“Amazon’s business practices are scorched-earth capitalism.”
—author Dennis Lehane
Amazon is a destructive force in the world of bookselling. Their business practices undermine the ability of independent bookstores—and therefore access to independent, progressive, and multicultural literature—to survive. Additionally, Amazon is harmful to local economies, labor, and the publishing world.
Cheap books aren’t always a bargain
- Cheap books mean publishers and authors receive less. This doesn’t support the future of book publishing and quality writing. Amazon can offer “discounts” because they are cutting other costs: taxes, publisher payments, author payments, and safe-labor practices.
- Amazon has strong-armed many publishers into reducing the prices of their books and eBooks. In some instances when publishers have refused, Amazon has removed the “buy” button from the pages of the publishers’ books. This tactic threatens the ability of publishers to survive in an industry with an already low profit margin. (Read more: Books After Amazon).
- Amazon uses “loss leaders” to gain an unfair pricing advantage over their bookselling competition. Selling certain books (or Kindles) at a loss or no profit entices customers to their website to buy big ticket items (often non-book items, like electronics, since books are only a tiny fraction of Amazon’s Walmart-esque business model).
“The Amazon model: easy salability, heavy marketing, super-competitive pricing, then trash and replace… Every book purchase made from Amazon is a vote for a culture without content and without contentment.”
—author Ursula K. LeGuin
Tax evasion means less funding for communities—including education
Amazon refuses to pay taxes in most states, even when they have a physical presence there. According to David Cohen, “The loss of revenue is immense, adversely affecting citizens in our ability to support our children with education, to serve the ill through Medicaid, and to protect our neighborhoods with adequate police and fire services.” (Read more: By Law We Must Collect Taxes: A Call to Action)
- There is movement in many states to charge Amazon for past-due sales taxes. Amazon has avoided paying taxes by promising to build warehouses and create jobs in exchange for multi-year tax exemptions. These exemptions cost states hundreds of millions of dollars that could be going to education or infrastructure. (Read more: Amazon Pressured on Sales Tax)
- By refusing to collect state sales taxes, Amazon gains an advantage in pricing perception over independent bookstores because their prices seem lower by 5 to 8% (the sales tax rate in most states).
Working in an Amazon warehouse literally means working in a sweatshop
Amazon’s Pennsylvania warehouses get so hot in summer months that Amazon keeps ambulances outside of the buildings to rush employees to the hospital. Employees must keep a brutal production pace even during heat waves or they risk being terminated. (Read more: Inside Amazon’s Warehouse).
Kindles are corrupt
- Amazon’s eBook reader, the Kindle, demonstrates Amazon’s “scorched earth” approach to competition. They created an eBook reader that is proprietary. All books loaded onto the Kindle must be “purchased” from Amazon – and they remain the property of Amazon. All other eBook readers on the market allow customers to buy eBooks from a variety of sources, including independent bookstores. (Read more: Kindle: How To Buy A Book But Not Own It)
- We suggest that the best readers available are the ones that allow eBook purchases and downloads from a wide variety of sources. (eBooks matrix).
Stand in Solidarity with Independent Bookstores
Authors: When promoting your book, use links to independent bookstores, like Powell’s, instead of linking to Amazon.
Professors: Encourage your students to buy their classroom texts from independent bookstores.
Teachers and Librarians: If your school has a budget for book purchases, use a local, independent bookstore instead a large wholesaler or Amazon. It teaches your students the importance of supporting the local economy while giving a boost to an independent bookseller.
Book Buyers and Bookstore Lovers: Call your state/local politicians and urge them to collect sales tax from Amazon, put the revenues into improving school facilities, and increase teacher pay. Most importantly, use your book budget to support independent bookstores and their web stores.
Amazon’s Stranglehold: How the Company’s Tightening Grip Is Stifling Competition, Eroding Jobs, and Threatening Communities Institue for Local Self Reliance | November 2016
The Downsides of Amazon’s Dominance Bradley Graham and Lissa Muscatine, Politics and Prose | February 2016
Spotlight on Amazon: A selection of readings and resources American Booksellers Association | February 2016
Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace The New York Times | August 15, 2015
Up the Amazon with the BS Machine or Why I Keep Asking You Not to Buy Books on Amazon by Ursula K. Le Guin | June 1, 2015
Amazon’s frightening CIA partnership: Capitalism, corporations and our massive new surveillance state www.salon.com | December, 2014 Salon explored the connection between Amazon and the CIA–Amazon has a $600 million contract to build a cloud computing service for the spy agency–and the wider “national security state.” Salon noted Amazon’s decision to toss Wikileaks from its servers in 2010, and said of the CIA deal: “On Amazon’s servers will be information on millions of people that the intelligence community has no right to possess…. Instead of helping expose U.S. war crimes, then, Amazon’s cloud service could be used to facilitate them, for which it will be paid handsomely–which was, in all likelihood, the whole point of the company proving itself a good corporate citizen by disassociating itself from an organization that sought to expose its future clients in the intelligence community.”
No. Don’t Smile. by Alan Cantor | December 1, 2014 On his website, nonprofit consultant Alan Cantor debated the value of organizations participating in Amazon Smile, the program under which nonprofits receive 0.5% of Amazon purchases made by their supporters. Noting the “immoral” company’s poor labor policy, tax avoidance tradition and the Hachette dispute, Cantor concluded by highlighting the low return–in a variety of ways–of participating in Amazon Smile: “Let’s say that over the holidays [a nonprofit’s supporters] purchase $25,000 worth of goods from Amazon–purchases that otherwise would have been made at local stores that your neighbors own and where taxpaying members of your community work. That $25,000 would have been a lot of income for those local stores, perhaps the difference between survival and closure, or keeping staff members or firing them. But you’ve thrown your lot in with Amazon. And in return you will get a kick-back of… $125. Yes, that’s all that half of 1% of $25,000 amounts to.”
Washington Post, Bezos Must Disclose Relationship With CIA: Media Watchdogs MintPress News | December 26, 2013
The Mercenary Position: Can Amazon Change its Predatory Ways? Harper’s Magazine | December, 2013
Letters to President Obama about Amazon www.shelf-awareness.com | July 30, 2013 Ten Reasons to Avoid Doing Business With Amazon.com www.thenation.com | May 31, 2012
Amazon, Innovation, and the Rewards of the Free Market The Authors Guild | www.authorsguild.org | February 16, 2012
Author and Independent Bookstore owner Ann Patchett talks Amazon with Steve Colbert Ann Patchett interview by Steven Colbert | The Colbert Report | February 16, 2012 Novelist Ann Patchett discusses the importance of brick-and-mortar bookstores and explains what prompted her to open Parnassus Books in Nashville.
Amazon’s Jungle Logic Op-ed by Richard Russo | The New York Times | December 12, 2011
Inside Amazon’s Warehouse The Morning Call | February 24, 2012 “When you order a book from Amazon.com, do you know why it’s so cheap and arrives so fast? Because employees at an Amazon warehouse are literally working in a sweatshop. Details emerged last week of working conditions so horrendous that Amazon keeps an ambulance parked outside.”
Amazon Pressured on Sales Tax by Verne G. Kopytoff | New York Times | March 13, 2011
Books After Amazon by Onnesha Roychoudhuri | Boston Review | Nov./Dec. 2010
Against Amazon An online archive to to educate consumers about the problems and politics of doing business with the beast.
Kindle: How To Buy A Book But Not Own It by Michael Seringhaus| The Hartford Courant of Yale Law School | August 5, 2009
Amazon withdraws ebook explaining how to manipulate its sales rankings by Benedicte Page | guardian.co.uk | Jan. 5, 2011
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