Amazon is looking to take its fight against New York state sales tax to the U.S. Supreme Court; as reported by The Seattle Times last week, the company has retained the services of prominent lawyer Theodore Olson. Lower courts have ruled that Amazon would have to pay a sales tax similar to what brick-and-mortar stores pay now.

In 1992, the Supreme Court ruled that states could only collect taxes from retailers that had a physical presence in the state. But New York State argued that Amazon’s referral program, Amazon Associates, gives the company a presence in New York. The state won.

Interestingly, Amazon backs the Marketplace Fairness Act, which would require online retailers with sales of more than $1 million to collect taxes for states in which they sold to customers. But this new filing seems to go against that decision.

American Bookseller Association CEO Oren Teicher couldn’t let this one go. He chimed in against Amazon’s filing with an open letter to Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos.

Teicher starts by saying:

“I am puzzled.

On the one hand, it’s been widely reported in the media that Amazon has come around to supporting efforts to collect sales taxes equitably. On the other hand, Amazon continues to go to extraordinary lengths to fight every reasonable step forward in establishing a level playing field with regard to sales tax fairness. Which is it?”

Teicher also points out that Amazon recently got rid of its Amazon affiliates in Missouri to not pay sales tax, asks for Bezos to explain his decision and “join the ranks of Main Street businesses that are obeying the law and supporting their communities.”

Read the full letter here — and Teicher’s letter to Amazon in early August here.


  1. People generally fall into three different groups.

    For the first group, laws are almost unnecessary. They’ve got an internal moral compass that helps them distinguish right from wrong. Their beliefs, words and deeds are very consistent.

    For the second group, laws are necessary to make them behave properly. Lacking an internal moral code, they are controlled by an external legal code. Faced with legal action, they change, but they only to the extent that laws exist and they perceive that those laws will be applied to them. That makes them inconsistent. In some areas they seem to be behaving fairly and morally. It others they aren’t. Read biographies of 19th-century robber barons like John Rockefeller and you’ll see that pattern. They get rich but eventually become hated.

    For the third group, laws provide society with the rationale to imprison them so they can be kept from committing further crimes. Some will mellow as they move into their forties, but in general only prison keeps them from committing further crimes. Ironically, this group is also consistent–consistently bad.

    Amazon is in the second group. Their effort to evade paying sales are collapsing. Where they can still get away with evading, they do. Where they can’t, they’re looking for the best-for–them alternative. That has them behaving inconsistently–for sales taxes and against them.

    The ABA’s CEO is expecting Group 1 thinking from people who’re almost exclusively Group 2 in their business practices. The good news is that Amazon is clearly Group 2 and not Group 3. When laws are enforced and courts rule against them, Amazon complies.

    That’s why the DOJ’s failure to go after Amazon and instead pick on Apple and major publishers is so frustrating.

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