The UK activism and media heat on Amazon seems to be reaching a fever pitch as temperatures rise, with British newspapers trumpeting the results of a Booksellers Association survey concurrent with the start of Independent Booksellers Week, which purports to show that some 60 percent fewer British consumers will be likely to buy books online following the furor around Amazon UK’s tax accounting practices.

AmazonAccording to the Daily Telegraph, BA president Patrick Neale, himself an independent bookseller, apparently believes that just a little more persuasion will drive Britain’s book buyers to boycott Amazon. And evidently bitten by the same mad dog, The Guardian is running a piece on the petition campaign by two other independent booksellers to “Stop Amazon’s tax dodge now,” which is finding a voice in the UK House of Commons through their MP, Chris White, Conservative Member for Warwick and Leamington.

“Two local retailers, Frances and Keith Smith of Warwick & Kenilworth Books, have taken to raise the profile of the matter. They have launched a petition, which has gathered 170,000 signatures, calling on Amazon UK to pay UK corporation tax, and I would like to pay tribute to their public spiritedness and determination in pursuit of this cause,” declared White in the Commons.


“Amazon made £4.3 billion [U.S. $6.5 billion] in sales in the UK last year, but its subsidiary Amazon UK paid only £2.4 million [U.S. $3.64 million] in corporate taxes … It is businesses such as Warwick Books in my constituency and ordinary people who pick up the bill … I understand that there are some who believe that businesses have a moral duty to pay only the absolute minimum of tax that they are legally obliged to pay, but I cannot believe that that is the case. Businesses, even multinational companies, are still members of society. They benefit from a strong education system, a functioning health care system, decent roads, a transport infrastructure, the police and our armed forces.”

Keith and Francis Smith

Never mind that the BA is hardly a neutral or impartial pollster in this debate. Nor that Chris White is a member of exactly the same party that is gutting spending on UK cultural and literacy services. Nor that the biggest threat to UK independent bookshops, aside from the shift to onscreen reading which—sorry, guys—is not going to slam into reverse,  is apparently rising rents and business rates, which again are down to the government. Nor that tax rises and spending cuts stem ultimately from government mismanagement of the economy, not a few millions of tax evasion.

A few stubborn facts shouldn’t be allowed to get in the way of a good witch-hunt, especially when the scapegoat is a big bad MNC. Booksellers, media and politicians can all see their respective interests served by whipping up one of those.

And as it happens, UK literary independent publisher Faber and Faber has just opened its own FaberShop with The Book People, “an award-winning family firm” that operates its own online direct discounted sales platform, posing exactly the same kind of threat to the independent bookseller sector that Amazon does. But they seem to have stayed below the media and political radar for now.

The dog days of summer have just begun. And the mad dogs and English booksellers are likely to spend longer in the midday sun.


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