How to buy books and avoid Amazon. If you don’t yet understand the many reasons you should avoid having anything to do with Amazon, please hop online, it won’t be hard to find some links.
1 If it isn’t too late, if it hasn’t closed down yet, visit your local bookstore. Buy books they have in stock. Ask them to order books for you. Be happy to have had a nice walk, a browse in a shop stocked by people who care, be happy to talk to a human being in the flesh. Understand that paying them extra is what you have to do unless you want your books to be shipped to you from a migrant undercutting the local workforce whilst housed in some sort of camp guarded by dogs. You probably wouldn’t want to have to do your job like that – whether you be a teacher, an accountant or a street sweeper – and neither should a bookseller have to live like that. Do your local streets look better if they have book shops and bric a brac shops, clothes shops, butchers, bakers and green grocers? Or do they look better if your local streets are full of nothing but OxFam shops and supermarkets whilst Amazon hides somewhere you can’t see it, waiting for you to press the button.
2. Buying online. Secondhand books. My business was part of the movement at the time that established ABE as the biggest of the databases that exist now. These are collectives of secondhand booksellers who joined forces so that the customer could go to one place and see and compare what was available from them. Some of them have real shops as well, some don’t. We haven’t had a shop since the late 1970s, but that’s a story for another time.
My business is still on ABE even though it has been taken over by Amazon. Why? Partly because we find that we would have to close down without being on ABE, but also because although Amazon now owns the company we built up in the same way goodreads members decided to put their weight behind that particular company, it hasn’t resulted in any changes at all that we are aware of. Certainly not for us. We are still a large number of independent booksellers just as before. We still all independently pay our tax. I know we pay every cent we owe not only legally but also morally. As my father who started the business, once said to a new accountant: ‘Don’t tell us how to avoid our tax. We live in a society. Somebody has to pay tax.’ Yes, we are on the poor side!
However, whereas our moral weight used to be in support of ABE, it no longer is. We are part of other databases too, which aren’t owned by Amazon. I most highly recommend biblio which is a very friendly institution still on the side of both the bookseller and the book buyer. For Australians, at least, there is also booksandcollectibles.com.au which is a very basic site, no frills, but lots of people love it for that. Both these sites are large databases of big groups of booksellers. From any of these you will also get links to individual sellers and their sites – we have a site and a blog, for example.
I would beg you to go to secondhand booksellers rather than Oxfam, which with various unfair advantages, is aggressively and hostilely competing with booksellers. Again. If you buy from your local bookseller, you are giving money to the person who will buy meat from your butcher, clothes from your clothes shop, eat in your restaurant, pay for their kid’s music lessons. If you want to live in a community, support the community. If you want to live in a wasteland, shop at Oxfam.
May I add another complication. All sites like biblio and ABE start off with high standards, you have to demonstrate in some way that you are a bookseller of repute, because it is by their thus established good name that they are able to start letting in all and sundry without any standards. So, there are lots of sellers on all these sites now which aren’t what I think of as genuine booksellers. They will have vague descriptions of books up like ‘may have marks’ or ‘this item may ship from our warehouse in Sydney or in London or in NY’. Booksellers are little people. They don’t have warehouses all over the world stocking millions of books. They can see their books, they know what they look like, each book is a precise entity. They are like us, we have about 45,000 books listed on line with maybe another 50,000 we are struggling to get through to list. Personally I try to buy from ‘real’ booksellers. I also avoid the ones who tell you that they are employing sheltered workshop people which is why you should buy from them, or that they give 5% of each order to charity. P-leeease.
3) Buying online. New books. Quite the saddest moment in my book buying life recently was discovering that The Book Depository is now owned by Amazon. It was the leading competitor. As you will be aware, there is an organisation in the UK that makes sure big companies like Amazon don’t swallow up the competition. However, that organisation works in support of Amazon by letting them take over at a time when they can argue it isn’t fundamental to the industry. So, Amazon waits. If (say) The Book Depository stays really small, it ignores it. If it starts becoming a meaningful competitor it buys it before it gets so big that the powers that be won’t let it be swallowed up. That was the argument that led to the ruling that permitted Amazon to buy The Book Depository.
To be fair, realising that there are various ways of being owned by Amazon, I started a written discussion with The Book Depository to find out if they are still paying their taxes as they did, ie in the UK and in an (one hopes) honest way. I never received a frank answer to this. That has me now at a point where I have decided to stop buying from The Book Depository, even though it is with a heavy heart: living in a non-English speaking country it is relatively hard to buy books in English. BUT NOT IMPOSSIBLE. We do have a couple of new bookshops here which stock English books, one of which is specifically and only English. I love it being there and I hate the thought that it is going to close down sooner (or later) because we all want to save a few bucks by buying online.