4 December 2013

Free-Range Booksellers

Posted by Megan Marsh

Amazon was looking sinister enough before the drones. Its inexorable rise has made it the subject of increasing scrutiny: Deborah Friedell's review of The Everything Store in the latest edition of the London Review of Books gives a fairly chilling account of the ruthless business strategies the company used to propel itself to the top of the retail food-chain. This week's decision to unveil its robot army pushes it over the edge into fully-fledged cartoon villain territory.

Even if drones don't give you a touch of the heebie-jeebies (and they should - I remain unconvinced by Dave Eggers's vision of the future in The Circle, but the drone chase scene is beginning to look uncomfortably prescient), they encourage our tendency to view our dealings with Amazon as automated, streamlined and labour-free. Add to basket - click - proceed to check-out - click - and your book is on its way. For those working a low-paid job inside one of Amazon's innumerable warehouses, this couldn't be further from the truth. In 2012, Mac McClelland exposed the draconian working conditions such warehouse workers face in her article for Mother Jones, 'I Was a Warehouse Wage Slave'. And just last week the BBC published its own investigation into conditions in Amazon's UK warehouses, which found workers subjected to ten and a half hour shifts, forced to work at a backbreaking pace in order to meet unfeasible targets. Their undercover reporter Adam Littler summarised: "We are machines, we are robots, we plug our scanner in, we're holding it, but we might as well be plugging it into ourselves."

To buy a pack of ten eggs from free-range chickens costs £2.05 more than a pack of 'everyday' eggs at Tesco. To buy a copy of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? from free-range booksellers at the London Review Bookshop, Daunt Books or your local independent bookshop costs £2.40 more than it would from Amazon. Tesco markets their free-range eggs as 'Happy Eggs'; 'Happy Books' sound pretty awful, but I can vouch for our happy booksellers. Come to see us in our natural habitat, gliding between the bookshelves, keeping a hungry eye out for what we're going to read next. Our recommendations could not be further from algorithm. And if you want us to post your books to you, they'll be delivered by postman.