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Saturday, 16 February 2013

Ethical (Self) Publishing, and Why You Won't Find My Books on Amazon by Dan Holloway



A week or so ago, I removed all my books from Amazon. This post was both the genesis of that act and something that arose from it.

When I was a student in the early 90s it went without saying we didn’t buy Cape bananas. And people of my generation still wince when people hand out Nestle goods.
I’ve just filled out a survey on the future of publishing as the industry sees it. Lots of fascinating scenarios about the development of smart technology, the increase consumer demand for interactivity, an increasingly doughnut-ish business model. But something was missing.

So let’s tie those thoughts up. The food industry has long since demonstrated that consumers demand ethical transparency and leadership and are prepared to walk with their feet when they don’t get it. From Organic to Fairtrade, propping up unacceptable regimes to the treatment of animals to a transparent chain from field to shelf, consumers demand ethical leadership from business. More recently, our collective purses have been turned against the fashion industry, demanding it clean its act up – from the use of sweatshops to promoting body dysmorphia.

Furthermore, a parallel strand has emerged in consumer consciousness – a perception that local is good, independent trumps corporate. There are many reasons for this, and I have to say I find them both good (reduction of food miles, transparent supply chains, more direct payment of the grass roots producer) to the not so good (celebrating fabulous local produce is great, converting that to a sense of geographic superiority very much not so).

The strands are coming together now. From here we can see, on the one hand the publishing industry’s head in the sand attitude to ethics. On the other, we make out on the horizon the independent parts of the publishing industry, from local bookstores through to self-publishers.

To complete the circle, I want to make the following two points – independent does not equate to ethical; and self-publishers should be leading the way in ethical differentiation.

Just as in other areas (take the “demise of the high street”), there’s a tendency to equate independent and ethical per se. But that’s not always the case. Small businesses are exempt from many of the laws that protect workers in bigger organisations, and whilst business owners are free to bring working conditions up to scratch, frequently they don’t. It’s important for consumers to decide what they mean when they demand ethical retail, and it’s important for businesses to make clear just where they stand when they claim to provide it. And self-publishers, who are as free from the dictates of centrally-driven policy in this respect as they are when it comes to plot structure, can lead the way in the latter and carve an invaluable niche for themselves, for customers, and for the wider world. And yet we don’t often do enough (with notable exceptions – the number of writers from all genres who came out in protest when Smashwords started removing certain types of erotica to meet Paypal’s moralising demands was both wonderfully heartening, and enough to prompt Smashwords to negotiate a U-turn from Paypal).

So, enough of the rhetoric and the context and on to what really matters. What would an ethical self-publisher look like? And on a wider scale, what does ethical publishing mean? What can we bring to consumers so they can get behind us with confidence? Well, that will mean different things to different people. I spoke to a careers advisor recently saying I wanted a job within an ethical organisation – she said straightaway “what does ethical mean to you?” and she’s right, it means different things to different people. Which is why it’s important not to make assumptions, and why the stall one of us sets out shouldn’t be taken as definitive. But I do believe there’s a really important chance for us as self-publishers to set out *a* stall, to lead the way on the issue of ethical publishing, to do there what we do with genre-bending and prove the existence of public desire.

I want to outline some basic areas that could come under the ethical umbrella, where we have the choice to make a difference in what we offer. And whilst it’s possible to confine ourselves to one or a few of these areas, I want to plead in the strongest possible terms that the key to a truly ethical business is consistency, having your values written through you like writing in a stick of rock. As a perceptive commenter said when I was discussing this on Facebook, if you don’t do that “it’s just PR.” So this isn’t meant as either a pick and choose buffet or exhaustive, but as a set of general principles that are 1. Fairly easy to turn into specific practices if you apply yourself and 2. Designed to get you thinking about your own.

And I’m certainly not claiming to be an ethical self-publisher yet. What I can say is that it’s been on the back burner too long and is now on the front burner – hence the books coming down from Amazon as a starting point. I’m starting to make them available as pdfs that are available as free downloads but for which I am hoping people who enjoy them and are able to do so will pay something through Paypal (to songsfromtheothersideofthewall@googlemail.com) that reflects what they think of the value of my writing.
 (click the image or HERE to download the free pdf of my new book i cannot bring myself to look at walls in case you have graffitied them with love poetry and then consider making a donation if you can affrod it and think it's any good)


Non-exploitation
  • Of people. This goes back to those businesses that pay pittances, or source from places where working practices are such you wouldn’t want them public. And it’s one of the key areas for publishers who are dealing with writers. But also for self-publishers. We in turn deal with others – who produce our covers or do our editing. I’ve known self-publishers who speak out stridently against writers who give their work away for free and then advise others where to find cover artists who are prepared to work for nothing.
  • of the environment - from the basic carbon footprint of the final product to the sourcing of non-toxic inks, this is something we can act on. Those of us who do a lot digitally like to think yippee about our carbon footprint, but of course it’s not that simple and before we claim the upper hand we need to go into some serious detail about the real footprint of the electronics industry, and other issues, such as just where the metals used in e-reading devices come from.

Transparency
When I talked to writers, this was far and away the most important issue. Which isn’t surprising – publishers have a very bad record when it comes to clear contracts, clarity on rights issues, and easily understandable royalty statements. But transparency is one of those first level principles that colours everything else we do. How we apply the principle is something we each need to think about as self-publishers, but I would suggest it’s the one principle we really can’t get away from.

Social impact and inclusion
This is one of the biggest for me, possibly because I often feel it’s one that gets most neglected. It includes everything dealing only with those businesses who share certain principles (and keeping things in house where this is not possible rather than compromising) to thinking about access to technology when you produce digital works. It’s the former of these that made me pull my books from Amazon – I can’t in good conscience claim to be a socialist and yet do the overwhelming majority of my creative dissemination through a business that seeks to minimise its tax burden.

Offsetting, education, and empowerment
Digital publishing is democratising and empowering but an increasingly digital world can widen as well as narrow divides where there is no access to technology or, often as important, to the non-physical resource (education and spare time) to use it - I am very much drawn to the idea, therefore, of writers hiving off digital from physical and directing income from it directly to projects that lessen the digital divide either directly, such as by providing laptops in schools or wifi in remote areas; or indirectly - such as educating people how to use technology or providing basic humanitarian needs such as clean water so as to increase the time people have for using technology and communicating their voice.

Sustainability
Not just environmental but artistic. Ultimately I like the idea of nurturing voices in the long term by providing authors with a salary for a minimum period so they can develop - but that's a long long way in the future. This also means that I am not (a common misconception) against writers and artists being paid. Far from it – my objection is to price barriers being put between those who cannot afford it and art, and thus creating a world in which culture and knowledge are for only that portion with the means to afford it. Which possibly means writers and artists being paid more indirectly. The model I am starting to use at the moment is free pdf downloads, with people able – and encouraged if they can afford it – to pay once they have finished the book based on how much they value the thought of my being able to carry on producing art. Which means some could contribute a few pence, others hundreds of pounds, and the vast majority probably nothing.I've recently had some fascinating conversations with people who advocate some much more elaborate models - more on those to follow.

So, over to you - what does ethical self-publishing mean to you as a reader/writer, and what can you do to lead the way?

42 comments:

JJ Toner said...

Did you explain why you removed your stuff from amazon? Maybe I missed it.

Dennis Hamley said...

Fascinating post, Dan. I know that everything you say in it is absolutely right. But it gave me an immediate ethical problem which I'd like your views on. Yes, I know that my books shouldn't be on Amazon, nor really should I be their book-buying customer. I should buy my books from Waterstones. No I shouldn't: that begs another ethical question. Inependent bookshops? What about the independent bookshop just up the road? Well, I go there as little as possible (though
that's a personal thing: when I arrived in Oxford I introduced myself to them and they gave me a complete bum's rush. Whether that was ignorance or a considered critical judgement I'll never know but I still hold the grudge). Blackwell's? At this rate, the only place left to me is the Albion. (No bad thing probably).

BUT: because I'm in the happy position of being able to, I support, with monthly standing order:
Amnesty International
Wateraid
Oxfam
Unicef
Macmillan Hospice
RNIB
NSPCC (do these three count as ethical or personal insurance policies?)

and a few more I'll have to bump up my bank statement to remember.

Do these absolve me sufficiently from guilt about using Amazon? I like your pdf idea but I'm not sure it would help my sort of books very much, which is a distinctly unethical thing to say because I'm only thinking of my own convenience.

I think my dilemma is summed up by a couple of vests I bought recently. They were good quality and in them was printed, boldly and assertively so nobody could miss it, MADE IN BANGLADESH. Now, was I encouraging sweatshops? Or supporting a fairtrade-style local industry? Or perhaps it was a cynical manufacturer's plot to make me think I was? I plumped for the fairtrade alternative but I suspect I might have been wrong. But they are very nice vests.

Starbucks, I note as I walk past it, seems as full as ever. So there's a long way to go!

Letitia Coyne said...

I wish I shared your confidence that consumers have power in our transactions. Perhaps being a few decades older has made me a cynic. I fear we make a loud noise for a few minutes and business stares at their feet shamefaced for a few less, then pretends to look at alternatives, and then the whole thing becomes a bit boring and old - which leaves the 1% to their own devices, having learned the politically correct responses to criticism.

None of which takes away from your proposition.

Traditional transparency has been clouded as a way to perpetuate the ‘dream’. If authors knew how small first time authors’ print runs would be and what a tiny percentage of their cover price they would see, they might baulk. Instead JKR and ELJ are held up as models. “Child, you can be whatever you want to be in this best of all possible worlds if you just work that bit harder than everyone else. Trust me.” But I see this same conspiracy of silence and ‘act as if’ in the independent world. Act as if your book is a best seller, it’s a sure way to make others think they need to read it. Buy fake reviews; fill them in yourself; get your face seen on the biggest billboards about [Amazon, in particular].

I have been advocating individual shop fronts for small presses for a while and I think it is on the cards for 1889 Labs, all being well. The trick then is how to bring a widespread audience to the site. You see, in the independent writing world we all deal more with writers than with readers. Not quite hermetically sealed, but we are not out on the street where the readers are wandering aimlessly.

Given the acceptance of these ethical guidelines by most thinking publishers, how do you see the drawing in of a larger readership to the smaller vendors?

Lydia Bennet said...

Interesting, Dan. I am part of a huge newly published poetry anthology against govt policy and austerity/cuts: as it was a huge book with a tenner price tag, and we contributors were sent pdf versions, I suggested they sell cheap downloads of the pdf to people who couldn't or wouldn't shell out a tenner.I've wondered about this pdf idea for books and esp for poettry but surely there are problems? yes they can be read on the pc or whateves which is stressful on the eyes, but the only way to read them on an e-reader is to send to your amazon email addy and get it sent to your kindle - which brings us back to amazon, anf I'm sure if they suspected people were using this facility with downloads bought elsewhere they'd be on it pretty sharpish. Do other e-readers have a similar facility? are you eschewing ereaders as well? Just wondered how far this goes and how it works. Good luck with your stance, but I do feel you are entitled to charge for your books, even if it's a quid.

Letitia Coyne said...

Lydia, did you know that the kindle can be plugged into the usb and any pdf files downloaded to your computer can be put straight into its documents file. It reads them perfectly. I'm not sure about others, but I thought if kindles could do it, any could.

Lxx

Lydia Bennet said...

thanks, yes I know, but only in theory Letitia, I found when I dragged and dropped, it wasn't readable at all, I could only see a teeny piece of the page, which is why I use the amazon email service to format documents word or pdf for my kindle. I'm interested to hear that you can read pdfs transferred in this way. I might have another go! xx

Dan Holloway said...

@JJ - sorry, I thought I had - the problem with long, rambling posts! It's because of the tax avoidance issue

@Lydia - fabulous - I'm part of a big poetry anthology against Atos :) No, I'm absolutely not against ereaders - as you say, the fact they are so friendly on eyes is great and there are many other reasons, not least carbon reduction (with all the caveats given). I'm working on pdfs at the moment but everything will be on smashwords

Dennis - first, these are just my own ideas, and even the concept of ethical publishing (which is bigger at present than ethical self-publishing) is niche - everyone has their own values and their own very good ways of expressing them. as I say, I absolutely don't equate local or independent with ethical - some local businesses are the worst offenders in many ways.

Letitia - yes, I agree but I think often consumers, for very good reasons, don't follow thorugh fully - I've heard so many people bemoan supermarkets ruining the high street - but they all buy from there. And in these straightened times I absoltely can't blame them (though I think those who can afford to spend more DO have an obligation to take the lead). I think it's up to business and producers to take the lead and offer people the choice. The great thing about books is that we can offer people free as well as paid so we can give an ethical choice without being exclusionary if we get our model right so our own suppliers aren't exploited

Dan Holloway said...

@JJ - sorry, I thought I had - the problem with long, rambling posts! It's because of the tax avoidance issue

@Lydia - fabulous - I'm part of a big poetry anthology against Atos :) No, I'm absolutely not against ereaders - as you say, the fact they are so friendly on eyes is great and there are many other reasons, not least carbon reduction (with all the caveats given). I'm working on pdfs at the moment but everything will be on smashwords

Dennis - first, these are just my own ideas, and even the concept of ethical publishing (which is bigger at present than ethical self-publishing) is niche - everyone has their own values and their own very good ways of expressing them. as I say, I absolutely don't equate local or independent with ethical - some local businesses are the worst offenders in many ways.

Letitia - yes, I agree but I think often consumers, for very good reasons, don't follow thorugh fully - I've heard so many people bemoan supermarkets ruining the high street - but they all buy from there. And in these straightened times I absoltely can't blame them (though I think those who can afford to spend more DO have an obligation to take the lead). I think it's up to business and producers to take the lead and offer people the choice. The great thing about books is that we can offer people free as well as paid so we can give an ethical choice without being exclusionary if we get our model right so our own suppliers aren't exploited

Anonymous said...

Dan,

You need to look into open source ereaders as a way to allow people to read your work. I think that if you want to revert fully or partially to a paid model for your work it will provide a mechanism that is free of associations with tax avoiding companies, as well as coming from a software development ethos that fits very well with what you are striving for. http://ostatic.com/blog/three-open-source-e-book-readers-worth-a-look This was the result of a quick google, but I'm sure there will be more to explore. You could even have one made for yourself, branded with your ethical footprint, using the open source software I think. Hm. I'd quite like to be involved in helping you do that. I used to commission software some years ago. Anyway, I think it's the only way I can see how to go back to paid sales and avoid companies who you are not comfortable with.

I applaud your PDF idea, and there are ideas you alluded to regarding the benefits of free distribution I know you chose not to explore here. But it's not something everyone who wants to act ethically will be able to do, or risk. Some SPs and Indies make their living from their sales. I'm sure many would want to enable ethical sales of their work though.

In the longer term if you build up enough traction a group of ethical authors can form the basis of Smashwords type of site, and from that you would have your place in or closer to the mainstream and the whole idea can impact more widely.

I was saying to a friend recently, Dan, that you were a person at the forefront of many things in the world of literature, either as an observer (which includes seeing what others don't) or as a doer. And here you are again. To digress a little, sometimes, very occasionally, I've found it hard to see what you see in some authors, and I've had to consider that's it's the excess of intelligence and compassion in you, seeing meaning and merit where I don't, or perhaps it's the lack of such in me. But even in those cases I see you at the front of the crowd. Keep leading in what you say, think, and do.

Johnam

Letitia Coyne said...

I use pdfs from free sites like obooko and bibliotastic, and always get pdfs from smashwords so I can keep a copy on my comp as well as kindle, and so far have not had any that did not display correctly.

I don't know if there are differences with formatting? I'm ignorant of anything like that. But I have found they all work well, so far.

Lxx

Dan Holloway said...

and yes, Lydia, poetry at the moment is a bugger for ebooks - I find with much of it, pasting jpegs into Word is the only way to format properly, which makes ludicrous file sizes

Susan Price said...

Dan, you're courageous and have a big heart and conscious, but - remember the ten lepers cured by Christ? One thanked him.
I think you'll be lucky to get one in ten who'll pay you anything at all for your free PDFs. Stephen King couldn't make it pay!
But good luck - and report back!

Dan Holloway said...

Johnam,
to take the last point first - I am very aware of the problem - and it's something I constantly try to address, the struggle between inclusivity and championing greatness. And I'm constantly lerning, and trying to differentiate between the importance of all voices being heard because that's important in and of itself and pointing readers to what I think is truly great (and in a genre I understand), which is what I try to do in the works of others I publish, be that at eight cuts gallery or 79 rat press. I'm trying to make the distinctions clearer, because I'm aware that not doing so does a disservice to readers

to take your other points - absolutely I would never "lay down the law" about what people "should" do - that would go against the whole indie ethos. Just trying to start a conversation and get ideas together to set the ball rolling (and on a very practical level help me think what to do for the forthcoming releases at 79 rat press). And yes - open source ereaders!

@Sue - yes, I don't expect people to pay (though I do realise that sustainability includes this). I have lots of ideas in the pipeline, though - I've been talking to an academic who's coming to speak at Oxford Literary Festival who's an advocate of legalising file-sharing - she has some great ideas. Watch this space.

CallyPhillips said...

Hi Dan. This is of course a huge issue. For me, one of the key areas is ethical DISTRIBUTION - I'm thinking we need to break the stages down. Publishing is one aspect but it's harder to get ethical distribution into the mix.

I understand that PDF's can be used on Kindles - but if we're anti Amazon then surely Kindle is not the ereader of choice? So what about epub format? And other ereaders. What about Kobo. They are woeful as a distributor at the moment and I don't know what you will think of their business ethics once investigated but they may provide an alternative (or do Apple/B&N? come any closer?)
If we're looking at business ethics of our distribution partners (which is what's been consuming me for the last 18 months) then we do need to a) investigate closely and work out (each for him/her self) what our 'rules of engagement' are.
And of course the best answer would be to set up an ethical distribution channel - I wonder whether that's something any of the 'big' players would be interested in (though it might just be as token as fairtrade in many orgs!) But I do think that Fairtrade has a lot to teach us in this respect.

And of course its the usual problem, one can't change the world in a day and one is only a small part in the 'revolution' and it's hard to be consistent across all ones ethical principles BUT I think that this is something important and that people should stand up for what they believe in and discuss HOW we could make a better and more ethical publishing environment rather than just say it can't be done or its too difficult. Again, I reference Fairtrade. They don't have all the answers and haven't achieved everything but they are at least doing something not sitting on their hands. So way to go for your bravery in sticking your head above the parapet on this. Let's keep the dialogue going on it because we are looking for ways not to rob ourselves but to offer ALTERNATIVES - which I suggest will mean the creation of alternative distribution networks and markets. But how good would that be: The ETHICAL DISTRIBUTION PLATFORM. Worth some effort!

Dan Holloway said...

Cally, see what Johnam says about open source ereaders. I think you're right, it's something we need to think through in real detail - WISH WISH WISH the big conferences like Digital Book World and all the stuff Futurebook do would devote some serious panel time to discussing this whilst all the players AND the tiny but enthusiastic individuals were present. Maybe I will start lobbying them and sending more on-spec articles their way. In the meanwhile, let's bang heads together soon - and do hold a session on ethical distribution at your conference :)

Anonymous said...

Dan, I knew you weren't laying down the law, or anything like that. I didn't mean to imply you were. It's a great conversation to have. :)
J

Dan Holloway said...

Letitia, on the subject of drawing readers in I'm not sure I see a particular problem - I don't see a publisher setting up just "to be ethical" rather publishers with a fabulous existing USP taking the lead in ethics - they already have that USP to draw readers, the ethical dimension is on top of that, I agree with Cally about taking a lead from Fairtrade - I can certainly see an equivalent to the Fairtrade mark

Anonymous said...

@CallyPhillips

"ETHICAL DISTRIBUTION PLATFORM. Worth some effort!"

I agree.

J

Anonymous said...

what about the zoom? :( pen

Dan Holloway said...

That's still there, fear not! Wouldn't take other people's books down, Penny!

Anonymous said...

yes, but surely it should come down..

Dan Holloway said...

I don't see why :) - I wouldn't dream of imposing things that writers aren't happy with. I'm making a personal choice for my works and looking at what publishers and self-publishers should do - anything that would impact other people would be for future projects (which will be one-offs rather than traditional publishing - publishing made me too ill in the past to do it on a long-term basis) where people know what they're getting into

CS McClellan/Catana said...

I've noticed how frequently people with an axe to grind go on at interminable length and almost always end with some impossible version of ethical purity. I suggest that you either settle for just giving your work away or give your address and request cash in envelopes, since Paypal is no more ethical than Amazon. In fact, the safest thing for you to do is find a pillar out in the desert, shed your (undoubtedly unethically produced) clothes, and spend the rest of your days at the top of the pillar.

Dan Holloway said...

I'm very aware of the problems with Paypal - like I say, this is a starting point for a conversation. I have to say I find it strange when wanting to make the world better makes one an object of scorn or ridicule - yes, I am a Pollyanna, but I'm under no illusions - of course we're not going to make the world a utopia. Does that mean we shouldn't try? That would seem to me a very odd way to approach life, especially as writers, who do something that makes people's lives so much better

Mari Biella said...

Removing your books from Amazon is a brave decision, Dan, and one that would probably raise some eyebrows in certain quarters! I think that whenever we deal with the big boys (Amazon probably being the biggest at the moment, but there are many others) we instantly run into a whole spectrum of potential ethical problems, and these sometimes seem like a set of Russian dolls: you think you've addressed one, and then you instantly run into another. I've no answers or fixed views on this, but I think it's great that we should at least be having this conversation.

Perhaps one possible solution would be for groups of likeminded indie authors to set up their own retail sites? I'm not sure whether this would be possible in practice, and they could never hope to have anything like the clout of Amazon, but they could provide the possibility of at least trying to cover all ethical bases.

Jan Needle said...

big subject ethics, ja? lucy mangan in the gurauniad today says amazon are about to start selling 'our' ebooks 'second hand', with the author presumably getting nowt. meanwhile - paypal and ethics? are you avvin a larf? and - also in the guardian today, lovely old danone are apparently deep into selling formula baby milk in indonesia, where most of the targets don't have access to clean water. amazon don't pay enough tax, we bleat. and whose fault is that, at bottom? i thought we had a government...

it's all down to who gets what cut, i'm afraid. at least amazon pay a damn sight better than any proper publisher i've ever been screwed by. and how much tax does harpercollins (ie mr murdoch, ie news international) pay?) answers on a very small postcard, please.

Dan Holloway said...

Mari, yes, I think there's a lot to be said for authors getting together to do that and I agree, it's both a minefield and a never-ending ouroboros of chasing your tail - and yes, Jan, that does mean we can never be purer than pure and we can only spend so much time chasing those tails but 1. we need to keep talking and trying to do better 2. we each need to find a position we're comfortable with and 3. we need to keep the pressure on government and business to do better - yes things are the way they are, but they always will be if we do nothing, however small (and I do realise we can only do tiny things)

Jan Needle said...

That's a good answer, Dan. But I still feel like Vladimir and Estragon. It's very lonely, but Mr Godot says he'll surely come tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

"In fact, the safest thing for you to do is find a pillar out in the desert, shed your (undoubtedly unethically produced) clothes, and spend the rest of your days at the top of the pillar."

I'm up for that. Really. I'm just worried that it's not feasible as there are transport issuers involved whch might have unethical underpinnings :D

For heaven's sake, we're all intelligent enough to know there is another doll inside any construct we imagine or form, and especially in this arena, and that we live in a world that inescapably connects us, whatever our leanings, to things which we might have issue with. That's absoloutely no reason not to open the question up, explore ideas, and their practicality, and increase our choices and options and see how someone who makes certain choices fares in his efforts, and maybe offer some small suggestion that might help. No one is saying that to not follow Dan's route makes someone a candidate for a particular circle of hell.

Johnam

Lydia Bennet said...

here's one of the links that have appeared recently about Amazon's treatment of its workers. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/amazon-used-neonazi-guards-to-keep-immigrant-workforce-under-control-in-germany-8495843.html

Dan Holloway said...

blimey!

Johnam, indeed! As writers we have enough circles of hell of our own making - self-doubt, "that"itis, the curse of the saggy middle - without an oik like me adding more

Catherine Czerkawska said...

The German story is not as clear cut as the Independent would have it. They were outsourcing from a temp agency and the Neo Nazi associations are denied. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. And anyone who has ever been employed by a temp agency in, for example, the catering trade, will know that exploitation and poor treatment are rife, even here. Which - of course - doesn't make it right. But our media seem hell bent on demonising Amazon in all possible ways, while ignoring abuses which take place on their own doorstep and I'm weary of the obvious prejudice.
If people don't like Amazon then they are free - as you say, Dan - not to engage with it. But it is surely illogical, not to say unfair, to target Amazon while ignoring Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple or, indeed, Paypal, all of whose perfectly legal tax avoidance strategies not only equal, but in some cases far outstrip Amazon’s. If you decide to boycott one on moral grounds, you must surely, in all fairness, boycott all. To do anything else is like refusing to shop for clothes in one chain store on publicly proclaimed ethical grounds while quietly dressing in sweat shop garments from another provider. You yourself say that the key is consistency. Can I take it, then, that you are not using a PC or a Mac, not using any version of Windows, but only open source software on a Linux system? But that can’t be true, because here you are, slagging off Amazon on Blogger, inextricably linked with Google who are not noted for over-paying their corporation tax. Well, perhaps I’m playing devil’s advocate! Of course I am – and you’ve got a very good debate going. I’ve been thinking about this a lot and it has helped me to clarify my own position - which is that I won’t be following in your footsteps.
Personally speaking, I love Amazon. It allows me to eat and helps me to heat my house so that my arthritis stricken husband can enjoy a little comfort. It allows me to exist as a small trader in a rural area, in a way that no other distribution company except eBay has ever done. I thank heavens for Amazon and for eBay every day of my life. I accept your point about tax avoidance and how you feel about it, but recent headlines indicate that governments have finally woken up to the fact that only some kind of multi national agreement will address this complex issue, (just as strong employment law, properly enforced, is the only safeguard for workers) instead of the soft option, which involves politicians whipping up spurious indignation against a small minority of companies while blatantly ignoring all the others who are doing exactly the same thing.

Jan Needle said...

i don't want to repeat myself, either. but the government sorts out tax payment methods to suit itself. they pay lip service to closing loopholes, but they won't because it doesn't suit them for many reasons. have we already forgotten the wonderful deal the last inland revenue boss cut with vodaphone? they - bang to rights - actually offered to pay a fair bit back, but he told them not to bother, and settled for far, far less. and britain has more tax havens than any other advanced world economy. why? for fun? because it is thought to be to this country's advantage, finally. i don't understand how, but i know lots of people who do, and they're not crooks, either. i repeat: how much British tax does Rupert Murdoch pay? it may not be rocket science, but it's a lot like it.

Jan Needle said...

i don't want to repeat myself, either. but the government sorts out tax payment methods to suit itself. they pay lip service to closing loopholes, but they won't because it doesn't suit them for many reasons. have we already forgotten the wonderful deal the last inland revenue boss cut with vodaphone? they - bang to rights - actually offered to pay a fair bit back, but he told them not to bother, and settled for far, far less. and britain has more tax havens than any other advanced world economy. why? for fun? because it is thought to be to this country's advantage, finally. i don't understand how, but i know lots of people who do, and they're not crooks, either. i repeat: how much British tax does Rupert Murdoch pay? it may not be rocket science, but it's a lot like it.

Jan Needle said...

i said i didn't want to repeat myself. computer had other ideas, apparently!

Dan Holloway said...

Catherine, yes I am very aware of the inconsistencies - and yes, likewise aware that it's not satisfactory to target one organisation but not others - but I'm not claiming to be purer than pure or to have come up with an answer - one point was to start a conversation. An equally important point though is that because we can't do everything that doesn't mean we shouldn't do something - I'm not setting out to demonise Amazon above all others, and I hope anyone who knows me even in the slightest realises that my greatest ire is always saved for government and for the structural evils I find in society. What I am trying to figure out is at one level what ethical publishing and self-publishing would mean, and at a more direct level what I and others can do on a practical, and also a campaigning level - I hope the points I've raised above will get people thinking about that. Yes, almost certainly it was misjudged at one level to mention Amazon in the title when it's so small a part of the post, but if we never misjudge things in the quest to make things better, we're not trying hard enough and I hope that people thinking why they disagree with me will help them think what they can do. The ensuing debate is certainly helping me start to crystallise what I can do

Anonymous said...

@Catherine,

I do agree that companies like Amazon and eBay are part of a massive Internet wave that has enabled many people to have a living in ways that were not remotely open to them before, and are as well pretty much non-discriminating open distribution channels for wares that range between the artistic and the commercial, and as such in fact should be looked at in a good light.  It's not feasible that people could have made a living a dozen years ago self-pubbing as many do now, for instance.    And they continue to develop and find new ways to make it easier for people to sell what they produce.

Personally, I nearly always order my books from Amazon, and love the service in many ways from price, convenience, range of catalogue, and the opportunity to source out of print books from reselllers.

What's not to love?  But that doesn't mean it's a terrible thing to highlight their tax avoidance, as an example in particular here and as an issue, and say it's wrong.  Tax avoidance by such companies isn't an issue that Dan's dreamt up himself.  There's a reason it's part of public debate now.  It happens to fit in with the activities in the conversation here, Debenhams doesn't. 

It's just easier to not look at these things.  But that doesn't make it right.  I have issues with chocolate.  But you can bet people aren't interested in thinking they should be made to feel guilty for snarfing a bar of galaxy because it might have started through the labour of kidnapped or trafficked children in Africa who know no lives but the hacking down of cocoa pods.  But because people did start talking about it, to some measure, things aren't as bad as they used to be.

Ethical behaviour seems a harder model to apply in publishing beyond materials and labour and contracts.  Dan has definitely gone a step further than I'd have imagined, or than anyone suggested on his FB. But it's because of people like Dan that you have fairtrade badges on chocolate now.  Maybe at some point there will be emblems on books that say 'fairtowriters' or 'fairontrees' or 'taxesandroyaltiesguarenteed'. To some people, busy getting on with their lives, such ideas will always be badged 'forthefairies'.  Fair enough. No one's saying get on the guilt trip train or you're not human.  I think sometimes people feel that is what's being said to them though, and get defensive when there's no reason.  

Johnam

Catherine Czerkawska said...

I would agree with both comments, Dan's and yours, anonymous! And as I said, I was playing devil's advocate to some extent.I find it very hard to respect any politician who bangs on about tax avoidance while subsidising the likes of Poundland with taxpayer's money so that they can make young people work for a pittance. But I reckon Dan agrees with me there!

Dan Holloway said...

I most definitely do!

Wendy R said...

I'm very much with Catherine and Anonymous here and won't reproduce their very valid arguments, But you have generated a good discussion which needed airing. Good on you. w

Stroppy Author said...

A good decision, Dan, for good reasons. I stopped buying from Amazon quite a while ago, and the 'buy online' links for the vampire site go to Foyles (which is also where I buy online). But I can't stop my publishers sellling my books (paper and e) on Amazon, and I can't afford to switch to ethical self-publishing - I have a child to feed from this job!

I hope that as long as we all do what we can, it will make some difference. It's hard to avoid paypal, for instance. And, of course, what we think important to do will vary since - as you say - we don't all agree about what is ethical.

Dan Holloway said...

Yes, everyone doing what they can is all anyone can ask!

My wife is doing an OU maths degree, by the way, and I've seen a couple of your books on her reading pile by the sofa, so I'm happy to say we've done at least a bit to help :)