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 DuckDuckGo.com 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.

Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses. 

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