Recent reports concerning working conditions at Amazon have stirred resistance among publishers and customers. They, however, cannot do much against this monopolist.
Oh, had this Jeff Bezos never founded Amazon… This complaint has been circulating in the book trade for a while. Because publishers and booksellers can no longer avoid the American online dealer, Amazon has begun to dictate its conditions. And as it goes with dictates, most of the time only one side is pleased.
If only Amazon never existed! Then the firm would without a doubt have been founded in Germany. In fact, Germans love Amazon like no one elsewhere. From information given to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the American stock exchange supervisory authority, it recently came to light that the German Amazon shop grossed $6.5 billion in 2012 — 14 percent of world-wide Amazon sales.
And it is clear why Germans love Amazon so: because of convenience and thrift. Just as one could formerly shop at Thalia or Hugendubel most conveniently, because they are located on every corner, so one clicks through the Internet discounter today.
Now, an ARD show reports that Amazon exploits employees in its warehouses in the worst possible way — to be precise, it doesn’t even hire, but instead yokes an army of temporary workers in a modernized form of slavery. One might have expected this in the land of cheap suppliers without an ARD report, but all the same, the indignation is great.
This report caused art book publisher Christopher Schroer to direct an open letter to Jeff Bezos and cancel his contracts with the Amazon devil. Without a doubt, this is a welcome step, extremely honorable — Schroer can afford it, however. Economically, the business model of Amazon was never worth it, he writes. Turning away costs him nothing.
For every publisher that caters to more than the carefully selected clientele, Schroer’s approach becomes more difficult. According to the most recent estimates, Amazon provides about 20 percent of the bookselling trade. To do without it would bring many publishers to the brink of ruin. There is only one way out: learn from Amazon and compete with Amazon.
Should We Consumers Boycott Amazon?
The publishers and booksellers would have to build an online platform together that is not inferior to Amazon's service. Or better still, a platform that offers thanks to the expertise of publishers and booksellers can offer more to buyers than Amazon can. The German Publishers and Booksellers Association dared this a few years ago with a first, still clumsy attempt called “Libreka.” That could now be built upon.
And we, the consumers? If the publishers cannot boycott Amazon following Christopher Schoer’s example, shouldn’t we do it? Shouldn't we throw our thrift and convenience to the devil and become critical consumers?
This challenge, raised by many, is easier said than done. There are good reasons for convenience and thrift. The call to boycott with its moralizing undertones primarily misses the political dimension of the problem. The individual is supposed to fix what politics makes a mess of.
It would be better to think about a tightened competition law. In a free market economy, the rules should be redesigned so that a quasi-monopoly on the Internet could not develop in the first place. Or just needs to be broken up later.