Written by: Alex Houdeshell
As Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and the multinational tech company Amazon battle over an effort to unionize Amazon workers in Alabama, the questionable ethics and capitalist ethos of the company are thrown into question, and not for the first time.
The online shopping center has been called out by activists and consumers on a number of charges: tax evasion, child labor, environmental impact, and—relevent to the workers in Alabama—poor working conditions. Stories of employees peeing in plastic bottles because they don’t have time for proper bathroom breaks have recently gone viral, and the company has a reputation of “union-busting.”
Not to mention in the past year founder and long-time Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos made billions of dollars off of the COVID-19 pandemic while many American families relied on the uncertain and inconsistent government stimulus checks.
As a company that was founded exclusively as an online bookstore, for many bibliophiles Amazon remains the go-to online vendor when the newest title by your favorite author drops. However, for those who are looking to disassociate with the corporation, there are plenty of other options out there.
There are arguments online both for and against an Amazon boycott. Some argue that most boycotts are ineffective, and serve mostly to make the consumer feel less guilty. However, whether or not your decision to buy the newest Angie Thomas title elsewhere registers as even a blip on Amazon’s radar, that decision could impact the store you do choose to buy from, particularly if it’s small and local.
By purchasing your books elsewhere, not only are you making (however minor) a statement against an inequitable company, but you’re investing in a store that actually pays taxes to benefit public programs. Your money helps perpetuate whatever it goes toward. If it goes toward Amazon, it perpetuates Amazon and their bad business habits. If it goes toward a local independent bookstore, it helps keep that local independent bookstore afloat.
That being said, here are some of my favorite venues (online and in Connecticut) to check out rather than going straight to Amazon:
Thriftbooks: As an English and history major, Thriftbooks is the first place I go to buy my textbooks. While they may not carry a lot of more traditional, STEM, large and unwieldy textbooks, they carry plenty of Jane Austen, Shakespeare, and Margaret Atwood. Plus, if you spend more than $10, you get free shipping, and for every 500 “points” worth of books you buy, you get a free book. The company also packages everything in 100% recyclable packaging.
Alibris: Another online site selling both new and used books, Alibris makes its site easy to browse by genre, and includes a section of the site devoted to textbooks. It was Alibris that introduced me (via a friend) to the gem of a book Pride and Promiscuity: The Lost Sex Scenes of Jane Austen.
The Book Barn: A series of used book stores located in Niantic, the Book Barn is not only great for cheap, used books, but it’s also the place to be in the summertime. With cats roaming around, goats to be fed, and painted signs pointing you in ever direction, the Book Barn is the ultimate bookworm vibe. Although it’s sometimes not productive to go to the Book Barn with a title in mind, chances are you’ll find some hidden gem hidden in their shelves with a $4 sticker.
Bank Square Books: With three locations in Mystic, New London, and Westerly, Rhode Island, Bank Square Books is a local bookstore with overall good vibes. Unlike the others on this list, Bank Square sells new books, and located in Mystic, they might be higher than the price you expect to see on Amazon, but these local bookstores also provide book signings, author visits, and a sense of community you don’t always get with larger booksellers, and certainly can’t find online.
Especially with the advent of the pandemic, lots of local booksellers, including Bank Square Books, have made it possible to order books online for pick-up or occasionally delivery, so even if you are looking for convenience, and you are looking for the newest title, don’t write off alternatives. There are plenty of other lists online of great Connecticut booksellers or online booksellers if this short list isn’t enough.
Keep in mind, within the hegemony that is late-stage capitalism, it’s hard to fully avoid a company as far-reaching as Amazon. If you’re on Goodreads, that’s owned by Amazon. If you’re into audiobooks, chances are you’ve heard of or used Audible, which is also owned by Amazon. If you use a Kindle, chances are you buy ebooks from Amazon. Ethical consumption is hard, but keep in mind you don’t have to be perfect to be effective, and keep in mind that there are plenty of ways to advocate for your values besides the way you spend your dollars.