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Originally published May 23, 2013 at 5:06 PM | Page modified May 23, 2013 at 10:09 PM

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Drama is no-show at Amazon meeting

Amazon Chairman and Chief Executive Jeff Bezos presided over a brisk meeting at the Seattle Repertory Theatre.

Seattle Times business reporter

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It was short and quiet and probably just as Amazon.com wanted.

The Internet retailer’s annual shareholders meeting Thursday lacked all the drama of last year, when dozens of labor activists took their protests to the event to criticize Amazon’s treatment of warehouse workers and tax policies.

Instead, Chairman and Chief Executive Jeff Bezos presided over a brisk meeting at the Seattle Repertory Theatre, where he ran through Amazon’s spending priorities, then took a smattering of shareholder questions, none on taxes or working conditions.

The closest the meeting came to controversy was when several shareholders challenged Amazon’s decision to carry violent video games and movies.

A representative of the conservative National Center for Public Policy Research asked why Seattle-based Amazon sells gory videos, but not guns.

Bezos replied, “I appreciate your comments, and we’ll look into it.”

Larry Dohrs, of Newground Social Investment, also demanded to know how the company decides what to sell, citing a ”bleeding, ex-girlfriend” shooting target, which Amazon pulled from its website after a public outcry this month.

Bezos noted the shooting target was sold by a third-party merchant on Amazon, but not the company itself. He also said that while Amazon is working to improve its “policing” of products, the site “needs to be self-service.”

In response to a later question about violent videos, Bezos said Amazon’s Kindle devices offer parental controls, and he suggested the need for personal responsibility.

Bezos, 49, mentioned that as a father of four, he recently hosted a slumber party and made the children turn in their electronic devices before bed.

One boy wanted to keep his Kindle, Bezos recalled, and “I asked, ‘e-ink or Fire,’ ” meaning an e-reader or tablet computer. “He said, ‘e-ink,’ and I said, ‘Yes.’ If he had said ‘Fire,’ I would have said, ‘no.’ ”

Here are a few other tidbits from Thursday’s meeting:

• Asked if Amazon soon will expand its local grocery-delivery service, Bezos said only that the business had “made progress on the economics over the past year.” He added, “So I’m optimistic that the team is making good progress” — perhaps a sign he remains committed to the 5-year-old experiment.

• Bezos also was asked about widespread criticism from third-party sellers who say Amazon arbitrarily suspends their accounts and withholds payments for 90 days or more. Two such sellers recently filed suit in federal court in Seattle, seeking class-action status.

Bezos defended Amazon’s payment practices, saying, “We’re incredibly good at paying on time.”

“There are cases where we withhold payment when we suspect products weren’t actually delivered to customers,” he said. “While we’re investigating to determine whether they’re a legitimate seller, we do withhold payment.”

• Bezos wasn’t asked about Amazon’s latest design proposal for its new downtown headquarters — specifically, a futuristic “biosphere” building containing plants from around the world — nor did he bring it up. But he did make a pitch for downtown as a more eco-friendly place than the suburbs to put a headquarters, especially if employees live in the city.

“People can walk to work,” he said. “They can live in apartments and condos nearby.”

Amy Martinez: 206-464-2923 or amartinez@seattletimes.com. On Twitter: @amyemartinez

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