I do things with words, mainly English and Arabic
Inspired by a recent feature from my old employers, Ethical Consumer magazine, I’ve finally taken down my Amazon affiliate links from this site. I should have done it years ago, but for anyone trying to make writing pay, the prospect of an extra cut on sales is pretty tempting. Of course, one can argue that by squeezing publishers, Amazon is actually forcing author royalties and advances down. But the direct cause-and-effect is hard to spot on a daily basis.
At Ethical Consumer, Rob Harrison’s main argument against Amazon is based on its flagrant tax-dodging in the UK. This page from Housmans Bookshop in London lists a range of other obnoxious practices (union-busting, workers’ rights abuses etc etc) by Amazon that make them all the more worthy of withdrawing ones custom. But the main thing that spurred me on was the impact on independent bookshops.
Having lived in Manchester, which lost its excellent radical bookshop, Frontline (previously known as Grassroots) a good decade ago, I’d perhaps forgotten how amazing it can be having regular access to a real indie. But in Edinburgh my daily life is now spent in a building which lies between two very different but equally lovely independent bookshops.
The first is Word Power, a veteran of the Edinburgh scene, which is great for ‘political’ titles in the broadest meaning of the word. It also has a very special fiction section which, because of the shop’s commitment to supporting unusual and independent publishers, features a range of novels in translation the like of which I’ve not seen outside London (it seems to stock an especially good choice from Arabia Books), as well as an impressive selection of Scottish literature. It also has an excellent poetry section. And a cute, if sometimes slightly… errr… forward, dog.
The second is Looking Glass, a bookshop/cafe with good fiction and poetry sections, opulent velvet sofas and a dangerously tempting line in good coffee, speciality teas and very, very tasty cake. I currently spend far too much of my time in there, and could easily spend a lot more. (Another appeal of Looking Glass is that hopefully it will draw some custom away from the Starbucks on Middle Meadow Walk, which also has to be a good thing, since Starbucks is to independent cafes what Amazon is to independent bookshops).
While I’m on this particular subject, it’s also worth mentioning ‘Love your Indie‘, a loyalty scheme for independent bookshops run in association with The Guardian. Customers can collect stamps and then claim free books – and the books on offer seem to be current bestselling titles, not random remaindered stock from the participating publishers. As far as I know there are still no financial incentives for the many authors and bloggers who link to Amazon via affiliate ads to switch to supporting independent shops instead, but at least schemes like this might help to lure some consumers out of reach of the Amazonian tentacles.