what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Confessions of an Amazon addict – breaking the habit

Over the past decade I must have bought at least 500 books from Amazon – my nomadic existence made this highly convenient. I could have the books delivered in places which had no real English bookshops (such as Tashkent, Baku or Bishkek) where I was working – or pick them up later in Bucharest or my mountain house in Transylvania. My old neighbours in the village have been very good at ensuring that the post office (and UPS) delivered them securely.
It’s actually been too convenient a service – for which, of course, I have paid a reasonable amount (delivery costs on my Amazon packages amount now to 50% of the face value of the books.
But my recent visits to the fabulous Anthony Frost English bookshop in Bucharest have now persuaded me to try to kick the habit. The statistic which their manager Vlad gave me – of 2000 independent booksellers left in the UK compared with France’s 5,000 – is a powerful one. Unlike Britain, tax legislation in France (and Germany?) helps independent booksellers. And nothing beats the chats about books in such a bookshop - and the customised recommendations!  

Amazon is a robber baron whose tactics are detailed in a very long entry in Wikipedia - driving out competition by extensive loss-leading; tax-avoidance; bullying of suppliers; slave-labour conditions in their huge warehouses.
Their failure to pay corporate taxes has attracted wide criticism for some time and seems to have led to political consensus for action amongst European leaders. The Seattle Times had a recent four-part expose 
The company's hardball efforts to fend off collecting sales taxes — a key advantage over brick-and-mortar stores — has ignited a backlash in several states (of the USA). In the publishing world, smaller companies have begun to publicly criticize Amazon's bullying tactics. In some of its warehouses around the country, Amazon is drawing fire for harsh conditions endured by workers. And the company contributes to charities a tiny fraction of what other big corporations give.
To this list I would add the charge of false pricing – the initial price which attracts you does not include VAT or delivery charges (outside the UK)

At least one independent book publisher in the UK has joined the campaign and a website gives info of various other actions being taken by companies.
What is amazing is how global investors have allowed the bubble in Amazon stocks to continue. These times could soon end -  but in the meantime the damage has probably been done. 

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