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A year ago I deleted all my book reviews from Amazon. Yesterday and today, sparked by Amazon's antics in Illinois (which I first learned about from the estimable shsilver, covered in more detail here), I have invested a tedious but necessary hour or so into pulling all my Amazon affiliate links from my website. This doesn't hurt me very much - I see that I have earned the glorious total of £8.32 since 2005, so my personal finances can take the hit for my principled stand - and while the absolute monetary impact in lost sales to Amazon will be somewhat greater than that, I'm sure the relative impact is almost invisible. However, I think that they are not just incompetent but actively evil, and have no interest in supporting them any more than I have to.

I've moved most of my online purchase of new books to The Book Depository, at the recommendation of peteyoung, saare_snowqueen, and several Facebook friends. It's not without its flaws. Although the prices are usually cheaper, delivery can be slower (not that that usually bothers me, and at least they are up front when they can't deliver at all). I was also very annoyed when I tried to switch my Christmas wishlist to The Book Depository's system. It seems to be impossible to change your wishlist to rank the books other than in order of your adding them, starting with the oldest. This is crazy - the books I am most interested in getting are the ones I've listed most recently, and Amazon's offering of ranking by price or urgency also helps people who want to buy books for you.

Much more seriously, several people to whom I sent the wishlist link - supposedly http://www.bookdepository.com/wishlist/498854/Nicholas-Whyte - were unable to see anything other than the Book Deposityr front page; my mother emailed The Book Depository for assistance and was given the extraordinary answer that "The only way you can access other people's wishlists, is if you have their account details to login" which rather removes the point of having them! So in the end I had to re-circulate the link to my Amazon wishlist, if I wanted to get any Christmas presents.

The other annoying thing that then emerged about The Book Depository's system is that, unlike Amazon, when you buy a book for someone it doesn't disappear from their wishlist. This meant that when books did arrive from The Book Depository, I had to manually delete them from both lists. There was also the obvious risk of two people getting me the same book. So basically, The Book Depository's wishlist system sucks, and clearly hasn't been designed with actual customers in mind.

(The service is also a bit low-end: "We cannot offer any tailored gift options to customers. All of our orders will be accompanied by a packing slip which features the email address of the customer who placed the order, and the cost of the order." So your present won't be wrapped but will have the price tag. Classy.)

I see that The Book Depository also has an affiliate scheme, but I'm not sure if I want to invest the time and effort into adding their links to my website, or any other space I control, until I feel a bit more confident that they are getting their act together. And I'm on the lookout still for competent alternatives.


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 9th, 2011 12:26 pm (UTC)
I'm actually on Amazon's side here. apart from their over-wrought accusation of unconstitutionality. They can't be expected to lose all of their customers in Illinois (who will presumably desert them in favour of other Internet retailers who don't have to charge an Illinois use tax) just so that they can keep their Illinois affiliates.

What the US needs is a national sales tax -- perhaps they could call it VAT.
Jan. 9th, 2011 01:34 pm (UTC)
Why would customers desert to other online retailers? If the law is that sales to Illinois residents must collect sales tax, then that applies to all of them, surely?

Yes, Amazon is bigger and will thus be the most policed, but they can easily point at any companies that don't do it. They collect sales taxes in other jurisdictions, and I see no reason why they should to it in some but not in others.
Jan. 9th, 2011 01:42 pm (UTC)
The law is that online retailers must collect the tax if they have some kind of presence in Illinois -- and they're saying that Amazon affiliates count. Online retailers who don't have any operations in Illinois won't have to collect it, and can't be made to collect it (only Congress can regulate inter-state commerce, not individual states).
Jan. 9th, 2011 03:16 pm (UTC)
ah, I see, didn't see that in the links I read. Makes more sense as they're based in Washington so collect tax there. I'm guessing lobbying from states to regulate nationally will start fairly quickly.
Jan. 10th, 2011 12:18 am (UTC)
A friend of mine who works for Amazon told me once that he could be fired if he checks his work email or makes a call on his work phone or talks about his job in any way while sitting in Chicago's O'Hare Airport between flights, because one employee doing one work-related thing in Illinois is sufficient for Illinois to say "You're doing business here!" and Amazon's only recourse would be to declare him a rogue employee (his term) and fire him immediately to show that he wasn't acting on company orders.

I am not inclined to support that sort of thing.
Jan. 9th, 2011 03:03 pm (UTC)
I understand Amazon's side, and I wouldn't have been upset if they had been less heavy handed in their e-mail, not claiming the law unconstitutional and perhaps providing a link to the law rather than expecting I would believe everything they wrote, especially after opening with the unconstitutional thing.
Jan. 9th, 2011 04:07 pm (UTC)
Yes, that's what really annoyed me about it, and your post reminded me that there were other reasons why I had originally been planing to take down my affiliate links.
Jan. 9th, 2011 05:13 pm (UTC)
This turns out to be of more than passing interest, as at work we have potentially similar issues regarding VAT. The EU legislation (so I have been told) is similar in scope, in that theoretically, anyone selling online to an EU destination is supposed to collect and account for VAT to that jurisdiction. (I doubt it's 'unconstitutional', but of course it is completely unworkable for companies that have no presence within the EU). Some of the websites we host are for UK-based companies, so this is not an issue, but our hosting for organisations based outside of the EU is a more uncertain case.
Jan. 10th, 2011 12:14 am (UTC)
http://www.boxedup.com is a great wishlist site that lets you link to any product, anywhere. http://www.thingsilove.co.uk is similar, but I like BoxedUp better.
(no subject) - bookdepository - Jan. 11th, 2011 09:43 am (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 11th, 2011 10:22 am (UTC)
Re: Book Depository Wish list
Thanks for your response, though I wonder what happened to my message submitted via your online feedback form.

I'm afraid I find the wishlist instructions rather difficult to follow, and in particular I don't see a way to set the default view to be newest first, which is what I really want. I also hope you will address the problem some people have had with opening the shared URL.

I appreciate the commitment to remove purchased books from the wishlist, and I also understand about the wrapping problem; surely, however, you can do something about the price tags?
(no subject) - bookdepository - Jan. 11th, 2011 10:37 am (UTC) - Expand
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )

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