The news that Amazon UK’s turnover has increased by 39% yet their tax bill has reduced from £7.4m in 2016 to just £1.7m last year is really quite disturbing.
It’s not up to me to tell anyone where to shop. But we should remember how we each have a choice. And as Christians it's important we think through these decisions.
The evidence is mounting up that Amazon, in their pursuit of mammon, has neglected what is really important in life.
Amazon claims that they have legitimately reduced their tax bill through increasing shares paid to staff, but while they adhere to the letter of the tax laws, surely the spirit by which they operate now requires careful scrutiny.
I run a small publishing company. In order to trade with Amazon we have to give them a 60% discount. There’s no negotiation on that if we want to sell our books on their so-called 'advantage' program.
So from the £4 we get back from a book they sell for £9.99, we have to pay all our costs, which includes cover design, editing, proof reading and type-setting plus the cost of distribution. Amazon now have 12 warehouses so whereas a few years ago you would send multiple copies of a title to just a few of them they now often order single copies for each warehouse – each costing publishers the standard £1.50 second class postage. There is little left over for either publisher or author royalty! Oh and I forgot to mention the extra 1.8% discount we have to give them just to be paid within 30 days!
Every time we click ‘checkout’ on Amazon we are complicit in their growth and the subsequent decline of the high street
And what of the impact on Christian bookshops or indeed the high street stores generally? Bricks and mortar stores are closing in their droves. We have already lost Woolworths, BHS, Toys R Us and the Wesley Owen chain of Christian resource centers. House of Fraser and Debenhams are in trouble and many of the established high street names are reporting declining sales.
Yet Amazon continues to grow. And every time we click ‘checkout’ on their site we are in some way complicit in their growth and the subsequent decline of the high street and smaller suppliers.
Can we as Christians continue to shop on Amazon with a clear conscience? Have we come too lazy when it comes to shopping because we can get it so easily and quickly through Amazon? Should low price and speed of delivery be our only considerations?
There have been reports of Amazon treating staff like robots and over 600 calls to the ambulance service their UK warehouses in the past three years. Employees reportedly have timed toilet breaks and some were made to do compulsory overtime, meaning they were working a 55-hour week ahead of the Christmas period last year.
A report in the Guardian from May of this year stated pregnant women were "forced to stand for 10 hours a day, pick, stow, stretch and bend, pull heavy carts and walk miles". How many more bad news stories do we need to hear about this company before we take action?
So the question you might be asking is 'why do you continue to sell your books on Amazon?' It's a valid question. The answer is because our authors expect us to be on there and if we are not it means our books would not be visible to those people who only shop there. For us, Amazon is not a source of any serious profit. It is more of a marketing cost than an income stream. Whether we carry on being part of their advantage program or not though is another question - once our books are published Amazon simply buy them from any wholesaler willing to supply them, so it's not really up to us whether they buy from us or not.
But for the consumer, when it comes to Christian resources there are much healthier alternatives to shopping on Amazon. Next time you're after a new title, why not pay your local Christian bookstore a visit?
Malcolm is the director of Malcolm Down and Sarah Grace Publishing, which he established in 2015 following a career as publishing manager at Authentic Media where he oversaw the publication of the Authentic Youth Bible. Malcolm and Sarah won the 2017 CRT small publisher of the year award and have now published over 70 titles.