Regular readers of our blog know that we aren’t exactly fans of Amazon at Pages Unbound. The company’s unethical business practices combined with their alleged poor treatment of employees means that we try to shop elsewhere when we can. We recognize that, due to individual circumstances, not everyone can make the choice to disengage entirely from Amazon. In fact, it may seem impossible to cut ties when 64% of U.S. households are estimated to pay for Prime membership and 43% of online dollars spent are spent on Amazon, according to a 2017 report. Saying goodbye to Amazon, however, is possible. Here’s how I do it.
A key feature that draws consumers to buy books from Amazon is their low prices for books–though it is no secret that they are able to list these prices by selling the books at a loss and and making up the revenue through non-book sales. However, Barnes and Noble’s website usually offers comparable prices for new releases, and some stores will also price match the online price if you ask. Even when Barnes and Noble charges a slightly higher amount than Amazon (Briana found some backlist titles to be about $3.00 more on Barnes and Noble), the difference is usually worth it to me to be able to support a company that will hopefully prevent Amazon from monopolizing the bookselling market.
There is some trade-off here in that Barnes and Noble will not guarantee a pre-order to arrive on release day, whereas Amazon will. However, since I regularly have five to six books checked out from the library, waiting a few days for another book is not a big deal to me. If I am honest with myself, in most cases I may not even have the time to open a book on its release day, anyway.
On the other hand, if you are interested in free shipping, a yearly membership at Barnes and Noble is only $25, while a Prime membership is $119. Arguably, you get more from Prime–the ability to purchase many more non-book items, as well as streaming services. However, a 2017 report found that Prime members spent an average of $1300 a year on Amazon while non-Prime individuals only spent $700. The implication is that Prime members either feel the need to justify the price tag by taking advantage of free shipping all the time, or they do not consider their purchases as much since they get free shipping. Saving $600 a year by not buying a $119 membership seems like a good deal to me.
When I had an indie bookstore near me, I would buy from them when I was able and, of course, supporting indies is also a laudable goal. However, since my indie closed, I have chosen to buy books from Barnes and Noble since they are arguably the biggest competitor Amazon has left, they ship to me, and their online prices are what I consider reasonable. Some consumers have turned to ABE Books or Book Depository, but Amazon owns both those companies now.
Most of the time, however, I do not buy books at all. Instead, I go to the public library. Some do not use their libraries because they do not see the books they want on the shelves. However, most U.S. libraries participate in interlibrary loan, meaning patrons can request a book and it will be shipped to them from anywhere in the country. The caveat is that you cannot request new releases (usually six months after publication). Some libraries offer this service free and some for a nominal fee, but it ends up being cheaper than buying on Amazon either way. Most patrons sadly do not know interlibrary loan exists (or think it is only for academic libraries) and so do not take advantage of it, but this is how I read a not-insignificant number of books.
Audiobooks and Movies
Some people like to buy from Amazon and pay for Prime in order to access their audiobooks and original content. Streaming content is sometimes more convenient than going to the library to borrow it. However, many libraries now offer the ability for patrons to download audiobooks and films online. Services such as Overdrive (e-books and audiobooks), Hoopla (e-books, audiobooks, and films), and Kanopy (films) offer users the ability stream content from home or even download it and watch or listen later offline. Patrons do not need to travel to the library to pick up materials or return them. I usually prefer to pick up physical materials, but I will use the digital services if I cannot find what I want on the shelf.
Amazon is attractive to customers because it offers free two-day shipping with no minimum purchase. As we have seen, however, this does seem to entice consumers to pay more in the long run so they feel like Prime is a good value. I prefer to avoid the $119 membership fee by shopping online at other retailers such as Target. Target does ask for a $35 minimum purchase to get free two-day shipping, but I can usually achieve this by thinking ahead and ordering everything I need at once. No, I cannot make an impulse purchase or a last-minute purchase for a random item I might need. However, I save money by not being able to make impulse buys and I am largely able to order everything I need before I need it simply by keeping a running list of items to purchase.
Shopping at other retailers has been beneficial for me as Amazon has turned, over the years, to a number of third party sellers. It is not always easy to determine whether you are purchasing from Amazon or someone else, and I know a number of people who had some difficulty negotiating with third party sellers when an order went wrong. I am also afraid to buy from a third party in case the quality is bad or the product is actually a fake. I feel safer buying from an actual company with an actual return policy and actual representatives I can speak with. Paying a little bit more for a real product and peace of mind is a trade I can live with.
I also make sure to take advantage of special sales and deals. Target, for instance, has traditionally offered free shipping on just about everything, no minimum purchase required, from after Thanksgiving to Christmas. Craft stores like Michael’s, Joann’s, or Blick sometimes advertise deals like 40% off everything plus free shipping. It takes some work to keep an eye out for sales and to plan ahead for them, but I save $119 a year in return.
Avoiding buying e-books from Amazon is admittedly difficult. They were estimated in 2019 to make up 88.9% of all e-book sales and 83.6% of e-reader sales. (In contrast, they currently make up 42% of physical book sales.) Rather than buy e-books from Amazon, I borrow them from the library, but I read them on my Kindle since, like most people, I do not expect the Nook to continue to be supported. My choices mean that Amazon does not get my sale, but the company does get my data. Macmillan’s CEO John Sargent recently confirmed in January 2020 that Amazon’s data on e-book lending and purchasing played a role in the company’s decision to stop selling libraries e-books for the first eight weeks after publication. I have wondered if I ought to continue borrowing Kindle versions of e-books from the library if Amazon is going to use my data against the libraries I wish to support.
I realize that avoiding Amazon means customers may face some inconveniences. They may have to wait a little longer for purchases to arrive or they may have to think ahead about what to purchase in order to get free shipping. However, considering that Amazon employees have complained that Amazon’s shipping guarantee is resulting in injuries as they struggle to pack about four boxes a minute (claims Amazon denies), it seems only ethical to wait longer for a package rather than contribute to employees’ harsh working conditions. And considering how Amazon pressures publishers into business deals that are unsustainable, it does not seem right to buy from Amazon, either. Minor inconveniences are, in my mind, a small price to pay in order to do what I think is right.