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.

About the Author

Paul Moses, a professor of journalism at Brooklyn College/CUNY, 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).



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Paul Moses:

Amazon sells fourteen of your articles and one of your books.  ($9.95 seems a bit high for an article.) 

Will you be withdrawing your book and your articles from Amazon?  

Imho, Commonweal's denunciations of Amazon are hypocritical.  Above, you advocate boycotting Amazon, but below there are links to "Commonweal Magazine's Amazon Store" and to an Amazon page where subscriptions are sold.  

Just over two years ago, dotCommonweal ran a blog by Matthew Boudway called "The Best Case Against Amazon You'll Ever Read."  In it, he recommended an article by Leon Wieseltier about Amazon's "market piggishness."  

But as in your case, Wieseltier and Boudway both sell their books and articles on Amazon.  So does Grant Gallicho, although he claimed he's "never seen one red cent" and Amazon did not have his permission to sell his old articles.

Why the mixed messages from Commonweal's editors and contributors?  

I won't buy anything from Walmart/Sam's Club even if it is NOT available anywhere else.

Its hard to keep track of who are the bad guys and who are the good guys.  I was pissed at Barnes and Noble for a long time because,when they opened a superstore not too far from my favorite bookstore, Brentano's, that was the end of Brentano's.  But they started looking pretty good compared to Amazon, so I dumped my Kindle and got the whole family Nooks. That worked out well.

But I do order a lot from Barnes and Noble; because I have the B&N credit card, I get free "lazer shipping"; sometimes I get my order the same day, which I cant figure out how they make money on that.


And now for a nice long rant ...

For a long time, the only indie bookstore near us was run by a bunch of anti-social basement dwellers who would comment derisively on our choices at check-out. When B&N moved in, I was immediately taken with the improved service and selection. The indie went out of biz, as it should have. 

I also refuse to purchase books from student book stores, most of which are indies, because they gouge students on new sales and resales. (I realize publishers often have the bigger hand in the gouging here.) Before online bookstores offered cheaper options, I started a list of students who wanted to sell textbooks direct to students enrolled in the next semester, circumventing the bookstore and its evil capitalist ways. I also refused (and still do when possible) to force students to buy new editions of textbooks which have only changed marginally. (I once did a poll asking students whether my actions were defensible, since the bookstore hires many student workers. They said, "Yeah, because they pay us s***, and still charge us the same price for books."

I purchase Kindle editions from because I have a chronic lung condition/allergies that a lot of paper lying around the house makes worse. Kindle books have also reduced clutter (I purchase my Commonweal subscription on line). I also have the older version of kindle with text-to-speech function, which I sometimes need. I don't mind the "robot" voice. I can also borrow library books on it.

Amazon did finally agree to make price concessions to publishers and authors (though, of course, not without litigation). 

I have never had to wait more than a week for anything Amazon shipped from its warehouse, and I always go for free or standard delivery.

For me, the most damning indictment of the New Robber Barons (and that would have to include Bezos and his weird drone delivery idea) is the way they pay workers. Here's an interesting about Amazon warehouse workers and whether they're getting the great deal Amazon says they are.

The problem, as the article mentions in passing, is that most of the robber barons (and I would include institutions of higher education here) is that they are able to circumvent having to pay a living wage and benefits to many workers by hiring part-timers ... who earn less because they work fewer hours and who get no ACA mandated benefits at all if you keep them under 29 hours per week. (All of you are paying for my Obamacare policy, thanks very much, because my employer is too cheap to do it.) But you boycott everybody who does this, and you'll be wandering around with nothing to eat, read or wear, though, like Jim, I refuse to shop at Walmart, and I have (almost) successfully given up fast food (except for the coffee drive through).

For the record, if you write for Commonweal, they own the copyright to your work and can sell it at will through Amazon or any other place they want to. Pretty standard arrangement unless you're syndicated. Authors are paid up front. And for a nonprofit publication, Commonweal's honorarium is more generous than some; many nonprofits and start ups want content for free. 

Neither does Commonweal get any money from Wikipedia, when they borrow liberally from an article and throw it up on their Web site, as I learned to my horror when I realized that my humble article on the beguines was over there. I was wrongly identified as an historian, and the entry ignored many more (though perhaps no less enthusiastic) scholars who have written more about this topic.

Irene -- do people with B&N cards (which I have) get the same discount online?  That would be an inducement to switch permanently :-)

I"m switching to Barnes & Noble online, at least temporarily.  That's not the same thing as a boycott --- that's just an attempt to influence Amazon's policy.

I used to check out WaPo's "On Faith" section often.  Unlike the NYT WaPo reports on a lot of religious news.  But I noticed within the week that Bezos bought WaPo that the articles included some pretty sleezy, sensational stuff, more like National Enquirer stuff.  Sad, sad, sad.  Bezos is too dumb to appreicate what a gem it was that he bought.                            


The greatest thing about Amazon, imho, is Kindle Direct Publishing.  You can write a book or an article, design a cover, and publish it yourself.  No charge.  Fast and fun.  

The publishers are whining because their business model is obsolete.  They thought ebooks wouldn't take off.  Now, as the NYT, FT, etc., etc. report, ebooks are the future of publishing.  Amazon provides a platform for one and all.  Free and fun.  70% royalties.  International distribution.  

I also like Amazon Prime.  I order stuff and voila, it arrives two days later.  

(One new thing those who are not boycotting Amazon may not have noticed:  Amazon Smile.  If you sign up for that, they donate money to the charity you select.  Many religious orders are listed and can be chosen as recipients.)



Actually, two books. But 14 articles? I had no idea. I knew of only two articles, both of them a surprise to me. You're right about one thing: $9.95 is too much.

Paul M.:

Only one comes up:




Jean R:

Wiki still says you're a historian.  (I remember how annoyed you were when I mistakenly thought it was true.)  You could edit it.


The comment about "hypocrisy" in your first posting, @ 2:50 above, does no credit to your ability to find out information.

The company that supplies magazines electronically to libraries is the one that sells Commonweal articles on Amazon. No writer from Commonweal ever gets a red cent from them, or decides whether or not their articles will go on the market, much less sets the prices. It is one of the conditions of supplying the articles to libraries electronically that Commonweal accepts this condition (of resale). Would you refuse Paul permission to have his articles available in libraries?

Besides, writers -- and you should know this, as a writer -- do not get to decide which retailers carry their books. Suppose you instruct your publisher not to sell your book to Amazon. Amazon will buy it from another aggregator if they want to. And given the "marketplace" feature of Amazon, it's impossible to guarantee, even if one blocked Amazon somehow, that a given book would never be sold through Amazon. You'd have to block every dealer who deals with Amazon. Won't work. My books are sold by all sorts of vendors, all over the world; none are selling them with my explicit permission. None. That's how the market works. 

To boycott a retailer as a consumer is meaningful; to talk about boycotting a retailer as an author is pretty much meaningless. To tax authors with "hypocrisy" for not controlling who sells their books is to shoot at the wrong target.


(You put the word "hypocrisy" in quotation marks twice, but I didn't use it.  Only hypocritical, once.)

Agree that blogging about boycotting Amazon is meaningless.  Particularly when those complaining sell their books and articles on Amazon.


If RIta is right, and Paul cannot stop Amazon from selling his articles and charging $9.95 for them, who gets the money?

Paul could put the same articles on Amazon through Kindle Direct Pulbishing and charge as little as 99 cents.  Then he would get the money.   

Sorry, but your continued rant and nitpicking is what is meaningless.

The decision as a consumer to boycott a company, by not buying, is a fine old tradition -- and is what this post is about.


Egad, is it a full moon tonight or something?

Paul could put the same articles on Amazon through Kindle Direct Pulbishing and charge as little as 99 cents.  Then he would get the money.   

Wha ....?

Writers publish in magazines instead of self-publishing because their work gains credibility and someone is doing fact-checking. Moreover, publish in a magazine that already has a following, and your piece will be read by more people than throwing it out there with all the self-published clutter, the standards of which are entirely dependent on those doing the publishing ... and the credibility of which tends to be associated with the lowest common denominator. There's a reason serious writers want to blog for Commonweal or the NYT or HuffPo instead of on

Thanks for the tip on editing the Wikipedia page. I have corrected my creds and pronouns that referred to me as a "he."


The articles by Paul Moses being sold on Amazon have already been published in Commonweal.  You can buy them with confidence.  

I'm suggesting he go into competition with the unnamed "company that supplies magazines electronically to libraries" and put up the same articles through KDP, priced to sell.  He would get the royalties that are now flowing into the unnamed company's coffers. 

As to the lowest common denominator?  That's why there are only 5 or 6 publishers of books left, massive conglomerates who are interested in one thing only:  making money.  It's all about money.  And why shouldn't it be?

The idea that only those who can write the kind of books that the big six want should be allowed to publish is gone with the wind.   Technology has made it possible for all of us to communicate whatever we want whenever we want.  The moon belongs to everyone, as Bert Cooper's ghost sang on Mad Men last night.


I have to admit I love Amazon.  I can't drive and it was hard to get to bookstores, but now the bookstore is at my figertips, and has a huge selection, including used books.  Plus, my sister kindly gave me an Amazon kindle, and now I can read so many books that before I couldn't because of small print.  Also, I've often sold used books on Amazon ... neat that anyone can do this.  And as Gerelyn mentions above, the ability to publish your own writing on Amazon is also great.  Finally, Amazon has a feature that allows you to painlessly donate to your favorite charity every time you buy something: AmazonSmile

I love Amazon so much it totally delivered everything I ever wanted and I never had to talk to strangers nor did I have to touch dirty books other humans had touched. It's so worth never having made any money off them and the destruction of the local bookstore. Sleep well, capitalists. 

So who cares if Amazon is actually a help to some like the disabled, if it allows people who otherwise couldn't get published to have their work read, if it helps you contribute to charity ... it's all about capitalism?

And PS - another non-capitalist thing about Amazon ... you can check out library books there.  Most public libraries allow you to electronically check out kindle books for free and they are supplied by Amazon and checked out in the same way you buy books.  For someone like me who can't drive to the libaray, this is wonderful.  But hey, what do I know?

Grant, I think you revisited the old thread.  (A great one.)  

As the editor of a great and powerful magazine, you can afford to be cavalier about never getting a "red cent" from the sale of your articles, but I would think you would make some effort to see that your contributors get the money that should be coming to them for their work.  

I don't understand why Commonweal would turn over the rights to the old articles to the unnamed company and let them sell them for exorbitant (imho) prices.   (I guess I think it's Commonweal that should be boycotted, not Amazon.)  


To listen to Gerelyn and Crystal, you'd think Amazon was a philanthropic organization. It ain't, believe me. Or rather, don't believe me; read this. Amazon doesn't give a toss about books or readers. It got into books because books are easy to store and ship. Amazon cares about market share and profit, nothing else.

Many of the Commonweal articles sold by Amazon are avaibable for free on Commonweal's website; the others are available to subscribers. $9.95 may be a lot to pay for an article at Amazon, but $34 is not a lot to pay for a digital subscription to the magazine.

As George Packer concludes, the only way for the publishers to save themselves from Amazon's death grip is for them to dump Amazon and sell their books directly to readers on their own websites. Otherwise the extortion will continue. I believe there's still a market for books that have been vetted and improved by the "gatekeepers" Gerelyn so despises. If Amazon wants to distribute self-published e-books, good luck to them, but I doubt there's much money in it. 

Viva la Paul Moses! (le Paul Moses?!)

Thanks for shedding light on Amazon's current campaign against Hachette books. As much as I'm a devout user of all the wonderful technological devices and platforms that have been created in the past 15-20 years, it seems as though we've become like giddy, mesmerized children fascinated by all the flashing lights and have become oblivious to the value of the content transmitted by these devices/platforms. That's what's at stake here. Amazon is so dominant that it can strangle publishers to accept their terms for payment on ebooks. Ask anyone who used to be in the music industry what happens when you let a single retailer determine the price of your product. Apple became the music industry in many ways when it sold the record companies on charging $.99 per song. Once the horse is out of the barn it's impossible to get him back inside. Hachette is trying to stand firm to make sure that publishing companies can afford to continue to be in the business of acquiring, editing and marketing content--whether it's physical books, ebooks or whatever technology for distributing ideas/content we develop in the future.

For what it's worth our book is available at all B&N stores and their website as well as countless independent booksellers.

Thanks again, Paul.



I don't think Amazon is a charity, I think it's a business.  But ...

 - it does, for instance , offer many books on kindle for free ... the last one I got for free there was The Three Musketeers.

- And as for those books that aren't vetted by publishing  companies but are self-published ... some of the most successful books have been those.  One example is "Wool" by Hugh Howey.  It's soon to be made into a movie by Ridley Scott.  Howey self-published the book and it sold so many copies that now Simon & Shuster is going to piblish it in papaer.  Meanwhile you can read the kindle version at Amazon for 99 cents.  This isn't a unique example.

Ann- I get 5% off online orders with my B&N card, plus free express shipping. I think you need to be a "member" to get the free shipping, but they made me a member free when I got the credit card.  I also get the $25 gift cards periodically when my purchases hit whatever level it is.

RE: Amazon and the library books.  At my library (the NY Public Library), you could borrow digitally with other e-book readers quite a while  before you could do it with a Kindle; we can borrow with Kindle now, but that was one of the reasons I switched to Nook- at the time youcould borrow library books off Barnes & Noble Nooks and a bunch of other readers, but not Kindles.

The only thing I'm having a hard time weaning off is the Amazon streamng service. I use Roku (as an effort to get away from my cable company, an entity I dislike even more than Amazon); I haven't figured out how to use Nook Video yet with my  television.

I try to suport Indies by buying regularly from Powell's.

"To listen to Gerelyn and Crystal, you'd think Amazon was a philanthropic organization.”

Hi, Matthew:  Exaggerating what others have said does not buttress your case against Amazon.  If anything, it undermines it.  

“It ain't, believe me. Or rather, don't believe me; read this.”  

I did.  Thanks.  Not sure why you recommend it, though.  It further undercuts your case against Amazon.  It points out, e.g., that while Amazon was growing, the old-fashioned gatekeepers could have done exactly the same thing the “skinny” guy was doing.  

Amazing the contempt for customers the haters of Amazon quoted in the article show, including those who live in “Podunk” towns with no bookstores.  And the contempt extends, of course, to Amazon’s managers:  “The vast majority fall within the same personality type—people who graduate at the top of their class at M.I.T. and have no idea what to say to a woman in a bar.”


“As George Packer concludes, the only way for the publishers to save  themselves from Amazon's death grip is for them to dump Amazon and sell their books directly to readers on their own websites. Otherwise the extortion will continue.”

Yes, they could have done that from the start, Matthew, but they preferred to cling to their buggy whips and their quill pens. 

Packer also says, “Amazon did not raise retail prices; it simply squeezed its suppliers harder, much as Walmart had done with manufacturers.”


Does anyone think the publishing conglomerates do not squeeze book sellers? The space in even the biggest stores is limited.  Who decides which books get the best placement and the longest stay on the shelves?  Etc.  To defend the publishing conglomerates while gnashing teeth at Amazon is fatuous.  


I like Packer's last paragraph, too.    ". . . Bezos is right: gatekeepers are inherently élitist, and some of them have been weakened, in no small part, because of their complacency and short-term thinking. But gatekeepers are also barriers against the complete commercialization of ideas, allowing new talent the time to develop and learn to tell difficult truths. When the last gatekeeper but one is gone, will Amazon care whether a book is any good?"


Hahahaha!  The big five/six are all about "allowing new talent the time to develop."  Sure they are.   And they're all about protecting us from "the complete commercialization of ideas."  (That's why a full-page ad for Clive Cussler's latest "difficult truths" is glaring at me from the back page of the NYT Arts section this morning.)  


It's less than $10 at, and usually ships within 24 hours.  And can be downloaded to a Nook, which I own and like and maybe even mildly love, also for less than $10.  And I have a child who graduates in a couple of weeks.  Thanks for the tip!

The power-play involved in delaying book delivery to punish publishers certainly has the potential to backfire on Amazon. One of their drawing cards is fast service (and free delivery over a certain purchase total). Once it begins to be the case that you're waiting week after week for a book -- any book -- customers are going to go elsewhere. Customer loyalty does not mean that customers won't get fed up.

I don't know about anybody else here, but when I order a book from a retailer and it doesn't come, I blame the retailer. 

Amazon has virtues. Their guarantee is very good, and I've used it -- in my experience, they live up to their promises. Their customer service is prompt and courteous and efficient. You don't get that everywhere. I appreciate the ease with which their website is used; I don't find Barnes & Noble or other booksellers as user-friendly. The "look inside," the music samples, the customer reviews, and other apparatus allow me to make better decisions about what to buy. These are all the result of smart choices, which reflect well on the company. 

That said, they have no business putting the squeeze on publishers. That needs to be called out, and it has. To me, it looks like extortion, blackmail. There ought to be a law (if there isn't one already) against such practices wherever they occur. Our legal system cannot instill ethics. But it can protect businesses, and it does so all the time. If Amazon practices extortion, there should be legal redress and ways to rein them in. A boycott calls attention to the problem, but the long-term solution probably does lie with the courts. 

Aware that I'm fortunate to be able to do so, I keep trying to be more careful about making consumer decisions that are motivated not just by thrift but by supporting the kind of economy I want to live in. (Although thrift as in thrift stores -- that is, buying secondhand instead of new -- can be a big part of that.) One of the things I like about where I live now is the cluster of locally owned businesses I can walk to: grocery store, drug store, bakery, coffee shop, gift shops, etc. It's not just convenient to have those things; it also makes for a pleasant, safe and family-friendly town center, summer jobs for teenagers, a place to go with the baby stroller, etc. And I know that if I like having those things around, I need to support them -- which means being willing to pay a little more at the drugstore for something I know I could get cheaper if I drove to a chain or cheaper still if I ordered it online.

That's not to say that I never order anything online. Quite the contrary. But I'm much more aware of the invisible costs of prizing convenience above all than I was back when and online shopping in general was new and shiny and miraculous.

Books are a slightly harder case. I really want to "support my local independent bookstore," as the slogan goes. But they can only stock so much, and what they stock (usually new releases and best sellers) is very often not what I'm looking for. I always check there first, and am almost always disappointed. (Plus they don't ever seem happy to see people in their store -- they're not as unpleasant as the personnel Jean Raber describes, but they're not friendly either, which does away with the warm fuzzies I'm supposed to get from shopping there.) So, while I still go out of my way to buy things like stationery at the local indie bookshop, I have come to see the nearby Barnes and Noble as a good compromise when I need a specific title, or a wide range to choose from. Nowadays they certainly pass the "what kind of community do I want to live in" test. (And, books are one of the things I most often buy secondhand. I love a good used-book sale.)

The clerks (we we allowed to call them that?) at our local bookstores aren't exactly bubbly personalities or glad-handers.  They're sort of bookish and nerdy, kind of how I expect most of us are who hang out here :-).   I always find it a little bit disconcerting when one of them quietly gushes over a book I'm purchasing (or, in the case of the pubic library, checking out).  I think they work where they work in part because they love books and would rather be surrounded by them than scanning deodorant and cleaning supplies at the Target checkout aisle.


[Digressing further/]

@ Jim Pauwels:

"I think they work where they work in part because they love books and would rather be surrounded by them than scanning deodorant and cleaning supplies at the Target checkout aisle."

I would also bet that they work there because, as Mollie W. O'R noted above, they are fortunate to be able to do so, and that if they too could afford to do so, those who work "at the Target checkout aisle" would also choose a job that they love.

Which, incidentally, reminds me of that saccharine movie, You've Got Mail, where this female protagonist runs a small independent bookstore but somehow lives alone(!) in this fancy apartment in NY.

[/End digression]





I too love Amazon, because it's cheap and convenient.

Poor as I currently am with limited resources, I cannot always afford to make decisions that are morally, ethically and otherwise just and right.

But then, as a wise friend once said, the right thing for anyone to do in any circumstance is never more than what he or she can do.

I do think it's important to be aware of the problems, which I try to be, so there's also that. 

As an aside, how and why in the world did the phrase "independent bookstore" in my previous post get linked to Wiki????


A very interesting piece from Salon, posted one week ago, offers some helpful input into the conversation about its tactics with publishers:

Those interested boycotting Amazon will find this paragraph especially helpful:

"The surprising thing about the change I made is that it wasn’t that difficult. I once more patronize local book stores, which are far more enjoyable to browse. I’ve bought e-books for my iPad from four different non-Amazon vendors (Apple, Google, Barnes and Noble and Kobo), easy as pie, and I buy used print books from AbeBooks and I subscribe to Oyster, a new Netflix-for-books service. I also belong to, a site that, for a small fee, enables its members to trade in their used books for credits that can be redeemed for the used books of other members. In fact, books have been the easiest thing to shop for since I made it my policy to avoid Amazon."



“The American Businessman’s Ten Steps to Product Development” according to George Carlin (God rest his soul): Can I cut corners in the design? Can it be shoddily built? Can I use cheap materials? Will it create hazards for my workers? Will it harm the environment? Can I evade the safety laws? Will children die from it? Can I overprice it? Can it be falsely advertised? Will it force smaller competitors out of business? Excellent.  Let’s get busy.


While Amazon is mainly a supplier (not a producer), it wants to be the biggest supplier, the biggest e-tail warehouse on the planet. As consumers (addicts?) we want an abundant and affordable supply, and we want it now with free delivery.

Many books (hardcopy or ebook), DVDs and CDs .... new and used ... are available at a deep discount (I've paid as little as 1 cent for an admittedly dogeared mass market p/b) via  I have never once gotten stung on a used CD or DVD, either.  The site is easy to navigate and you can search via title, author,ISBN or keyword) for books.  Music:  via album, artist or upc.  Movies:  title, author, director, upc, DVD or VHS. is a clearing house for many sites (Amazon, B&N, Al Libris, etc) which, in turn funnel independent sellers through their channel.  Many non-profits (Goodwill, Sally Anns, etc) sell this way.

I have used addall for many years now (Crystal ... definitely look into it) and which Amazon is extremely competitive, it is not alway the only nor cheapest site from which to buy.

Used and used, but the sellers are pretty good at describing the condition (acceptable, good, like new) before you buy.

You do, of course pay a shipping charge (usually -- but sometimes less -- $3.99).

It is not necessary to be a slave to the big box behemoths when there is a lot of competition available, and all in one source.

That s/b "used is used"


Thanks for highlighting the book AND the problem. (I'm Bill's co-author) Thanks Jim Pauwels for the heads up on the B&N discount.

Think I'll head over to B&N to buy yours now Paul. :)


For what it's worth. I order all the books I can't find at my non-existant local bookstore from Alibris. It's a network of independent bookstores with very deep shelves. I've long been put off by Amazon's market dominance and was even more disturbed when I read the New Yorker article. 

I think there are actually some serious Catholic, Incarnational questions to ponder in our march to ever more digital lives. I think Grant kind of alluded to these. 

As for Commonweal articles being sold on Amazon, I too found that articles I've written for other publications are resold on Amazon and at other services. I never gave any consent for this and I never get paid for them. I don't like it.

Interesting discussion. Does Amazon have monopoly power? Not yet, but it may at some point. Unless someone sets up a competing service of course.  Amazon provides a valuable service for millions of people, as Crystal has noted.

I have always shopped at B&N online since I am a member. The independent book stores disappeared years ago in my suburban area and I love to go to the B&N store to browse. They have Starbucks, tables and chairs scattered everywhere, and free WiFi.  It's real easy to stay a while, discover a previously unknown book, browse for a while, and end up buying it.  They also have a huge selection of current magazines and journals, many from overseas. I buy books from them online also, although a clerk there told me that their retail stores too will also disappear if people don't support the real store instead of just the virtual store. The discounted prices online for members is about the same as Amazon. I only shop Amazon for books if I can't find one at B&N because I never acquired the Amazon habit for shopping in general. 

I prefer real books, but I do check out ebooks from the library and read them on my tablet (android).  B&N has a Nook store that has a link for free reading apps which leads to links for Google Play, iTunes and Windows something or other where you can get free apps for reading on Android and other devices. So you don't have to buy either a Kindle or a Nook reader if you have another device already.  I have never bought an ebook though, only read free books from the library system.  The B&N site, like Amazon, also has thousands of free books available, mostly classics of varying quality as far as scanning goes.  

My local library system has periodical and reference databases that I can use remotely from my computer at home.  One includes a huge range of periodicals, including Commonweal.  Until I broke down and took out a subscription, I used to read "premium" articles in old issues (usually about a one month lag before new issues are available) via the library portal to the periodical data base.

I think there are actually some serious Catholic, Incarnational questions to ponder in our march to ever more digital lives. 

This could be a great topic for a new post here.  I recently transitioned from a working-mostly-from-home-but-occasionally-in-the-office to working-completely-from-home.  We're so digital now that I don't actually need to see (or touch or smell, but I do still hear, over the computer and the telephone) my co-workers, much less customers, vendors and other "outsiders".  The only person I see during my workday is the mailman, and he's probably a vanishing breed, too.


(Barry Hurdock:   Amazon owns AbeBooks.)


Re: Eileen Markey's comment that triggered my previous comment: my employer would love me even more if I would cease and desist from the anachronistic habit of going to the drug store (a term which I still use, and was pleased to see Mollie using) rather than getting my "maintenance med" prescriptions ordered online, a la the Amazon model.  It turns out that professions like pharmacist and nurse, which traditionally have been very face-to-face-contact-intensive, also are being transformed into the cubicle-beehive culture.  Or maybe that's a couple of decades old, too, and like me, they're now working in their basements.


About boycotting.  I'm all for it when I feel it supports ethics.  I boycitt products from China.  If you want a real boycotting challenge, try boycoting China .... their products are so cheap and ubiquitous.  But given they way they treat prisoners, the way they treat animals, the way they treat the Catholic Church there, the way they pollute the environment there, their actions with Tibet, etc., I think they are worth boycotting.  But I'm sure boycotting Amazon is much more fun.

The Freshman Survival Guide (paper) is available at B&N for ~$5.00 with "usually ships within 24 hours".  Amazon is charging ~$15 if they fulfill the order, with 2-4 week shipping, but Amazon also provides links to 47 other sellers with new copies from various sellers who are averaging ~$5.00 also and faster shipping.

Interesting that Apple and the Book publishers were caught breaking the law when they undercut Amazon. Second, so far Amazon has been very good for the consumer. Third, as we all know this is not the first time that Amazon has tried to influence publishers. But now it being given max publicity. So it is hard to fault Amazon when it has been more consumer friendly than all those bullies they bullied. Whatever we want to say about it Amazon has shown more respect for the consumer. Better than Microsoft and Apple. Certainly pubishers are not primarily concerned about quality. Witness the terrible memoirs they pay 8 figures for only because the subjects are famous. 

Remembered Amazon beat up some barracudas. These were not Sunday School teachers. 

If we really want to go after people who make sick money with little service we should go after the hedgefunds who for the most part ruthlessly make money without any real service to anyone. 

"Who's Wearing the Black Hat, Amazon or the Book Publishers?" ...

"It is worth remembering the background to this dispute. In mid-2012 the U.S. Department of Justice was preparing a suit against five publishers, including Hachette, for colluding with Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) in a price-fixing scheme that the publishers and Apple called an “agency” model for book selling. Under the model, first negotiated in 2010 between publishers and the late Steve Jobs, the publishers would set the retail price for e-books and Apple would take a straight 30% cut. The deal also included a requirement that none of the publishers sell e-books to any other company at a price lower than the publishers charged Apple.

Amazon had always operated under the “wholesale” model, under which the online retailer would negotiate a wholesale price with the publishers and then sell the book at whatever discount price Amazon wanted. The publishers believed that such discounting would lead to a severe loss of revenue, in much the same way that Apple had chopped the revenue of the music companies.

The publishers hated the wholesale model because Amazon charged just $9.99 for an e-book. In the deal with Apple, publishers set the retail price at as much as $14.99 ...."



Nobody has mentioned  Bookfinder yet.  It seems to be the largest of all, including prices from all the big online stores and indies, both in the U.S. and England.  I use it especially for out of print books.  Slate called it "the Google of dead books".


And, Jean, it has textbooks. Used Books, Out of Print Books, Textbooks, Rare Books, New Books


Thanks for the addALL site, Jim P.  Seems to have some better prices than Bookfinder, but not the tremendous selection.

Some good tips on here about alternative places to buy books.

I unloaded a lot of "physical" books on BookMooch. You agree to send someone a book you don't want for free, then you get a point you can "spend" on a book you do want that someone else wants to unload. I sent all books strictly domestically and via media mail, so it cost me a few bucks in postage. It was kind of touching, really. Many people put little cards in the book telling me how much they loved the book and hoped I would too, or would send homemade book marks. I had a nice correspondence going with four or five people for awhile. We exchanged Xmas cards.

Anyhoo, after I decided to get rid of the book clutter (in my half of the house, anyway) and digitize my library, I ended up with a bunch of excess BookMooch points and donated these to a prison book charity. 

I don't know why anyone has to love love love or hate hate hate Amazon or revile people who aren't one or the other. They're a big business. They're going to screw the "little people" and play hardball. Plus Bezos strikes me as a big goof. OTOH, I have never had anything but positive experiences with Amazon, though I haven't succumbed to the blandishments like Prime service; it just wouldn't be feasible for a low-income person like me. 

I enjoy going to the indie shop in the Big City three or four times a year for an overpriced latte and to check out the second hand and sale bins. The people there are nice. Smart, too. I took their employment test one time because I heard it was a bear. It was harder than the GRE in lit.


One of my favorite bookstores from when I could see better ... Powell's in Portland, Oregon.  It was (is) huge, but with a great used book section and a cafe  :) ... and the bookstores in Berkeley like Moe's and Shakespeare's were nice too.

Folks, I just think you should pat yourselves on the back for actually legally purchasing your books, even if from Amazon. I'm in awe.

This from another list:

"As you debate this I wonder if you understand a basic thing about this Hatchette v Amazon negotiation. It was mandated by the US Justice system. It's part of the fall out from the Apple/Publisher/AgencyModel collusion lawsuit. Each of the big five have been mandated, in staggered fashion, to renegotiate their contracts with the major booksellers. This isn't 'big bad Amazon' picking on little old Hatchette."


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.


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