Art Kavanagh

Criticism, fiction and other writing

Living without Amazon

It’s now two years since I ordered anything from Amazon and about one year since I noticed that I’d stopped buying things from the retail behemoth: I had drifted into an unplanned boycott. I followed that up, four months ago, by deleting my account. My 20-year relationship with the company was finally, definitively over. I had once been an enthusiastic customer. When I lived in France, Amazon was my way of getting CDs and English language books without paying way over the odds. To some extent Amazon was an integral part of my life. Surely removing it would not be a straightforward exercise. It would require some sacrifices.

Just to be clear, while I no longer buy anything directly from Amazon or via their Marketplace, and I don’t use any of their services, such as KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing), I don’t avoid websites or services that are hosted on AWS, EC2, S3 etc. That clearly wouldn’t be practical, given how many major sites depend on Amazon hosting. The way I see it, it’s up to those companies to choose their own suppliers, and I don’t have either the responsibility or the economic clout to try to steer them away from Amazon.

As to the supposed sacrifices that need to be made if one is to live without Amazon, well, I hardly notice them. Dublin is, fortunately, still well supplied with bookshops, for both new and secondhand books. When I can’t find what I want locally, I order it via Alibris. I still like to own albums but in the last few years I’ve been downloading these from iTunes rather than buying and ripping actual CDs, which in the past I’d have ordered from Amazon. (This is not wholly satisfactory, as the metadata associated with jazz downloads tends to be frustratingly slapdash and inconsistent, but I’ll hold that rant for another post.)

Other things I had bought from Amazon over the years include 3 Aeropresses (and, before I discovered the Aeropress, at least one espresso coffee maker), a sandwich toaster and other kitchen appliances, two bicycles and three Sony Walkman audio players. (Also, about 15 years ago, a tv and a digital camera.) All of these can easily be bought/replaced elsewhere. They will usually be a bit more expensive than they would have been on Amazon, but it’s still possible to find deals and anyway I’ve decided to treat the higher prices as a welcome deterrent to overpurchasing. The one item that has caused me some difficulty is the stainless steel mesh filter for an Aeropress. I found one supplier in the UK which has its own website with a shopping cart, but would deliver to Ireland only if I placed the order through Amazon Marketplace! It took a bit of Googling but I eventually discovered a supplier from whom I can order direct.

I was never a fan of the Kindle. Even when I was reading more ebooks than printed ones, I greatly preferred Apple Books (previously iBooks) to Amazon’s offering. When I deleted my Amazon account, I lost access to a handful of ebooks that I might have liked to reread (as well as to several more that I was glad to see the back of). I’m more convinced than ever that a dedicated ebook app or device adds nothing to the reader’s experience: these devices and apps exist to benefit the publisher (by making it possible to add DRM) or the seller (by locking readers into a particular ereading ecosystem). In practice, the “seller” who benefits is nearly always Amazon, as it dominates the ebook market. There’s no good reason why books shouldn’t be published online, to be read in any web browser, as is shown by Manton Reece’s decision to publish his book Indie Microblogging in that way.

It’s not my aim to try to convince you that Amazon is one of the most predatory companies in existence. You can weigh the evidence and judge for yourself. All I want to do, for now, is to persuade you that you could survive without Amazon: all you need is the ability to put up with some barely noticeable inconvenience.

Posted by Art on 26-Nov-2019.