I’m a regular viewer of the Austrian TV program Kulturmontag (Cultural Monday), though I watch the 3sat repeat entitled lebensart (Way of Life), probably because the repeat is broadcast on a Saturday rather than Monday.
But whatever the title, Kulturmontag/lebensart is a mix of reports about cultural topics. And the latest edition included a report about Amazon. The occasion is the publication of the German edition of The Everything Store by Brad Stone, but the report is the by now all too familiar anti-Amazon diatribe that Passive Guy tends to subsume under the heading “Amazon derangement syndrome”.
BTW, I wanted to link to the video of the report, but unfortunately the ORF Mediathek blocks it and the 3sat Mediathek doesn’t even have it. So here is a summary from the Kulturmontag website instead. BTW, the link to the German edition of the Brad Stone book goes to the publisher’s website and not to Amazon, so at least they’re consequent.
There are the familiar complaints about bad working conditions, we get a few soundbites from the Brad Stone book, there are complaints that Amazon is killing off local bookstores due to underpricing (which won’t work, because most European countries including Germany and Austria, have a fixed book price law), there is a shout-out to German writer Sibylle Lewitscharoff who wrote an essay entitled “Why I hate Amazon” (though she spends most of the essay talking about books she loves, before she talks about hating Amazon for the usual reasons) and a few soundbites by German non-fiction writer and undercover journalist Günter Wallraff, who also hates Amazon and the Kindle and fears that Amazon is tracking his reading habits on behalf of the NSA. Both Günter Wallraff’s and Sibylle Lewitscharoff’s books are available at Amazon BTW, though Günter Wallraff does not have an Author Central page.
In short, it’s anti-Amazon rhetoric as usual, laced with a dose of xenophobia, since for some reason none of the German or Austrian Amazon haters ever complain about the traditional mail order retailers whose working conditions weren’t/aren’t exactly stellar either. Nor do the low wages and bad working conditions in certain supermarket chains get a lot of press, even though employees there earn less than Amazon warehouse employees. But those are German companies. Amazon is not.
Now I’m not an uncritical Amazon fangirl at all. I do continue to patronise local brick and mortar bookstores in addition to Amazon and I have an account at German Amazon competitor Thalia.de as well. However, what people like Sibylle Lewitscharoff or Günter Wallraff or the authors of that Kulturmontag/lebensart report forget is that as someone who primarily reads English language genre fiction and not just the biggest bestsellers either, I was never very well served by the wonderfully varied German and Austrian bookselling landscape (scroll down to the comments for other German readers of English language fiction reporting their experiences).
Neither am I “lazy” for ordering at Amazon (a frequent charge in reports such as this one), it’s simply the only way for me to get the books I want to read. Before Amazon came to town, English language books had to be special-ordered at the store, took weeks to months to arrive and were horribly overpriced due to distributors inflating the prices. A standard US mass market paperback now costs me as much as it did when I started buying them in the late 1980s, even though the US-dollar cover prices have almost doubled in the same period. Part of this is due to exchange rate fluctuations, but the biggest reason is that the price hike due to the distributors. Prices for English language mass market paperbacks in German brick and mortar stores have come down by now, but the selection is still very limited. And Thalia.de isn’t really an alternative – at least not for English language books – as this comparison shows.