To all of my friends, but especially to herbalist friends,
I follow a lot of herbalist-authors and book lovers, and much of the time, when you post about books online, you link to Amazon. I’m writing to ask you to rethink that, because of the same priorities that make you as dedicated to herbalism as you are. Amazon is easy and cheap, but for people who are trying to make mindful choices about how we impact the world, I want to propose other options.
We know that healthy ecosystems house a variety of species. We also know that monoculture is a dangerous and unhealthy practice. Amazon has, more and more over the last several years, been entering the realm of a monopoly, an economic monoculture. And Amazon is not a benevolent dictator: Shopping at Amazon results in a net job loss, and Amazon has a history of workplace abuses. Amazon has not scrupled to strong-arm publishers with unfair negotiation tactics, nor to accept tax breaks while doing its best to avoid collecting sales tax. In short, Amazon’s actions demonstrate a failure to value employees or community, and it doesn’t even seem to genuinely value the books it sells. The way I see it, Amazon is the Monsanto of ideas. I don’t want Monsanto to have control of our seeds and our food supply, and I don’t want Amazon to have control over the way we share information, ideas, and stories.
Please also take into consideration that Amazon is in direct competition with local retailers, including not just independent bookstores but kitchen shops, grocery stores, toy stores, outdoor gear stores, garden stores, and more.
What I do want is a world full of strong local economies that house diverse businesses. These businesses are the wildflowers of Main Street. The ornery baker who bakes the best bread you’ve ever tasted. The farmer who hand-delivers CSA shares to each and every home after he gets snowed in and can’t bring them to the farmer’s market. The bookseller who can help you find a story that changes your life, or a thoughtful gift for your daughter, or an herbal book you didn’t even know existed. These are the nettles and the dandelions and the mullein of our economies. These are the businesses that will hire people for meaningful jobs, the business owners who see the results of their decisions and will, over time, help heal our broken economy and society. These are the people I want to have influence: many people in each community, not one CEO who has power over the fate of thousands.
There are other ways:
When you link to a book you’ve written or one you want to recommend, consider using an IndieBound link. IndieBound, a network of independent bookstores, even has an affiliate program. When you buy a book, please buy local. (Find your local bookstore here.) Even if the herbal book you’re looking for isn’t on the shelf, indie bookstores can often order it in quickly.
If you are self-publishing a book, please consider the many alternatives to CreateSpace. CreateSpace is fully owned by Amazon. Because of this – and because of objections to the way Amazon does business – many indie bookstores won’t carry books published or printed by CreateSpace. Lightning Source is one excellent option. Even better, there might be a company local to you that you can work with. (Remember to ask where their books are printed. Unless you’re working directly with a local printer, there’s a chance that the publisher is actually using CreateSpace as a printer.)
If you run a nonprofit, please just say “no” to Amazon Smile. This post by bookstore consultants Paz & Associates asks how indie bookstore contributions compare to Amazon Smile. The upshot is that, for every $10,000 in purchases, Amazon Smile will donate only $50. An indie bookstore is likely to donate $1000-2000 out of that $10,000 to schools and nonprofits.
I know that, by asking you to buy local, I’m (in many cases) asking you to spend more money. But you get what you pay for: If you want a world where Amazon controls the publishing industry, than only pay what they’re asking. If you want a world full of diverse voices and strong local/independent businesses, you need to invest in that world.
Anna Lappe said, “Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.” Please cast your votes for a world full of wildflowers, a world full of healthy ecosystems and healthy local economies, a world where no one organization has too much control, but rather where we acknowledge and honor that we exist in a web of interdependence.