Recently we were approached in e-mail by someone chiding us for using Amazon.com for our book links. I encounter this attitude constantly among other feminists, and I'm consistently frustrated with the short-sightedness or the argument.
The argument usually goes:
What you say?
All small independent bookstores serve feminism and not the patriarchy?I remember pointing out to one women's group that not ALL small independent bookstores have feminist issues in their best interest. For most of my life, EVERY SINGLE small, independent bookstore around me was... a "family" bookstore. A Christian-oriented bookstore. A fairly right-wing Christian bookstore. Now tell me, how was that supposed to help this half Finnish/half Pakistani, muslim and feminist young woman? Not all of us live next to the trendy gay/lesbian bookstore and coffeshop.
Not all of us live in the middle of the big city...
What about my best friend? She lives 45 minutes from the very edge of a medium sized city in a very rural area of Texas. It would take her an hour to an hour and a half to find decent bookstore. Let's say she wanted a particular book on Appaloosa horses. She'd have to drive into town, find out that the bookstore doesn't have what she wants, special order it, drive back (another hour), then wait for the book to come in so she can make another two hour drive to pick it up.
Or she can just go to her computer, order it from Amazon.com, and have it show up in her rural route mailbox. No dodging the drunks on the road for a single book...
What about *my* interests?And that's another thing. How am I supposed to support small independent bookstores when they never carry the books I want and need? My favorite childhood books are by Tove Jansson and focus on a family of Moomins. After nearly twenty years of loving use, my copies were in tatters. But no bookstore around me carried them. Ever. To find out if there were new books I might have to check the Books In Print tome and special order them. If they were even available. Nevermind that the books are popular all over Europe and Japan. Few have heard of them here in America, and so the shelves reflect that. Short of a long distance phone call to the UK publisher, it was unlikely I'd ever get another copy - or be able to order them. Then came Amazon.com. A few tentative clicks and I was suddenly confronted with copies of all the books and even copies of some I didn't have. I was in heaven! I was able to order a book that was near and dear to me without having to feel like an alien creature at the counter in the bookstore.
Oh yeah, and my mom can order books on Islam in peace, without having to go into the bookstore to find only Christianity categorized under religion, and everything else dumped into "eastern philosophy". She doesn't have to put up with the stares and the rude treatment either, if she's looking for a particular book.
For my efforts at pointing these issues out, I was ignored. There was a sideways mention that perhaps there was a point, but nevertheless Amazon Was Evil and Independent Bookstores Were Good. But I, or these issues, were not addressed directly. And there are more.
Amazon.com was one of the few American business websites at one time that was equipped to handle requests from non-USA customers. None of these independent bookstores were so equipped. Does the fact that a middle class muslim feminist in Turkey can order a US printed book from her university internet connection make amazon.com evil? Does the fact that she couldn't do that before make ANY difference to the current "sisterhood against the patriarchy" cry against Amazon? Or does she just not matter?
Amazon.com was also the first bookstore (and as far as I know, the ONLY) to offer an associates program. We link to their books, people buy through our site, and we get a cut (5%-15%). A small feminist web site (ahem) can actually pay for it's yearly ISP costs through a program like this. It's a very Gen-X, entrepreneurial thing to do. We'd love to link to a feminist bookstore. But they don't offer a program like this! There's no way for us to support OURSELVES that way!
And that's another thing. Amazon's prices are actually affordable. Most feminists I know - including myself - don't have deep pockets. But I've been able to AFFORD to buy and keep books from Amazon.com. Before that the best I could do was browse through the feminist bookstore and make a note of books I'd have to get AT THE LIBRARY.
Yeah - what about the library, folks? They offer the stuff for free! Certainly that must have hurt the small independent bookstores when I was just checking out books instead of buying them...
Copyright 2000 by Fazia Rizvi