It was Super Sushi Pizza that got me thinking about this in the first place.
Weeks ago, I came across her video in which she announced that she was leaving GoodReads, citing the company’s acquisition by Amazon as one of her reasons. While I had at that point been aware of Amazon’s takeover, it struck me as weird that I had never paused to think about what I would do in response. I was—and still am—in a tangled, love-hate relationship with the retailing behemoth. As a paying Prime customer, I love love love the free and snappy shipping. I also love their consistently low prices on stuff, especially books, music, DVDs … the things that often make up my wish list. My family does too, which is why I choose to renew my Prime membership year after year. At the same time, though, I was aware of how Amazon made all of that possible—whispers about poorly-treated warehouse workers, unpaid wages, and the bullying tactics towards publishers, brought to light in the recent and still on-going dispute between the retailer and Hachette. Weirdly, I didn’t bat an eye over it.
But that all changed when I watched Susheela’s video. I don’t know why. Maybe I just needed to see someone do something. Maybe I needed to hear someone talk about it in neat, concrete terms. Maybe it was the proverbial straw in the long line of big company takeovers that have been dominating the news—Comcast, Google, the whole thing with Net Neutrality. I don’t know. In any case, something in me clicked, and I knew I wanted to do something too.
While I will still continue to use GoodReads—I just love the platform too much—I have decided to take my book-buying business elsewhere. Thanks to the booktube community, I’ve discovered a fair number of alternative retailers that can help me with my bookish needs. And I thought I would share them with you—if only to expand your purchasing options.
Barnes & Noble – The irony in supporting them has not been lost to me. Back when the turf war du jour was Big Books vs. indie shops, I was staunchly in favor of the the latter. Now B&N has become the underdog, and I’m seriously hoping that they don’t follow in the footsteps of my much-beloved Borders. Of all the alternatives, B&N is I think the only one to offer what I liked best about Amazon—the discounts and speedy shipping. Free shipping is available for purchases over $25, unless you’re a B&N member, in which case shipping is FREE.
Edit 1:42pm – Bethany reminded me of B&N’s partnership with Google Express, to bring same-day delivery to Manhattan, West LA, and the Bay Area. Nifty! But I don’t see myself using it short of an absolute emergency. (Because really, do you actually NEED something delivered NOW?) NYT has a good article about the partnership.
BookOutlet.com – A very new-to-me discovery from Canada, thanks to Sophia from thebookbasement. I really like their business model—purchasing returns and excess inventory directly from publishers, and selling them at a fraction of the retail price. The books are practically new, save for a small dot or mark from the publishers. AND THEY’RE CHEAP YOU GUYS. It’s really quite lovely. Shipping is pricey, alas, and selection is limited. But keep them in mind if you’re down for a bargain hunt.
Half.com – One of my old favorites, discovered during my college days. (Like heck I was going to pay exorbitant prices for school books!) It’s a secondhand market—for books as well as DVDs and CDs—in varying conditions of use. Shipping is done pretty exclusively thru USPS media mail. ($3.49, last time I checked.) But most things are so cheap, they offset the shipping cost.
Powells.com – This legendary Portand bookstore, I recently discovered, avails their unique mix of new & used titles to online patrons as well! Shipping starts at a flat rate of $3.99, with FREE shipping for orders over $50.
Thriftbooks.com – I just discovered them today, actually, thru Sanaa’s haul video. From what I understand, they’re like Half.com … but better, because guess what? FREE SHIPPING IN THE US. Yes, FREE shipping! *air punch*
Your local independent bookstore!! – At this point, any legitimate book retailer who isn’t Amazon is in my good graces. But I will always have a soft spot for local indie bookstores. Or rather, indie businesses in general. (I point the finger at You’ve Got Mail. And the fact that my family’s bread and butter came from running our family restaurant since before I was born.) Online shopping is amazing, and I probably won’t be stopping that anytime soon. But nothing replaces the sense of community that brick & mortar bookstores offer. Much more those that are run by the folks next door who are probably in the business because they are passionate about books. Which is why I make it a point to purchase from my local bookshops as frequently as I can. Nowadays, most indie bookstores are equipped to ship online orders, so even if you can’t stop by yourself you can still support them by ordering from their website. The downside to indie shops is their limited discounts and sales. But considering what their stores offer me and their neighborhoods, I’ll gladly pay full price if it means that they can stay with us for another month.
Your local library! – Obviously, you can’t buy books from libraries. (Unless they hold library sales. In which case, scooooore!) But I think they’re worth keeping in mind, esp. for books that you want to read but don’t feel committed to shelling out money for.
** If you’re wondering why I didn’t list Book Depository, it’s because they are an Amazon acquisition. Have been, since 2011. While BD continues to operate independently, their profits funnel back to their parent company. It’s quite sad, really. And ironic. BD was started by an ex-Amazon employee. And they had stood as one of Amazon’s major competitors. So much for that.
* * *
I’m not here to dictate where you take your money to. But I will strongly encourage you guys to look into the matter yourself, and decide where you stand on it. At the end of the day, Amazon is just another legitimate business with great perks. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with acquisitions, or being a big business, or slashing prices to grow your customer pool. But my gripe—and my reason for shunning them—is the human cost at which all these great perks are made possible. Granted, we aren’t dealing with sweatshops, child labor, slave labor, and the terrible environmental consequences that you find at the dodgy end of fast fashion. But we are dealing with blatant bullying, underpaid employees, and a company that may very well fix itself as the world’s sole book retailer, the way things are going. (Read: monopoly. Read: not a good thing.) Whether we choose to believe it or not, the reality is that we do vote with our money. And I for one am not going to support Amazon. Not until they quit their antics and, at the very least negotiate with Hachette—and all other book publishers—in a professional manner based in good faith. Otherwise, I may just pull out entirely from Amazon. No sense in supporting such a business.
If you’re not sure where to start, may I suggest the following:
Cheap Words – A very lengthy piece from The New Yorker, but an excellent read that is well worth your time.
Authors United – This ad ran in last Sunday’s edition of The Los Angeles Times, and features an eyepopping signature list of around 900 authors, all of who have been directly affected by Amazon’s strongarming tactics. Ahem, bullying.
Amazon’s War on Hachette is Vintage Jeff Bezos—Controlling, Ruthless, Vicious … and Probably Good for Customers – A piece from the opposing side, arguing that Amazon is only doing what it does best—putting the customer first.
I want to clarify—I am no longer purchasing books from Amazon, but am still open to purchasing other things from them, albeit as a last resort. It’s inconsistent, i know, but until I locate alternative retailers for my other purchases, I have to consider Amazon.
I’m curious as to where you guys stand on this—if you’re boycotting Amazon or still purchasing from them. Let me know in the comments below. I’d also love to know if you know of any other book retailers that I haven’t mentioned.
Until next time, happy reading!