It’s been almost a week since my last entry, during which I time I have been suffering under a particularly persistent ‘flu bug transmitted by my lovely two-year-old, who, I suspect, caught it from another toddler in her play group. Perhaps more than any recent illness, this one went straight for my lungs from the beginning, and triggered an alarming number of asthma attacks that left me (literally) breathless and constitutionally weak. I’m finally starting to recover and regain my cognitive capacity, which had been dulled by the prescribed medication that had induced lethargy and sleepiness and an inability to write or even concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time. I’m normally not a fan of ‘flu shots, preferring to leave them for children and the elderly and those who really need them, but as soon as I’m back to full strength, I’ve resolved to get myself poked.
Anyway, what I wanted to write about today is an addendum to my March 1st entry, “Why I Won’t Do Business With Amazon.”
The article was by far my most popular entry since I started this WordPress blog on January 25th, gaining more than 700 page views in about 27 hours. It certainly seemed to strike a chord for a lot of people worried about Amazon’s relentlessly persistent goal of monopoly and monopsony in the book world in particular. It was heartening to see the comments of solidarity on the entry itself and on my Facebook page.
But what I hadn’t expected were the comments, some from good friends, that the thoroughness of my argument had made them feel bad about owning a Kindle, or ordering from Amazon. This was never my intention, and to those folks I can only express my apologies. If you’ll notice, I never once in the article call for a boycott of Amazon; by its very definition, a boycott is not only refusing to do business with a company, but also actively persuading others to follow one’s lead. True, I have activist tendencies, but have always felt more than a bit uncomfortable telling people what they should or should not do, just as I don’t like being told what I should or should not do.
What I was hoping to accomplish was a blitzkrieg of awareness. The list of Amazon’s offenses that I laid out have occurred over many years, and when such a slow accretion of actions takes place, people tend not to remember them for long. But if one can take all of these actions and compile them in a single document, they tend to have a much bigger impact, as is evident by the traffic for that entry.
However, I was keenly aware that I didn’t want to wag my finger at people who keep Amazon in business. Again, who the hell am I to tell anyone what to do? In addition, were I to do so, I’d also be slapping down many of my writer friends, whose books are largely sold on Amazon because their publishers have agreed to sell their titles on the site, and I’m not in the habit of slapping my friends.
As I mention at the start of the article, I forthrightly used to buy books from Amazon quite a bit, even as late as mid-2007, when I ordered Ian McDonald’s Brasyl, because the book was taking too damn long to arrive in Singapore’s bookstores. Their low prices and high standard of customer service are hard to ignore. But over the years, I’ve tried to become a more ethical consumer, to make informed choices about the products I buy. It would be hypocritical of me to post a photo of my Converse sneakers directly after excoriating Amazon’s business practices if I was completely unaware of the human rights record of Nike (who now owns Converse), especially in terms of sweatshop labor in China. But the fact is that I did know about these abuses and wanted the shoes anyway because I love the look and feel and comformity of Converse shoes to my feet; at the same time, however, I donated more than the equivalent cost of the shoes to human rights defenders such as the American Civil Liberties Union, PEN American Center, Habitat for Humanity, and the International Campaign for Tibet. Whether this truly acted as a a balancing factor will be up to you to decide.
So if you already own a Kindle, please, use it. Enjoy it. Buy my book at Smashwords and sideload it. But at the same time be aware of the environmental, social, and human cost of producing such a remarkable device. Maybe when this model becomes obsolete, you might consider switching to a NOOK or another e-reader, but whatever your decision, you’ll be better informed. And as the PSAs at the end of every episode of GI Joe I watched as a kid reminded me, “Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.”