Business artists create, act, and choose with integrity. Easier said than done.
I’ve given myself a 30-day challenge not to purchase anything – flash drives, batteries, paper clips, and definitely not books – from Amazon. Other authors are joining me. (See below.)
If you’re someone who values the free distribution of ideas and books, then I’m inviting you to take the challenge, too.
I warn you: Like any worthwhile challenge, your taking it will stretch your reasoning, check your b.s. rationalizations, and alert you to your default spending habits.
Case in point: I am addicted to Amazon. I routinely spend over $200 a month buying books from the giant book seller.
In one or two clicks, a new gift wrapped in cardboard arrives at my front door. It’s not uncommon that by the time the book – or two or three – arrives only two days later with my nifty Prime Membership that I’ve forgotten what I’ve ordered, the anticipation bringing me a bit of end-of-work-day joy. My wife begrudgingly jokes that it’s my birthday. Again.
I’ve both laughed and bemoaned that “Amazon has my number” because their digital drone-like algorithms so astutely “know” what I want to buy. CEO Jeff Bezos also knows what I value – quick and easy service. I’ve championed Bezos for years. He’s astute, innovative, and, I thought, ethical.
I can justify my habit. Sort of. Books are my life. I am a writer, and every week I am consulting with entrepreneurs, lawyers, scholars, teachers, conversation leaders, novelists, memoirists, and small business owners about the books they’re writing and publishing.
But at what cost is this convenience? And what do I really value over “quick and easy”?
So, I wanted to conduct an experiment: Could I go for 30 days without buying anything from Amazon? It would be tough although not near as tough as going without dark chocolate for, say, 3 days.
I’ve been wanting an excuse to purge from the giant that also distributes my books (thank you, Jeff). And now Bezos has given me one: an ethical one.
You might have caught headlines about Amazon’s hardball tactics against Hachette Book Group, one of the world’s largest publishers that has invested in books by Malcolm Gladwell, Stephen Colbert, J.K. Rowling, Sherman Alexie, and others.
The gist: Amazon and Hachette are battling not only over ebook prices but also about costs of Amazon’s services such as the pre-order button. Hachette’s not budging to Amazon’s demands. In response, Amazon has taken strong-arm tactics.
Amazon has taken several Hachette titles “off the shelf” and led customers who wanted to buy, say, Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book David and Goliath to other “similar titles” by other publishers.
Amazon has banned pre-order sales for Hachette titles, including JK Rowling’s new mystery novel written under a pseudonym.
Because Warner Bros. movies is part of Hachette Books, Amazon also has halted pre-orders on films such as The Lego Movie.
Amazon has not discounted several Hachette titles.
I wholeheartedly support Amazon’s freedom to grow and prosper as a business, and I value its convenience and the exceptional services it provides. I send clients and customers routinely to its CreateSpace services for authors and the Amazon S3 services for digital entrepreneurs. I benefit from having published books with Penguin, Monkfish, and other publishers that have distributed through Amazon’s impressive system with literally incomparable convenience.
But I don’t support its business as usual tactics with Hachette, and the situation has given me reason to pause on my habits.
Why Does This Matter? Isn’t This Business As Usual?
It’s true that powerful companies in other industries – like oil – have strong-armed their competitors. It’s true that Barnes & Noble took similar tactics against Simon & Schuster for 8 months in 2012. It’s true that Hachette is part of a large publishing corporation that, in other circumstances, might be viewed as the insensitive giant who is not treating its authors fairly.
Maybe you’ve rationalized to yourself that business is business or that your few dollars won’t make a difference or you don’t have time to be inconvenienced or you can’t afford not to buy from Amazon.
Maybe you’ve heard that small business owners should not rock the boat. That’s it’s unsavory to take too public of a stand – especially against a public and monstrously successful fellow entrepreneur.
Maybe you’re secretly afraid that as an author Amazon will blacklist you (If you’re that paranoid about Amazon’s power, then you definitely should pay attention.). Actually, a colleague whom I respect who has two notable nonfiction books to his name expressed this very fear. A small publisher and author of several self-published books said he couldn’t afford to take such a challenge and he didn’t think it would matter anyway.
I know these arguments intimately because I’ve had all of these arguments with my Inner Congress (no, I don’t have an Inner Critic. I have an Inner Congress. They’re boisterous but usually ethical.).
Here are a few things certain sides of my inner Congress pointed out:
- Amazon’s increasing control and share of the publishing world makes its tactics borderline anti-trust. The guy who now owns The Washington Post and who has offered the likes of Tim Ferris million-dollar advances to publish their books clearly wants to rule the publishing world. We are talking about the single most influential company in the global book industry. Amazon sells close to 41% of all books in the world.
- Authors like Gladwell who have felt “in partnership” with Amazon now suffer.
- First-time authors with Hachette whose pre-order sales can “make or break” a book’s shelf life now don’t stand a chance.
- Readers like you are misled and, frankly, not treated as valuable and valued customers.
Business As Unusual: Conviction Over Convenience
I am not positing a histrionic battle against some perceived villain. We’re talking books not bombs (and let’s not talk about drones). You could argue – rightly – that Amazon wants to drop ebook prices, which would ostensibly benefit readers.
But consider this: A person involved in the Hachette negotiations recently told a New York Times reporter that Hachette’s situation is similar to that of a gazelle. Brad Stone’s book The Everything Store, about Amazon, describes Bezos’s “The Gazelle Project.” Amazon, in Bezos’s book, is a cheetah hunting weak gazelles. That includes, but is not exclusive of, small publishers.
Amazon executives wants cheaper ebook prices so they can destroy the competition and dominate the industry. It’s that simple.
Imagine tiny gazelles depending upon the cheetah and so they won’t risk not feeding it because the cheetah feeds them.
Buying something only because it’s cheapest also might not be buying on principle nor buying for the long-term viability of the market. I’ve recently discovered The Guardian writer Carole Cadwalladr’s account of being an Amazon elf in an Amazon warehouse. Her account will make me pause if I think of using Amazon again and clicking the next-day service.
You can stand on principle not only on profits. You can stand for “business as unusual.”
Some authors such as Nicole Kobie at PC World have documented the different cost in buying ebooks from Kobo versus Kindle.
A friend of mine said, “But we want to read our ebooks when we travel, and using Kobo means messing with one more device.”
I get it: convenience.
Stephen Colbert and Sherman Alexie – both Hachette authors – offered this rousing argument against Amazon and then offered a smart alternative campaign to support a new author by pre-ordering his book from Powell’s (I’ve purchased it).
You can buy books with conviction over convenience. Click to Tweet this.
So, I did it. As of today it has been exactly 28 days since I’ve been off the Amazon wagon. In that 28 days, I’ve bought 16 books, none of them from Amazon. I’ve bought a headset replacement part from another source, and I bought a book shelf for my daughter’s room from another source.
I doubt my challenge will make a dent in Amazon’s stocks (in fact, their stocks got a boost two weeks ago). Bezos will lose no sleep over not getting my $200 a month. But there will be consequences, and weighing the consequences is part of what it means to act with conviction over convenience.
I plan to carry it out for another 30 days starting today.
Will you do it? Will you go 30 days without buying anything from Amazon? 30 days, not a lifetime?
The Consequences of the Challenge – Convenience or Conviction?
Yes, the challenge will cost you your convenience.
Here’s what I’ve found (and I will document my “losses” in waiting and money in a follow-up post):
- You pay more. I’m keeping a list of books and other items I normally would buy from Amazon. I’m tracking what I pay and what I would’ve paid using Amazon – not just for the product but also for shipping.
- You wait longer. I’m tracking how many days longer it takes for me to receive a product. Some university presses deliver “up to two weeks” versus my guaranteed two-day Prime delivery.
- You spend more time hunting. It does take a few more minutes to track down alternatives.
But the challenge also may strengthen your conviction with subtle shifts.
- You get to know a book’s publisher or a product’s manufacturer.
- You get acquainted with other resources.
- You pause before you purchase. How bad is that?
- You act on the conviction that freedom of distributing ideas matters.
- You act on the conviction that you don’t have to support “business as usual.”
- You act on the conviction that grown-up idealism trumps worn-out cynicism.
Tips to Take the Challenge
Buy directly from the source. Find out who the book publisher is or simply do a quick Google search of the title to see where else to buy the book you want (or the batteries or the vitamins).
Use the indies online. powells.com offers most of what you need.
Use your local bookstore. If you’re lucky enough to live near an independent bookstore, use them. We’re headquartered 30 minutes away from a bookstore, but I’m using them anyway to order online and over the phone and in person.
Use your library. I rip out pages from The New York Review of Books’s publisher advertisements that I take to the library or request online via our library’s website.
Share tips and resources below.
Join these authors who have agreed to take the 30-Day #NoAmazon Challenge:
1. Jen Louden
2. Martha Frankel
3. Julie Metz
5. Will Nixon
(Buy his books directly from the author at willnixon.com.)
7. Susan Piver
(Author of the best-selling Hard Questions, which you can buy from her favorite indie book store)
8. Patti Digh
(Author of Writing Begins with the Breath and other books, which you can buy at Shambhala Press)
(Screenwriter & poet – Pre-order her poetry collection numinous from Finishing Line Press.)
10. Jackie Kellachan
(owner of The Golden Notebook in Woodstock, NY)
11. Cynthia Morris
Take the #NoAmazon Challenge. Click to Tweet this.
Whether you’re an author or book lover or champion of spreading ideas freely, you’re welcome. No guilt if you cave in. Really. We’re not talking about nuclear disarmament. This is a cause not worth losing friends over.
Still, send me a note in the comments below claiming whether or not you’re in. If you’re an author, this is one instance that I invite you to link to where – not Amazon – we can buy your book. I might include your name in the original post above.
Try this to spread the word: #NoAmazon on social media channels.
If you take the challenge, feel free to blog about your experience. Document your tips, travails, new habits, and new insights. Show the varied sources where you buy books this next month.
Spread this link to your fellow book lovers and author lovers.
Or drop us a note below stating why you are not taking the challenge. I favor having conversations over taking sides any day. But I also favor taking stances.
Stand up. Be brave. Buy books with conviction. Tweet this: http://ctt.ec/VuyX7
Thanks for running with me,