As a kid, I was constantly looking for new ways to devour books. I was quickly burning through all that my school library had to offer, and I found myself constantly frustrated by the long waiting lists at the library. I had dreams of someday owning floor to ceiling shelves filled with books.
Back then, I was constantly saving up for the next book I could add to my shelf. This was how Amazon first came into my life, and it seemed like the Holy Grail of book-buying opportunities. It offered me a wider variety of novels at a cheaper price than my local bookstore, or even Barnes and Noble, could ever offer.
Now, I find myself being drawn back to the independent bookstores that 11-year-old me abandoned with such thoughtless excitement. This is partially due to the role they play in fostering art in communities, and partially due to my realization of the harm that Amazon inflicts on local businesses, its workers and in U.S. politics.
Today, Amazon isn’t just for buying cheap books. It is the world’s largest online retailer and has a video and music streaming service. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos also owns Whole Foods. Amazon has become an almost inescapable part of our world.
Lawrence's The Raven Book Store has been instrumental in my realization that I need to begin phasing Amazon out of my life. The owner of the bookstore, Danny Caine, hasn’t been shy with his criticism of Amazon. Most recently, he’s written an open letter to Bezos, in which he explains why Amazon is so damaging to independent bookstores and other small businesses.
Amazon can sell books at such cheap prices because it doesn't have to make all of its money, or any money at all, off its books. Amazon can afford to sell them at prices so low that, as Caine puts it, independent bookstores can’t even hope to compete. Unlike Amazon, Caine and The Raven make an effort to invest in the Lawrence community.
The Raven brings authors and other artists to Lawrence to give talks, it donates to charity auctions, and it works with other organizations in the community to promote a love of reading and books in the community. The Raven is both a great place to buy books and a cultural force in Lawrence.
Amazon has the same effect on almost every other small business as it does on bookstores. Anything you can find at a locally owned shop on Massachusetts Street, you could almost certainly find on Amazon at a cheaper price. However, those small businesses downtown don’t force their warehouse workers to work long days with few breaks and low pay.
Amazon workers report being constantly monitored while on the clock and having every task they perform timed. Local businesses also don’t have contracts with ICE or other organizations that aid in ripping families apart and putting children into cages.
Here in Lawrence, we’re lucky to have so many colorful local businesses to explore. For the time being, Amazon isn’t going anywhere. We’re always going to be able to get a book or a piece of clothing online for a cheaper price than we could in person, but if we want to keep those businesses as a force in our community, we need to resist taking the easier route. If we don’t like the way Amazon treats its workers or the organizations Amazon aids, we need to show that in the way we spend our money.
Brianna Wessling is a junior from Omaha, Nebraska, studying English and journalism.