If Santa brought you a Kindle… (guest post)

by Michael Taglieri

E-book readers were one of the top gifts this year, and the fight over which one is the smallest/lightest/cheapest will continue for many more rounds. But there’s another issue that doesn’t get mentioned that people should consider, especially union members.

If you buy an Amazon Kindle, you’re supporting a company that has become a force for evil in the world of book publishing. Amazon uses its near-monopoly power in the market to force unfair deals onto publishers and authors (sometimes, for example, making all of an author’s books on Amazon mysteriously disappear if the author refuses their lowball offer for a new title).

Amazon also mistreats its own workers, locating facilities in areas with few jobs so workers don’t dare to complain about conditions, then treating them very badly. Last summer, it was so hot in one of their warehouses in Pennsylvania that workers were regularly passing out from heat stroke. Amazon’s response? Have a local ambulance service keep ambulances outside the warehouse on hot days to bring workers to the hospital when they collapsed.

Also, as one might expect, Amazon is actively anti-union in both the US and the European Union. It opposed a union organizing campaign in 2000 with everything from anti-union propaganda to offers of “reduced phone shifts and free massages” if employees voted the union down. Ultimately, it laid off 1,300 workers and shifted its expansion to “right to work” states, where it’s difficult to organize a union.

On December 12th, the New York Times ran an article on Amazon’s latest nasty trick — giving discounts to customers if they go to local bookstores and scan the books they want with a special app on their smartphones, automatically buying them from Amazon. Essentially, Amazon was encouraging customers to crowd local bookstores, waste the time of the clerks there, then walk away, leaving the bookstore with nothing.

Is this the kind of company you want to subsidize?

I admit I still sometimes buy things from Amazon, but I would never lock myself into being forced to buy from no one else but Amazon forever, and that’s what you do for all future e-book purchases if you buy a Kindle.

That’s one of the reasons I have a Barnes & Noble Nook instead. The latest black-and-white version, the Nook Simple Touch, is pretty much the same as the Kindle Touch (no surprise, because the Nook model was first and Amazon copied it). If you prefer color, even the (shamelessly pro-Kindle) New York Times tech-section admits that the Nook color tablet is substantially better than the Kindle Fire [though, admittedly, it costs $50 more]. You can buy books, magazines, etc., at the Barnes & Noble website, or on the Nook itself, just the way you’d buy them with a Kindle, and the prices of books that I’ve checked have always been identical on both sites. The Nook is also more versatile than the Kindle, because you can connect it to your computer and easily transfer .pdf documents to it. I keep essential legal documents on mine in case I forget to bring the paper versions to court, and I frequently read articles from websites on my Nook rather than printing them out).

So if you got a Kindle for a present this year, I urge you to pack it up neatly and return it (and TELL THEM WHY), then get a Nook or some other e-book reader instead. If you’ve owned a Kindle for awhile, I suggest you get a Nook when you upgrade to a newer model, (which you will eventually do because new models of both Kindle and Nook are smaller and faster than the originals). I also encourage you to share this message with others.