Self-publishing your first children's book is tough! And although I obviously want lots of readers and know that most people buy books on Amazon, I have decided to avoid selling through them for as long as I can. I am not making a moral judgement about Amazon shoppers, it is undeniably convenient, but as a business owner, there are many reasons why I am actively choosing not to sell on Amazon.
I have ten reasons, the first six relating to the ethics of their business practices:
- Amazon effectively treats its employees as disposable commodities. The convenience of getting things quickly and cheaply depends on low-paid, de-unionised jobs in terrible working conditions (whether in warehouses or actually making deliveries). There are many stories of employees having to pee in bottles, mental health problems, lawsuits and more. Amazon even made a public apology to a USA representative after wrongly denying that workers pee in bottles.
- Amazon has a devastating impact on local businesses. UK customers spent £19.5 billion at Amazon in 2020, approximately double the takings at Marks & Spencer, a retailer which has been around for 137 years. Its dominance has transformed many sectors, but small bookshops have been hit particularly hard, and that makes it even more difficult to get a self-published book onto shelves
- Even if they remain within the letter of the law, Amazon’s tax avoidance practices are scandalous. In a recent article in The Guardian, Paul Monaghan, chief executive of the Fair Tax Foundation, explained how “The bulk of Amazon’s UK income is booked offshore, in the enormously loss-making Luxembourg subsidiary, which means that not only are they not making a meaningful tax contribution now, but are unlikely to do so for years to come given the enormous carried forward losses they have now built up there”
- Amazon’s business structure only exacerbates these problems. The corporation owns many businesses and makes most of its profits from Amazon Web Services (AWS) as well as through sales commissions and fulfillment fees charged to third parties. In fact, nearly three-quarters of its profit came from AWS in 2021. So having this conglomerate business structure means it can even afford to sell and ship products at a loss, both accelerating the downfall of physical shops and local businesses and reducing its tax bill. That is why Amazon is at the heart of debates about whether tech giants should be split up
- Amazon Prime pushes these trends even further. A monthly fee enables you to access exclusive streamed film content as with a Netflix subscription, but here’s the catch. You also get free delivery on any Amazon goods you buy. Quite apart from the environmental and traffic impact of the transportation, it also makes it even harder for physical retail or smaller ecommerce to compete. Running free-delivery at a loss is a very smart short-term strategy to attract lots of buyers but who is really paying for free delivery in the long-term?
- Amazon collects – and appears to misuse – vast amounts of data about us. The more you use Amazon, the more data it collects and can share with third parties to improve advertising income. With Ring doorbells, Kindle, Echo, Alexa, Prime, Fire TV, Zappos and Whole Foods all within the ecosystem, it pretty much knows what you will buy before you do! This is itself pretty terrifying. Furthermore, Amazon was hit last year with a $886.6 million (£636 million) fine for processing personal data in violation of EU data protection rules (though it is appealing against the ruling).
I also have four more personal reasons relating to the direct impact of Amazon’s business practices on an author and small publisher such as myself:
- It is a complex, expensive and time-consuming task to set up the whole process of selling, fulfilling orders, paying storage fees and syncing Amazon’s ordering system with my own warehousing solution.
- I don’t want to have to do the same work twice. As an independent first-time author, building awareness is my biggest challenge (especially in a market dominated by celebrity children’s books). So I need to have a digital presence. But Amazon prefers advertising within its own ecosystem. That means that being on the site is only half the battle and I’d still need to invest in advertising there.
- I want to be able to determine how I present my book to the world. I’ve created a full-colour children’s book inspired by a very personal experience (Hazel, the squirrel in the story who loses her tail, was inspired by my daughter’s medical struggles as a toddler). On my website, I can tell the story in my own way and do justice to Alex Beeching’s lovely illustrations. That is just not possible on Amazon.
- Selling through Amazon would have a devastating impact on my margins. Remember Amazon makes a big part of its profits through third-party sellers! Selling fees can add up quickly. There’s referral fees, closing fees, selling plans and additional selling fees. And then you have to add in the costs of Amazon’s advertising and shipping fees. Needless to say, I would hardly make any profit on any copies I sold through this route.
Amazon is the ultimate symbol of 21st-century tech-commerce, offering us instant gratification, constantly pushing the boundaries of what we should expect in terms of hyper-convenience. One-click buying and same day drone deliveries sound amazing, but we all need to think about the huge price we are paying for this and whether we need to resist current trends.
I'd rather sell less than sell on Amazon...
Self-publishing a children’s book was never about making money, but I know where I stand. I can’t change international tax law, introduce data protection policies or enforce human rights legislation, but I can control where my book is sold. And so I choose to sell it in independent bookshops and from my own website.
If you agree with any of the points above, then why not join me in boycotting Amazon and support an independent business? I can’t promise free streaming services or free delivery (on orders of less than 5 books). You can buy the book here.