Why I don’t shop at Amazon.com

Reading, good. Amazon, bad. image courtesy of flickr user Derrick Coetzee

I recently learned that Eileen Straiton, Valarie Budayr and Joy Blaser have created a virtual book club.  The innaugural read is Weapons of Mass Instruction by John Taylor Gatto.

I like books.  I especially like books about education.  I especially especially like books about alternative education.  And I LOVE discussing books with other smart, insightful, and interesting people.  So,I  joined the Facebook page.

If you head over there you will see that discussion has begun.  But last week most people were still in the book-obtainment stage.  There was a lot of “I ordered from Amazon today” and “My library doesn’t carry it so I’m going to get it from Amazon right now”.  I a little bit wanted to scream and rend garments.

Admittedly, that may be a touch dramatic.  But seriously – I wanted to comment on everyone’s status updates with something like, “Don’t you people KNOW that Amazon is evil?”  Since that might constitute harassment and get me kicked out of the group, I am going to write about it here instead.  Because it’s my blog and I’ll rant if I want to.

My own book buying habits are as follows, for what it’s worth:  I rarely buy actual books.  I love my public library, and if there is a book I can’t get or want to own I buy it from Better World Books.  BWB is an amazing organization that sells used and new books and donates the proceeds to literacy projects.  However, at least 95% of my reading is on my Nook.  In fact, if I can’t get a book on my Nook I am not likely to read it.  I have significantly increased my reading since having gotten it – the conveniences are numerous, and a topic for another post.

Certainly, Barnes & Noble is a far cry from a local, independent bookseller.  But my rationalization thinking is that I am supporting authors and no trees had to die on my behalf.

And….it’s not Amazon.

People LOVE Amazon.  You can get anything – out of print books, vacuums, gluten-free bread, patio furniture – at rock bottom prices and often with free shipping.  It’s convenient.  Good for consumers.

But HOW do they do this?  Possibly by using their size to negotiate low prices from suppliers and absorb losses that smaller businesses cannot sustain.  Given that they have tried to get out of charging sales tax and have offered discounts to customers who scanned products in stores with their smart phones, it is not difficult to see that forcing local businesses to close is part of their strategy.

But here’s my bottom line:  The circulation of books, and by extension of ideas, is vital to our development, maybe even our survival, as a species.  The growth of self-publishing has made it fast and easy to get books to market, which is mostly good except insofar as a flooded makes it more difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff.  Of course, the Internet has reduced the importance of books as a vehicle for sharing and developing ideas, but they are still an element of the equation.

But Amazon is using its considerable weight to gain increasingly more control over book publishing and distribution.  They have opened their own publishing house, and it doesn’t take a Harvard-educated economist to know that they will market their own books at the expense of other worthwhile titles.  They have demanded that print on demand (POD) publishers use Amazon’s service, called Create Space (formerly Book Surge), and many POD publishers succumbed to the pressure.  The word “monopoly” has been bandied about.

And from where I sit, any time one company has that much control over the distribution of ideas and information – that’s bad.  Very, very bad.