Amazon helps out indie bookstores is not a sentence most sane people expect to read, but it’s true.
Amazon, the internet retail giant vilified for years as public enemy No 1 to booksellers, has been revealed as the surprise mystery benefactor that donated £250,000 to help UK bookshops weather the coronavirus pandemic.
With booksellers around the country forced to close their doors to respect social distancing measures implemented by the government, a fundraiser was launched one month ago by Gayle Lazda from the London Review Bookshop, Picador’s Kishani Widyaratna and Daunt Books publisher Zeljka Marosevic to help them survive. Initially setting out to raise £10,000, with donations coming in from authors including Candice Carty-Williams, Adam Kay and David Nicholls, the funding target was quickly raised to £100,000, as organisations including Penguin Random House and the Booksellers Association weighed in.
On Wednesday, the Bookseller reported that a unnamed donor had added another £250,000 to the fund for booksellers in hardship, bringing the total fund to just under £380,000. David Hicks, chief executive of the Book Trade Charity, which is administering the fund, told the Bookseller that “the donor just wants to say they are committed to independent bookshops as part of a mixed bookselling economy and they want to show some support”.
On Thursday, Hicks told the magazine that he had been given Amazon’s blessing to go public with its identity in order to quash mounting speculation over who the donor might be.
“The additional boost … has put us in a very strong position to help even more booksellers suffering hardship from this crisis. We all recognise the value of bookshops to local communities, the trade, as well as the economy, and it is a privilege to represent such a broad cross-section of the industry,” he said.
The identity of the benefactor may be a bitter pill for many booksellers to swallow, as Amazon has long been cited as a primary reason for the closure of many bookstores. While the fundraiser’s organisers initially described the donation as “truly astonishing”, they were less complimentary on Thursday.
“I’m glad that this money is going to a good cause, but there is no greater threat to high-street bookselling than Amazon, and their labour practices are a well-documented disgrace,” wrote Lazda on Twitter.
“I know that there is a huge strength of feeling against Amazon among booksellers, and that the horrible irony of this donation will be lost on none of us, but I hope it won’t stop any of us supporting the work of the Book Trade Charity, and applying to the fund if you need it,” she added.
Last week, the Guardian reported that Amazon’s chief executive Jeff Bezos had grown his personal fortune by $24bn (£19bn) during the pandemic, to $138bn. Shares in Amazon have reached a record high, with customers spending almost $11,000 a second on its products as its workers protest about their treatment.
Of course, the Guardian couldn’t resist a dig about workers at Amazon. What they don’t tell you is sometimes the workers at Amazon are appreciated by management. Here’s proof of that in a customer email I received from Amazon UK’s head honcho, Doug Gurr. It read as follows:
Dear valued customer,
Following the announcement of the extended lockdown, we’re all coming to realise that life will be quite different for a while. I wanted to send our heartfelt thanks to the many key workers who are tirelessly supporting the communities around us, and our warmest thoughts to all of you at this difficult time.
Thousands of our co-workers in fulfilment centres, sort centres and delivery stations across the country are working to fulfil your orders. We’ve been humbled by the kind words received in recent weeks in appreciation of their hard work, and wanted to say a huge thank you for your patience and support during this challenging period.
We want to do everything we can to support our employees and the customers and communities we serve throughout this crisis, so I thought I’d share some detail of what we’re doing.
For customers and their families
As one of the many companies playing an essential role at this time, we’re making critical updates to our logistics, transportation, supply chain, purchasing and other processes to ensure you can shop at Amazon.co.uk, have orders delivered to your door, and stay safe at home. Customers will also have more time to return items and we’re also providing contactless delivery. Some of our deliveries may be taking longer than usual and some of your favourite items might not always be available. We hope you’ll bear with us as we do our best to continue to deliver to you during these challenging times.
With more time spent at home, we thought it would be helpful to provide access to free content. You can find free eBooks and audiobooks, Amazon Future Engineer virtual coding lessons, family TV shows, fitness content, plus a selection of Amazon Music playlists and stations. You can also entertain your family for a spell. Just say “Alexa, read Harry Potter Book One’ and listen to Harry Potter at home, free from Audible for a limited time.
For our colleagues
Nothing is more important to us than the wellbeing of our employees. With guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO), we’ve made over 150 process changes focused on the health and safety of our teams. We’ve increased the frequency and intensity of cleaning at our sites, adjusted our practices so that our employees can observe social distancing measures, and we are providing temperature checks, as well as masks and gloves.
In recognition of their incredible contribution, we’ve increased the pay for employees in our fulfilment centres and delivery roles, adding a further £2 per hour on top of our current starting rate of £10.50 for the London area, and £9.50 for the rest of the UK. In addition, 5,000 new full and part-time positions and delivery jobs have opened across the UK to provide job opportunities for people impacted by the pandemic.
For communities, the NHS and other health organisations
As part of a coalition of companies, universities, and research institutions, we are working with the Government to boost testing capacity for COVID-19. Along with other partners, the Amazon logistics network is delivering test kits to diagnostic sites set up around the UK and to NHS staff and others on the front lines of this crisis.
To support those in the UK who are most affected by the COVID-19 crisis, we have committed £3.2 million, including a donation to the British Red Cross and a fund to support local organisations in communities where our employees live and work.
Every one of you is doing your part to save lives – whether that’s by staying home to protect your families, friends and neighbours, or by leaving home to keep the country going as a key worker. We thank you for this, and wish you and your families the very best at this difficult time.
Amazon UK Country Manager
I do believe in fairness and sometimes it’s just fashionable to bash the Mighty Zon without thinking of the good it does in many countries worldwide.
As for the indie book industry in the United Kingdom, there are many things it should have done to protect its own interests but failed to do so. For example, read my post here as to how the UK booksellers lag way behind those in the United States.
I have little sympathy for the UK bookselling industry. It strikes me as a closed shop operating medieval restrictive practices that favour the traditional publishers but do nothing to help indie authors like me. I know. I have battered my head against brick walls trying to get them to list my books in their online catalogues never mind stock them.
Contrast Amazon UK doing all it can in this time of crisis to the major wholesaler of books in Britain, Gardners. They have closed the print book division completely, supposedly leaving the digital (eBooks) side open, but if that’s the case why hasn’t that division replied to my email I sent about two weeks ago? That gap leaves another opening for Amazon because they can still order my print books POD from Ingram who are still functioning, notwithstanding Amazon has the facilities to print my paperbacks anyway. It’s only one hardback that Ingram print exclusively.
See the point? I can rely on Amazon both as a supplier and a customer. They are pretty darned good at customer service no matter what the moaners say.
Amazon turned the book industry on its head when it first started out selling books. What do the traditionalists do? Just cry ‘foul’ and ‘unfair.’ Grow up!
Most of my books are sold through Amazon, and long may that continue. I owe the book sellers nothing and don’t need them at all; though to listen to them they are doing me a favour by even communicating with me.
For me, it’s not just Amazon helps out indie bookstores; they help me out as a writer, publisher, indie author, and retail customer, not to mention the community in the United Kingdom.
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