A new bout of Amazon-bashing in the UK’s The Bookseller has been given webtime following a Bookseller blog piece by independent bookseller Keith Smith, the owner of Warwick & Kenilworth Books, entitled “Action not words,” and taking certain named authors to task for linking directly to Amazon or Amazon plus other book chain retailers to offer their books for sale, “without giving a fig for independent bookshops.”

AmazonSmith levers the anger against Amazon on taxation grounds argument, “as someone who is heartily sick of not being able to fight back against Amazon, because we pay our taxes and it doesn’t.”

He also speaks as an organizer of a petition “which has now garnered 168,000 signatures and which we recently presented to 10 Downing Street,” to push for changes in UK tax policies towards Amazon.

And he asks, as the first of the actions that he says should follow the supportive words of so many authors towards the independent bookstore sector, that: “the Booksellers Association should contact all authors immediately and ask them to stop supporting Amazon directly.”

AmazonI’m not sure if this is even practical, let alone desirable. But it definitely ropes together arguments that aren’t necessarily connected. Is Amazon’s tax position really the secret of its success? Smith accepts that “the infiltration of e-books” is an issue, but I don’t think he’s really quite ready to admit what a challenge it is.

Nonetheless, The Bookseller immediately takes up his point in another column entitled “Anger over authors’ website links to Amazon,” bearing the same date, showcasing the responses of some of the authors—and their agents and publishers—to the issues he raises.Amazon

Naturally, to some extent this is all stage-managed. As the established organ of the bookseller’s trade in the UK, The Bookseller even has a legitimate right to stoke these debates, no matter how transparently. But I can’t do better than to quote some of the remarks by independent author Diana Kimpton in the comments section of The Bookseller article—and I encourage anyone interested to go and overlook them in full:

“Personally I get fed up with the constant attacks on Amazon by The Bookseller and others. Amazon runs an excellent website that it built up for years at a loss while everyone else laughed. It has constantly improved during the 14 years we have been Amazon Associates, and it has won customers’ confidence and loyalty by offering good service. It helps people discover books they might never find otherwise, and it keeps backlist titles selling long after the bricks and mortar shops have taken them off the shelves. It has also done more than anyone else to create the current ebook market and, by opening up viable methods of self publishing, it has given authors new freedom to turn down the low royalties and restrictive contracts many publishers are offering these days. Yes, it does organise itself in a way that minimises its tax bill but paying tax in Luxemburg on profits made in the UK is absolutely legal under EU rules and seems quite similar to the equally legal system authors like myself use when we pay tax in the UK on profits made in the US.”

I couldn’t put it any better than that. This is not to be an Amazon-booster, just to face up to the special pleading that is going on all around this debate. I’m sure we all appreciate that independent booksellers have a case, and a value, but mudslinging isn’t going to help it. Damning the competition on irrelevant grounds only harms their cause.


  1. Firstly I am a bookseller and secondly I am a consumer and I do agree with most of what is said and Amazon bashing is not the way to go. I do believe though that the public have a right to know what the company is up to. We are in a world where the consumer is king more than ever as the information you can find on what you want, and even what you didn’t know you wanted is at the end of a click. As a business we have to be held accountable to the rules and Regs of the country we trade in. I am not sure lots of companies do adhere to those rules is it a coincidence that the French want to ban some of their trading practices to preserve cultural and social traditions?

    BTW nice Amazon adds :)

  2. You’re right, Chris – oops. And Michelle, authors certainly should – and many in the Bookseller article Chris mentions did just that. Booksellers have a right to ask their own association to set up something that helps them compete on those grounds too. But they’ve no cause to bad-mouth writers for not supporting them that way. Many writers are poorer than many booksellers, even the struggling ones.

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