2) convince me that this war is simply a battle of "old school" thinking vs. "new disruptive" thinking (with Hachette being the old school and Amazon being the innovative disruptor).
The email frames Amazon as the friend of the author, the defender of reasonableness and that it is fighting for the sake of "book culture". I thought this was pretty absurd and that this marketing approach might be termed "carewash". Indeed, the 800 LB gorilla of online publishing is not acting on behalf of many authors, including Robert A. Caro, Junot Díaz, Malcolm Gladwell, Lemony Snicket (the pen name of Daniel Handler), Michael Chabon, Michael Lewis, Jon Krakauer, Scott Turow, George Saunders, Sebastian Junger, Philip Pullman and Nora Roberts. It essentially already controls the market for e-books.
Hachette's influence in e-book pricing simply reduces the scope of Amazon's power. Of course, I don't believe that Hachette (which is "part of a $10 billion media conglomerate" to quote Amazon's email) cares any less about money than Amazon does, but I do believe that Amazon.com (itself a much, much more influential $146 billion business) does not care more about "book culture" than it does about increasing its control of e-books and e-book pricing to feed its increasingly strategic Kindle and Fire Phone mobile shopping channels.
What do you think of Amazon's email? A copy of the full email from Amazon is included below.