Why we shouldn't buy textbooks from Amazon

In my last column, I discussed how some corporations are managed solely to be attractive to shareholders. They don’t take into consideration the interests of a much broader range of stakeholders.

I reminded readers that when we buy what we think is less expensive merchandise at a bargain, we actually hurt ourselves and other stakeholders because shareholder-focused management decisions cost all of us more in the end.

Now I’d like to offer an example and discuss its implications for people associated with learning and discovery. Specifically I’m talking about books, something dear to the hearts of faculty, students and administrators alike.

In his rush to build a powerful monopoly and become the world’s only bookseller, Jeff Bezos of Amazon is strong-arming publishers and authors who stand in his way. His tactics include slowing delivery on the books of selected publishers or authors; refusing to discount the prices of many books; boycotting certain authors or publishers; he’s even discouraging customers, by turning readers in the direction of books written and published by authors and companies who have agreed to Bezos’ demands.

Bezos is focused only on his company’s growth, caring nothing for the broader range of stakeholders. Sure, he’s got cheap merchandise. And, yes, he makes it super-easy to order.
Customer convenience, customer care and low prices make a great formula.
But there are larger questions to consider. How Amazon treats and pays its employees is an issue.
Equally serious is the concern for the way it is gobbling up producers, causing increased harm to our society by removing competitors.

Do we really want to live in a world dominated by a few huge companies that tell us what to buy, and where to buy it? Already only eight companies control the manufacture and sale of all the goods you’ll see on the shelves of the big-box stores.

And even though there are federal and state anti-monopoly statutes on the books, many of these laws are not fully enforced because the multinationals have bought off our legislators with campaign contributions so they can keep getting elected.

That poses a moral dilemma for us as stakeholders. Specifically, in the case of Amazon, it poses a question for those of us who buy books: do we want to support a monopolistic company that seeks to control the market for ideas and information?

If the average student, faculty or administrative member of the EMU community spends something like $1000 annually on both study and recreational books, and if even half that goes to Amazon, a rough calculation suggests we represent about $20 million in sales.

Even to a giant like Amazon, that’s a noticeable figure. And if only 5 universities mounted a campaign to protest Bezos’ bludgeoning the publishing industry, we have $100 million worth of power.

We need to be smart about our buying decisions. Clearly, we have a large stake in the free flow of ideas and information. We have a stake in having open markets where competition flourishes.

We don’t want to end up in a situation where we’re told whose works to read. That would take us back to medieval times, when only church-approved works could be published.

If we don’t want that, now is the time to mount a boycott of anything sold by Amazon.com. Just promise yourself that, for one year, when you need something — a book or anything else — you’ll buy it anywhere but Amazon.com.

Yes, it might be tough. Yes, it’s painful to lay out a little bit more money for a textbook from a genuine publisher But our actions today create the world of tomorrow. We need to ensure no one corporation or individual is permitted to tell us what to buy, or read, or think, or say.

So let’s get engaged with this issue. Let’s put a stop to this kind of business violence, even though it means we may not be buying “the lowest price.”

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