A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


Boycotting Amazon and the new Internet Barons

I was chatting several days ago with Bill McGarvey, a friend who is co-author of the book The Freshman Survival Guide: Soulful Advice for Studying, Socializing, and Everything in Between.  I told him that it struck me as an ideal present for a graduating high school student. Bill informed me, though, that he faced a problem: Amazon said on its website that it would usually take three to five weeks to ship it. This afternoon, it listed 3 to 5 seeks, then changed to 2 to 4. Either way, Amazon's shipping delay creates an obstacle for the customer who wants to give the book as a gift at a graduation party.

The problem is that Bill's book was published by an imprint of Hachette, which has refused to cave in to Amazon's increasing demands for larger payments from the publishing industry. The deliberately long shipping time is part of Amazon's campaign of intimidation against Hachette--and against its authors, their books and the free flow of ideas. It certainly puts Jeff Bezos in an odd position: owner of the Washington Post, which we look toward as a beacon of First Amendment values, and owner of a company trying to suppress the sale of books. It's brazen and it's wrong.

Ardelle Cowie, a Connecticut investor, is rightly bothered by this. According to The New York Times, she has begun a "lonely boycott" of Amazon. I wonder if it will be that lonely. After my conversation with Bill, I resolved I wouldn't buy anything from Amazon unless it was unavailable elsewhere.

Having tired of the high-handed ways of the new Internet barons, I also switched the preferred search engine in my computer from Google to a few months ago. (Don't laugh until you've tried it. It gives good searches without tracking you.) It's not exactly a boycott, since I'll still use Google when needed. But I've reduced my usage substantially, without any drawbacks.

I do plan to get a copy of Bill's book for my wife, who can use it in her role as school nurse in a Catholic high school. Fortunately, there are plenty of places to buy it. There's no need to use Amazon.


Commenting Guidelines

Thanks for the addALL site, Jim P.

Ann, I'd say, "You're welcome!" - but it wasn't me :-).  I think it was Jimmy Mac.



Jimmy Mac retired about 2 years ago;  incipient dementia.

His alter ego, Jim McCrea, however, is alive, well and as cantankerous as ever right here in living (usually) color (if Irish pallid is considered to be a color).

Yeah, yeah, Jim McC, I know, sorry - I can't get out of the habit, any more than I can stop calling pharmacies "drug stores", or elementary schools "grammar schools".  Some names are just sort of stickier than others.


Quite notable is the turnabout by Bill Gates who was at the helm when Microsoft was taken to task by the US Govt. for monopolistic practices. Gates started his philanthropies at this point as he gave billions to help the disadvantaged through his foundations. It was widely believed at the time that he did that because of the terrible image Microsoft had at that time as a big bully. Some still believe that is still his motivation. But he seems really genuine as he has really made a huge impact in helping those in under developed countries as well as the poor in this country. Certainly his wife is. 

I feel about Microsoft the way many here feel about Amazon. The difference is that Windows Explorer turned out to be the worst browser and Microsoft customer service is like the worst. They are trying. But they still give you someone in another country who does not know what you are talking about. This is why it was great to see Apple and Google trample Microsoft. 

Bezos needs to be watched. But he sure is a lot better for the consumer than Microsoft. Who still is bullying people who want to keep their XP computers. 

Who will give Amazon a run for their money?

Warning:  this link will take you to a white on black page.  (My poor old eyes are flickering after reading it.)


It was mentioned at the end of Amazon's statement about Hachette:

There is concern among economists about whether these mammoth companies are good for the economy. One economist at Columbia feels it is a definite turn for the worse. There is no question that much value has accrued to the consumer as a result. This is why many of us have mixed feelings about Amazon and Google. The big question is when there are only a few banks, a few wireless, a few cables, a few large stores, etc., who will be there to control them. Or who can prevent a disaster?                                              

I too used to feel that Micrsoft was the evil empire ;)  but Gates, and especially his wife, do so much good now.

Oops,  thank you, Jim McCrea :-)

Bill M. --  I agree with you about Bill Gates.  He not only gives money. he gives his time, which is probably just as valuable given his gifts as a manager.  By the way, I saw him mentioned the other day as a possible RINO Republican candidate for President in '16.  He'd be a much better choice than the yoyos who are already running fast.  And why aren't they talking about Robert Gates?  But that's a whole different thread.

Several commenters have alluded to the need for affordable books. Low-income readers and cheapskates have ready access to books in my neck of the woods. Our local public library is fairly small (our town has about 13,000 residents), but it networks with other public, college and university libraries throughout the state. Almost any book I want to read is available. Also, the local Historical Society, Catholic church, and public library each sponsor a used book sale (spring, summer, fall). I am currently reading a brand new copy of Henry Chadwick’s The Church in Ancient Society (I had to pay a quarter for it). 

This morning's NYT:


"There have been vows of boycotts."

Where?  I've seen a few remarks like this one by Paul Moses:  ". . . I resolved I wouldn't buy anything from Amazon unless it was unavailable elsewhere."

Hardly a vow.  

And Rita Ferrone explained why Commonweal's editors and contributors sell their books and articles on Amazon.  (They are victims of an unnamed company who holds the rights to their works?)   (I didn't understand the defense of the odd system that seems to benefit no one.)

Hey, Gerelyn,

I never said anything about books. The articles are what I was talking about.

Sorry, I don't know the name of the company. I knew it once but have forgotten, as it was a long time ago that I inquired into this. My understanding (and the editors can correct me if I'm wrong) is that this is a way for the company that digitalizes the magazine for libraries to get some money back in exchange for their service that is offered for free or at minimal cost (I am not sure which) to the magazine.

Also, to keep this in proportion, let's not imagine the sale of Commonweal articles is making windfall profits for this company! How many people do you think actually buy a digitalized article for $9.95, when you can get it in a library or off the Commonweal website for free? Only one of my articles actually had a sales rank, which I think means the others never sold a copy. A quick look around at Paul's impressive list of HTML articles offered for sale shows no sales rank on any of them! (Sorry, Paul.) It must be that some articles are sold, or it wouldn't be worth doing; but I doubt that it's many.


Hi, Rita:

Thanks for admitting you know little or nothing about how the system works.  (I thought it was a bit harsh the other day when you said, "The comment about "hypocrisy" in your first posting, @ 2:50 above, does no credit to your ability to find out information.")

(Now I think it's a bit harsh to say, "How many people do you think actually buy a digitalized article for $9.95, when you can get it in a library or off the Commonweal website for free?")

(Maybe you should scale back your expectations of what others should know, given your own lack of information.)

Paul sells his book on Amazon but wants others to join him in (not really) boycotting the company.

The editors run blogs about bad ol' Amazon but blazon a big ad for their Kindle anthologies at the bottom of the page.   

It's nice to live in a free country where we can talk out of both sides of our mouths.  


I may not have as much information as you want, Gerelyn, but I have more than you do!

I'm a harsh person. And I don't buy your argument.

Sorry, but the position you are taking assumes that the author controls who sells his books. That is not the case, as I explained. So that's one claim of hypocrisy gone. The gripe about Amazon selling Paul's articles, thus Paul's boycott is hypocritical, has been shown to be false too. How can it be hypocritical when Paul didn't even know they were being sold and realizes no profit from it? The best you or anyone can claim is that Paul is being exploited, not that he is being hypocritical.


I haven't researched it, but I'd be surprised if the majority of self-publishers recouped the cost of their print run or (in using something like Amazon's publish on demand service) made any appreciable money at it unless they're already mega-sellers like Stephen King. Moreover, I think many writers want to go through publishing houses (however much these could use some overhauling) because of the editing, legal vetting, printing, and marketing and promotional services they offer. 

While I test my theory with more research, I ran across an interesting bit from the HuffPo about authors who have become big successes through self-publishing:

I think the self-publishing endeavor has parallels with those who set up their own YouTube channels. You get a few superstars (Jenna Marbles or that kid who got Taco Bell to introduce a cool ranch Dorito taco, save me, Lord, from that dreck) who emerge, but most people pretty much do it for a hobby.

Jean, for a teacher of "mass comm," your notions about how publishing works are outdated.  Quaint.  

Maybe your research should include visiting the web sites of the various imprints owned by the conglomerates.  

A good starting point would be to pretend you've written a book and want to get it published.  Read the guidelines for submissions.  It won't take long to learn that it's not 1980 anymore.  Or even 1990.  They don't want your query letter or your sample pages or your manuscript.  Any unsolicited material sent to them will be pulped, unopened.  Only material requested from agents will be considered.  

If, by a miracle, you land an agent and the agent lands a contract for you, don't expect much/anything in the way of editing, marketing, etc., or the other things you imagine publishing houses do.  Etc.  

As to your disdain for "the self-publishing endeavor"?  Publishing ebooks on Amazon through Kindle Direct Publishing is free.  No "print run".  You might be surprised at how thrilled your students would be to see their articles, columns, essays, stories, etc. turned into ebooks.  Designing the cover is fun.  Formatting is easy.  Results are immediate.  After publishing the ebook, the key words they use in the book description will pop up for people searching the web for information for that topic.  Your students might actually sell a few copies.




"I'm a harsh person. And I don't buy your argument."

Hi, Rita:

The facts are the facts.  Commonweal runs blog posts bashing Amazon while using Amazon as a platform from which to sell the magazine, the anthologies, and the old articles. 


Gerelyn, I think it would be a kindness to you to point out that you come off as someone who feels the need to belittle people, even to the point of misconstruing meaning or making insulting inferences from thin evidence. I merely raised questions about whether self-publishing was really a viable alternative to the publishing houses ... which apparently shows that I am ignorant about publishing houses and a teacher whose ideas are "quaint." 

I gain no exchange of ideas or new insights from your posts, just invective and insult. My remaining years are too short to deal with abrasive people who don't listen to others. 





"I think the self-publishing endeavor has parallels with those who set up their own YouTube channels. You get a few superstars (Jenna Marbles or that kid who got Taco Bell to introduce a cool ranch Dorito taco, save me, Lord, from that dreck) who emerge, but most people pretty much do it for a hobby."

Oooh, is that from a "writer" who does NOT feel the need to belittle people?

As I said, for a teacher of "mass comm," your notions are outdated.  Another example was the fact that you didn't know you could edit Wiki. 


I agree with your sense of this.

Self-publishing, like playing the lottery, may look appealing to some people because once in a great while some rare, lucky individual succeeds in getting his or her work widely read in that way, but the number who do succeed, if that is their goal, is miniscule. Most stuff that is self-published is not going anywhere beyond a few copies for friends and family.

I have two such books in my possession, from family members who had fatal illnesses and got the books printed up before they died (a cookbook and a children's book). It was a realization of a dream for them to see what they had created appear between the covers of a book. God bless them. These are poignant keepsakes for me. And to the extent that a little bit of yourself lives on in a book, it's an expression of their human longing for immortality. But it's not a living, or a career, or a public work.


I hope anyone feeling discouraged from self-publishing by Jean and Rita will reject their outdated notions and read THIS:


Scary stuff for those who prefer the past to the present and the future.  Read the article, examine the pie charts, take a look at the comments below.

Then, if you need help with formatting or any other aspect of publishing your book on Amazon, look at Tom Corson-Knowles's books and videos.