Escaping Amazon, Part 2: Books
How was everyone’s Amazon Prime Day! Was it as magical as you remember when you were a kid and woke up in the morning and… oh wait…. Amazon Prime Day isn’t a holiday yet, I forgot.
We nearly got a new TV in our house until we shook ourselves out of our Amazon trance. I saw a woman talking to Alexa on the news last night and a shiver went down my spine. Alexa terrifies me. Sometimes I have the oddest sensation that Amazon is literally going to come to my house and look for me under my bed.
I’ve probably said too much. But still, I know I’m not the only one who would like to see Amazon consume a little less oxygen so the rest of the world can continue to breathe.
Avoiding Amazon… it’s a mad man’s goal.
Amazon has engineered a scenario where we are just rolling along on its giant conveyor belt, with no exit shoot in sight. Only the darkest genius could create an online cart that perfectly serves as a list of things to remember, even if the thing in the cart is sometimes just a placeholder. Amazon has literally hacked into my shopping circuitry via my to do list hard-wiring.
Plus, I put up Amazon affiliate links if I recommend something on the blog that’s available on Amazon. So, there’s that.
But the point I’m taking a long time to get to is that, aside from those moments when Amazon really is the best or only option, there are lots of times that alternative solutions may also exist. I still shop on Amazon more often than I’d like, but I have cut down on my biggest buckets. Starting with the biggest of all. That would be a capital B for…
The very market segment where Amazon began its miraculous journey out from the ovary of capitalism. It has since reached a level of domination so dramatic, book stores around the country continue to close. This is a loss for communities everywhere. When the Barnes & Noble in the Bronx closed last year, it was big news. 1.6 million New Yorkers are now, unbelievably, without a book store. Barnes & Noble may not be a small, locally owned business, but I would be devastated if ours closed. Browsing the aisles of a book store is one of life’s joys.
I am not a minimalist when it comes to books.
Books are beautiful. I’ve talked before about how the Morgan Library in Manhattan is one of my favorite places on earth. I chaperoned my son’s third grade class trip there this year. When the children entered Pierpont Morgan’s great grand cathedral of books, they were almost too overwhelmed to speak. Their teacher was astonished at how her normally vocal students seemed afraid to raise their hands and answer questions they knew. But they were just awestruck. A magnificent installation of books can do that – even to a loud, fidgety group of 9 year-olds.
I save all of my beautiful or important books.
And I still buy books that are worthy of saving. Some I buy at Barnes & Noble. It’s not as cheap as Amazon, but I shop there often.
Books are an essential gift item and if I’m giving a book as a gift, I’d rather it come from a store where it could easily be exchanged without me being involved. I find the $20 annual Barnes & Noble membership, which gives a 10% discount on everything, worth it. I buy so many gifts there, including toys for kid birthdays. There’s almost never a time when I don’t have a “20% off one item” card from B&N on hand, which they always mail to members. Sometimes I stretch my savings even more by shopping online through a rebate site like Ebates, and then picking it up at my local store instead of having it shipped. Put all this stuff together and it can get you close enough to Amazon prices to throw your spending power in a different direction now and again.
My local small book store is a different kind of essential alternative.
It’s not going to beat anyone’s prices. But it’s so nice not to be bombarded with too many choices. I found Upstream by Mary Oliver, which to me was a treasure, in my tiny local bookstore. In this world of overwhelming, near-paralyzing choice, it’s pleasant to have an edited selection spun for you by someone who is thoughtful and knowledgeable. My son got a gift certificate to our local book shop for his birthday. He loved it and I loved it. Kid birthday gifts are often such a waste, but most kids like to go to a book store and choose what they want. This is what I am giving for all kid birthdays going forward.
The beauty of used…
Sometimes you need a book, but it does not need to be shiny new. For times like this, Thriftbooks.com has become my go to. Instead of buying used on Amazon, I have had a good experience with this company. They have a huge selection and they send great recommendations.
How did they know my son would love a story about an Irish monk from the middle ages who was known for loving birds and other animals? Or a book about Puffins? I don’t think I would have come across these interesting older titles anywhere else. I got five books on my last order for about $26, including an unused Audubon coloring book for 99 cents. We go to our library often, but there are some books that I can’t find there that I know my children will love. Kids go through lots of books. Thriftbooks is perfect for guiltlessly buying cheap but good books for them that would have otherwise ended up in a landfill.
Of course, many, if not most, of the books I read are digital.
Kindle was a wonderful invention. But I’ve pretty much gotten my Kindle budget down to zero now that I finally figured out the library app Overdrive. I’ll say – it’s not the best interface in the world. It was so confusing to set up. But once you hook in to your local library, your digital loans go right into your Amazon Kindle account and are easy to mange from there, just like all your other digital content.
Borrowing ebooks from the library is just like borrowing regular books in that there are only a few of them available at any one time. I have had to put myself on a wait list for most of the books I have wanted to borrow, especially anything new. But that’s fine. I like how borrowing books creates an urgency to finish before the loan expires. Figuring out how to borrow digital library books has probably been the single biggest thing to help me direct less money to Amazon.
My new rule is: if I don’t feel like I need to own the physical copy, I definitely do not need to own a digital copy. I digitally borrowed The Case Against Sugar and The Nature Fix recently – two excellent and insightful books that I cannot recommend enough.
But I bought a hard copy of The Genius of Birds, which I came upon while meandering around the Union Square Barnes & Noble. It felt like a book that wanted to be kept. Sometimes, a book just does.
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