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Cory Doctorow on 2022-07-07

Let’s Make Amazon Into a Dumb Pipe


Downtrodden peasant: We should improve society somewhat.

Mr Gotcha: Yet you participate in society, curious! I am very intelligent. -Matt Bors, The Nib

I like supporting local retail for shopping whenever possible. But I will not shame people for buying from Amazon the magic markers they use to write “Break up Bezos’ power” on a big poster they parade outside their state attorney general’s office. -Zephyr Teachout, Break ’Em Up

Here’s a dirty secret of the antitrust movement: Amazon is very convenient!

It’s not just that they have a lot of inventory and make it easy to get things shipped to your door quickly and efficiently. It’s also that their predatory pricing has finished off much of the retail that survived Walmart.

“Voting with your wallet” is a dubious occupation at best, but it’s actually counterproductive if you find yourself driving or phoning around for hours, looking for local merchants to buy things from. That’s time you could be spending pursuing structural changes to our society’s structural problems, or just relaxing with a book so you’ll have the energy to pursue those structural changes later.

But what if buying local was as easy as shopping at Amazon? What if you could buy local while shopping on Amazon?

I got this idea from Library Extension, a browser plugin that notices if you’re looking at a book on Amazon and checks to see whether it’s available for checkout at your local library.

Library Extension/Amazon

If the book is available to borrow at your public library, the extension shoves down Amazon’s “Add to Cart” button and draws a box with buttons to reserve that title at any of the local libraries that have it on the shelf.

This is basically awesome. It acknowledges that Amazon’s catalog, search, recommendations and reviews are useful to readers —and lets readers commodify all that stuff, treat it as infrastructure for discovering books to check out of your local library.