On not linking to Amazon

After reading a series of pieces including a recent article in the New York Times about the deplorable work conditions at Amazon, I’ve decided to make a policy against linking to Amazon.

It’s commonplace in the blogging work to link to Amazon when referencing books and other media so that readers can be sure of exactly which item the author is referring to. Effective today, I’m no longer providing links to products distributed by Amazon. Instead, I’ll endeavor to be as specific about authors and titles as I can.

While I am in awe of the diversity of products offered by the company and the speed with which it can deliver products, the costs are too great. Here are my concerns. TL;DR; - You should obtain books from your local public library.

What do I have against Amazon?

Privacy

In order to purchase anything from Amazon, you must identify yourself to the company. For this reason, they know about your reading habits. All of them. Eric Snowden has made it clear that the NSA is well aware of what anyone is reading by virtue of its connections to Amazon. In the same way that Facebook and other social media giants create robust sets of data about your life, dislikes and social connections, Amazon is creating an enormous knowledge base about your reading interests. If you are going to purchase books you should do so with cash and without identifying yourself.

Treatment of employees

Amazon is a bully. Not only with competitors, but with its own employees. Warehouse employees are know to labor under brutal physical conditions, subjected all the while to continual electronic surveillance lest they fail to meet their quota. The company has a system that is widely used by employees to sabotage one another. In so doing, it acts like a promoter of social Darwinism where only the most ruthless sociopaths can survive. By all accounts it is a horrible, dehumanizing place to work.

Purchasing most books is waste of resources

I suspect that most books are read 0-1 times. Therefore, private ownership of most books is a waste of resources. Shipping of small numbers of items long distances is a waste of fuel. Local production, distribution and consumption will reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and ultimately reduce the impact on the environment.

Economics

Both collective and personal economics are harmed by Amazon. The ease with which individuals can purchase books from Amazon encourages them to buy more. The recommendation engine built on top of the massive amount of data individuals unwittingly give up is designed for one purpose - to encourage you to buy more. In the collective, Amazon is known - like many big companies - to evade taxes.

What does Amazon care about books?

Amazon may have started as an online bookseller; but it has long since made itself into something much larger (and at the same time lesser…) Amazon is a product distributor. They are in the business of delivering physical stuff to you. It does not really concern itself with books per se except to the extent that they have economic value.

Monopolies are bad

Amazon is an undisputed monopoly in the product distribution business online. They operate in many of the same ways as the equally-unsavory WalMart. In the process of driving down prices on the consumer side, they squeeze margins upstream. It is not beyond the realm of possibility for Amazon to use its monopolistic power to fundamentally shape what gets written and published through “evidence-based” feedback loops.

Alternatives

Where possible you should obtain books from your local library. The local public library is one of the few remaining egalitarian institutions left in our society. When I visit our local library, I see persons of every socioeconomic group, every ethnic group. There are no distinction made between persons. We should support a place like this wholeheartedly.

Sure, Amazon offers instantaneous access to its titles via Kindle. But who cares? When was the last time someone suffered an ill effect of not having a book delivered to them within seconds of purchase? Our local library cooperates with numerous regional libraries to find books that are not in its collection.

See also