AMAZON IS A SEDUCTIVE MISTRESS. I know it as well as anybody, which is to say I know it as well as everybody. Amazon makes buying things so goddamn easy that it's nearly impossible to find someone who hasn't succumbed to its charms.
Last year I noticed how many of those charms I'd succumbed to: I read on a Kindle. I bought season passes for Louie, Cosmos, and Inside Amy Schumer on Amazon Instant Video. The digital comics I bought (and a few I wrote) were sold through the Amazon-owned Comixology; I tracked the novels I read via the Amazon-owned Goodreads. And last year, when I signed up for Amazon Prime after countless friend recommendations, I found comfort in Amazon's philosophy of instant gratification—knowing that whatever I wanted was, at most, a click and two days away. Maybe there are scenarios in which it's vital to get things with so little effort and so much speed; I used it to buy Blu-rays of movies I'd already seen.
I wasn't oblivious to Amazon's drawbacks—you'd have to be stubbornly ignorant to ignore the company's brutal bargaining tactics, or the worker-penalizing systems that make its sprawling warehouses so relentlessly efficient. But Amazon's managed to make itself feel less like the complex entity it is and more like a sterile, simple process: Click a button or tap an app and a package arrives at your door. With that kind of ease, any drawbacks seem vague and distant. Giving money to Amazon never feels like a good thing to do, but it always feels easy.
Turns out I had a tipping point, though: It was when Amazon, in a fight with publisher Hachette over whether an Amazon-mandated $10 price point was appropriate for all ebooks, started using punitive tactics against Hachette's authors. Amazon delayed shipments on books published by Hachette, hiked up prices, and removed the option to preorder titles. The battle was between corporations clashing in the digital ether, but the casualties were some of the very writers Amazon stood on top of to become a giant. And Amazon's tactics screwed over its infamously loyal customers, too—as author Paolo Bacigalupi tweeted, Amazon was now "The Everything-Except-for-the-Stuff-Made-by-People-We're-Fighting-with Store."
Thankfully, authors—both those affected by the Hachette blacklisting, and those who realized how easily they could be affected by similar measures—spoke up. An open letter penned by Hachette author Douglas Preston asked Amazon to "resolve its dispute with Hachette without further hurting authors and without blocking or otherwise delaying the sale of books to its customers." It was cosigned by more than 900 other authors—from Stephen King to Anna Quindlen, from Junot Díaz to Lee Child, from Chelsea Cain to Aimee Bender, from Philip Pullman to Barbara Kingsolver, from Nora Roberts to Sherman Alexie, from Patrick Rothfuss to George Saunders.
Amazon's response should have been to acknowledge how badly they'd fucked up. Instead, they doubled down, calling Preston "entitled" and "an opportunist who seeks readers' support while actively working against their interests."
Why it was this that made my conscience finally overcome convenience—and not, say, previous publisher disputes, or Amazon's workplace standards—I don't know. It wasn't as if Amazon pretended, before Hachette, that it wasn't terrible; it might have been that Amazon, having decided it was too big to fail, finally started being open about how terrible it was.
For a company that had entrenched itself in so much of my life, it seemed like quitting Amazon was going to be hard. But it wasn't. It was actually super simple, and it boiled down to this: Buy stuff elsewhere.
BOOKS—Not even counting Powell's, Portland is full of outstanding bookstores. You'll be set up for weeks if you spend an afternoon in the pulp labyrinths of places like Wallace Books and Bingo Used Books, which offer weird surprises and that old-book smell that Amazon can't ever hope to replicate. (They're probably working on it.) Or bypass the stores altogether and hit the library.
That, of course, means paper rather than e-ink or LCD—and if you commute or spend a lot of time in dark bars, a Kindle, iPad, or Nook still makes sense. But Apple and Barnes & Noble aren't exactly admirable companies, either—and even the ostensibly indie-friendly Kobo is owned by massive, Tokyo-based Rakuten, Inc. At least there are ways for e-reader users to avoid being chained to any one platform: The free desktop application Calibre lets you take any ebook, strip away its obnoxious DRM, and reformat it for a reader of your choice. But at that point, you're doing more work than if you just went to a real bookstore and bought a real book.
MOVIES—"The growth of rent-by-mail and streaming/downloadable content have decimated the once-proud brick-and-mortar video rental industry," Marc Mohan told me in 2012 when he was shuttering Video Vérité, his beloved North Mississippi store. But while Video Vérité is gone—Mohan is now the trustworthy film critic at the Oregonian—there are still places in Portland to rent a movie: The venerable Movie Madness continues not just to dispense movies but to celebrate them; Clinton Street Video chugs along; and though its dramatically shrunk, local chain Videorama still has three locations (two on Lombard, one on Alberta).
But for most people, streaming has become the way we watch—and streaming favors corporations. (The competitors to Amazon Instant Video—Netflix, iTunes, Hulu, Google, Comcast—are hardly mom-and-pop operations.) My makeshift compromise: An all-but-unavoidable Netflix subscription combined with scouring the shelves of used Blu-rays and DVDs at places like CD Game Exchange. And going to movies—Portland has theaters few other cities can match, like Cinema 21, the Hollywood, the Laurelhurst, the Academy, the Roseway, and the Bagdad.
MUSIC—For everyone who isn't an insufferable vinyl snob, music was the first thing to move to digital, and there it shall stay: Buying CDs in order to burn them onto a hard drive will never make sense. But look past iTunes and Spotify and there's a digital purveyor that's pretty slick: Bandcamp offers independent artists' digital songs and even old-timey CDs, usually cheaper than you'll find in digital stores—and with a larger cut of proceeds going to the musicians.
And if you're one of those insufferable vinyl snobs? We've still got Music Millennium, Everyday Music, and Jackpot Records. Not too bad.
Sound familiar? Like a bunch of stuff you already knew? Well, yeah, I know. I knew it too, back when I was buying a bunch of stuff from Amazon. Out of all the things Amazon has made easy, forgetting that we used to get along fine without them might be the thing they've made the easiest. It's up to us to remember.