To Boycott or Not to Boycott?

As a long time amazon.com customer, I’m really torn over whether to boycott the site after the incident with the pedophilia book.

Like most librarians, I’m a staunch defender of the freedom to read.  In a piece titled “A Few Words about Censorship,” Chris Crutcher–a personal hero of mine–says, “If you live in a democracy, and you want to participate in that democracy, you have to learn to stand up for the expression of things you hate. It’s easy to promote material that represents what you believe—a little harder to do that for material that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up.”

Crutcher, in addition to being a writer, is a therapist who has worked extensively with abused kids.  He believes that there are some people who need to be kept away from kids, and I agree wholeheartedly.

Even though I find both content and writer of this book to be despicable, the author has the right to free expression and others have the right to read it if they choose.  Do not mistake me, however:  NO ONE has the right to harm a child.

My issue with amazon.com is that the company does not have a policy for selecting or screening the products available for sale on the site.  Even in a public library where the principles of information access and intellectual freedom are tenaciously protected, a selection policy serves to guide librarians in choosing materials by offering clear standards and criteria.  In the absence of such a policy, there is neither accountability nor a systematic, objective way to evaluate materials.

Amazon.com’s mission statement reads:  Our vision is to be earth’s most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.

This incident shows amazon.com to be consistent with its vision—clearly people can find and discover anything, and the company did respond to customers when demands were made that the company pull the objectionable material “off the shelves.”

Just because amazon.com can sell anything, doesn’t mean they should.  Even libraries toe the line:  back in the early 90s, when Madonna’s book Sex was published, plenty of librarians chose not to add the book to their collections because it did not reflect the standards of decency in their communities.

Many people within the library community have chosen to boycott amazon.com.  This latest incident is merely the proverbial straw on the back of the camel, as there are a number of good reasons to avoid what some are calling the Wal-Mart of online shopping.

As an information resource, amazon.com is incredibly useful to me in my research, primarily on books but for other products as well.  I will continue to use the site in this way, and I will continue to link book titles here to their product pages on amazon.com.

As for shopping…those who argue that amazon.com is no better than Wal-Mart have a point.  I don’t shop at Wal-Mart, and I’ve substantially reduced the shopping I do at Target.

If I give up on amazon.com as well, where does that leave me?  I already try to support local, independent booksellers as much as possible—places like Jabberwocky, Riverby, Point Loma Books and Yellow Brick Road.

I’m also unsure that I believe amazon.com to have been in the wrong over the availability of the book.  Whereas traditional publishing channels would likely have prevented such offensive material from finding an audience, self-publishing in the digital age is new territory for everyone involved in information access.

I’d love to hear from those who have taken a definitive stand and chosen to boycott—what alternatives to amazon.com do you recommend?  I’d also love to hear from those who aren’t boycotting—what are your reasons?

For the time being, I’m going to spend more money than I planned at the book fair at my daughter’s school and I’ll continue pondering how much holiday shopping I’ll be doing through amazon.com this year.

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1 Comment

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One response to “To Boycott or Not to Boycott?

  1. Kim

    Here here! I agree!