Whatever your opinions on the book vs the e-reader (& I could write paragraphs on why you'd be wrong if you picked e-reader, in fact I just did & deleted them. Because.. you know.. focus) there is absolutely no reason to inflate the profits of a company intent on putting multiple staples of our high street & our lives out of business. I do not want to live in a world without books, but more than that I do not want to live in a world without shops, where the only place you can shop or need to shop is Amazon.
As much as that, I do not want to buy my nails and hammers from the same place I buy my DVDs. I want to talk to a human being & not scroll through reviews before I can be bothered to make my own mistakes and form my own opinions about things. Specialism is good. Come into the bookshop where I work and the first table is called "Staff Picks" because we know the stock best, we can pick out all the best things because we love them, because we can see past spines and because we know what we're fucking doing.
Of course one of the reasons Amazon became so popular (apart from price, which we'll come to) is because this is dying out, or was. Because scorny faced bored looking assistants in Urban Outfitters don't make me want to shop there. I know they probably get treated like shit & their managers a dick or whatever, but to be honest I don't care. If I'm having the shitiest day in the world at work I'll try even harder with customers so that they don't know that, so that they come back & I still have a job next month.
Now. Back to the most important thing. The thing that makes people mention the "A" word to me at work, immediately deeming them unworthy to shop there; the prices. How can you buy a book on Amazon for half (or even more) than the price in a bookshop like where I work? I'm not going to talk about the tax dodging because if you care enough to read this I'm sure you know enough about it. So let's focus instead on the main costs that Amazon and bookshops share: rent, staff, stock and why it's a totally uneven playing field in those areas as well as tax.
Rent. Bookshops need to be in prime locations so that it's convenient for customers and attracts passing trade, like any real world shop. The rents in these locations are completely extortionate as the private rental market drives them up and up at inflated prices because (some) chains think they can afford them. There are also business rates. Which charity shops do not have to pay, that's why they spring up in prime locations when other businesses can't afford to be there. At these locations too, space is limited, obviously, meaning stock has to be limited. Meaning bookshops can't have every single book you have found in the recesses of Amazon, because we wouldn't expect to sell it.
Amazon on the other hand, well they rent warehouses. The four in England are in such top locations as Marston Gate, Rugeley, Peterborough, Doncaster and Hemel Hempstead. In the first six months of opening a warehouse or industrial building you pay no business rates. In this time they've probably made up their initial outspend to set up the warehouse. Imagine if your average retail shop had this kind of initial crutch? Although the rent and business rates (when they start paying them) are more, they're huge enough to house enough stock to make this worthwhile in a way that a small shop on a high street is completely unable to.
Staff. The minimum wage in the UK for people my age (20) is £4.98 an hour, I earn more than that in the bookshop where I work & after a review last summer I got a raise because of my high performance. We're also becoming a sort of John Lewis co-op thing as soon as the company goes into profit. My manager treats us with total respect, in the 2 years I've been almost full time I've learnt every aspect of the business, had my input in the running of the shop & been listened to when I've had concerns.
At Amazon workers have quotas that are completely unrealistic, are given penalties when they take a day off work even for sickness and are unable to unionise against poor working conditions. They are also made to work a night shift at the end of a 5 day week meaning they work every 7 days of the week. That, to me, is slavery. There's a great bullet point list of details things that they've done against workers on the Housmans website as well as Against Amazon if you want specifics. Bust basically if you pay staff well, reward them when they work hard and treat them like human beings that is more expensive, but I do not want to pay less for something at the cost of that.
Stock. This is the biggest issue that faces me day to day working a bookshop. "Oh you don't have it/oh it's £20, I'll just get it on Amazon." They sell books at a loss to entice you in and buy other things, something bookshops cannot do because of the two things above. They put huge pressure on publishers for lower prices, squeezing their margins to the point where authors and they earn next to nothing. How can a business be innovative and take risks when if it doesn't sell they're already tiny margins will completely disappear? Publishers are not struggling because people have stopped buying books, they're struggling because the model of supermarkets putting pressure on their suppliers for smaller and smaller prices has been emulated by Amazon. & they have everything because as well as 78 "Fufilment Centers" around the world Amazon also acts as a platform and owner of millions of independent sellers all over the world. So just because something is listed on Amazon does not mean it's still in circulation and in print and whatever. It might just be sitting at the back of some second hand shop and have been there for decades. That's why I can't get it for you. They also fulfil orders for books they do not have in stock without telling customers they're unavailable or will take longer. We've had tons of students who've ordered foreign language books on Amazon that have simply never arrived.
In bookshops the stock has usually been handpicked by someone seeing what people have bought before, or in the case of where I work, ordered by the staff themselves from experience of what their customers want or simply what's appealing to them. Making it quirky and eclectic and always a thousand times more interesting than having all the choices presented to you even though they're not necessarily available at all.
Obviously I'm pretty biased, but look at the facts. No tax, unfair treatment of workers and a completely uneven market weighted completely in the massive company's favour. Now I get that when skint it's harder to resist, but do you really need to watch or read or listen to that as soon as it comes out? Can't you wait until the DVD goes down in price or the book ends up second hand somewhere? Lack of money is never ever ever a barrier to morality (despite what Tories might think) and in fact shouldn't the skint among us be standing up for this sort of thing? I don't want a job where I'm treated like a machine or simply like shit. I want to work in a lovely bookshop surrounded by beautiful things, recommending interesting shit to nice people. I want to build a house of books inside my walls, I want artists to have jobs designing their covers and editors to make them and commission them, I want weird books that don't make a massive profit & I want huge expensive books that become heirlom's. I don't want a mystery warehouse in the internet controlled by capitalist robots.