You might not know, but I have a site where I review knitting books. So, imagine my surprise when I got this co-written email the other day.
As a “LYS owner” we are thrilled to read your messages about upcoming books and your reviews. It helps us to stock our shop. However, we STRONGLY OBJECT to your policy of linking to Amazon. Until Amazon starts supporting the small merchants instead of taking our local business, we will be forced to unsubscribe from your blog. We hope you understand.
Now, it’s a polite enough email, I suppose. Not profane. Not obscene. Not outright rude. Except…
Pick Your Battles.
Now, KnittingScholar.com is a labor of love and, except for getting some review copies, entirely unpaid. The only income stream the site has is the Amazon.com affiliate links that help defray the cost of the webhosting, and I tell people right up front. “Please, if you’re thinking of buying any of these books, please consider using the links here at Knitting Scholar–I’ll get a couple dollars from Amazon.com to go toward the cost of this site. My grateful thanks go with every order!”
Now, I can understand people who have independent bookstores wanting to shake their firsts at the internet behemoth for taking business away from them. I understand that there are people out there who object to Amazon.com on principle because it is so big, it’s so corporate, it’s taking over the universe, et cetera, et cetera. But this is a yarn shop, we’re talking about. One that presumably sells knitting books along with their yarn and needles, yes, but books wouldn’t be their primary income-maker.
Direct Your Anger Properly
Protesting that I am using links to Amazon because it takes away their business seems, well, absurd. It’s not like I’m the only place their customers would hear about these books. In fact, in this day and age, heading to an online store is almost a reflex, if only to hear what other people think about books you’re interested in. It’s not like people aren’t going to think of Amazon.com without my help.
Most people who go to yarn shops want to look at the yarn. They may definitely browse through books while they’re there, and of course they might buy some, but you can buy most of those books at bookstores, too. You can check them out of the library. You can borrow them from friends. Did these two email-writing shop owners send a protest to their local Barnes & Noble, too, for selling books that people could be buying in their shop? Or protest to the local library for letting people see them for free?
Business is Business
I hate the common excuse that “business is business,” because it’s too often used to excuse heartless strategies, but still … everyone has a right to earn a living. The line in their email that truly gets me, though, is “Until Amazon starts supporting the small merchants instead of taking our local business…”
Um, Amazon is in business to make money, just like you. I don’t think they’re deliberately trying to put small shops out of business (thought I agree they’re not helping). But why should any big store “start supporting” you? To think they owe you anything is absurd. These ladies might as well be complaining because A.C. Moore sells yarn and is taking their customers. I’ve even seen yarn at Walmart and at Target, and I’m quite sure those shops aren’t worrying about the little yarn shop down the street. And I’d bet these ladies haven’t written to them to complain–or to other local yarn shops for taking their customers, either.
Examine Your Own Behavior.
Here’s the other thing: They say in their email that they are “thrilled” to see my lists and reviews and that they “use them to stock their shop.”
Couldn’t I argue that they are profiting from my hard work? And taking “business” away from ME?
You can’t have it both ways. If you’re going to take advantage of my time and effort, that’s great. It’s exactly why I run the site, but you can’t then turn around and complain that I make a few dollars a month off of it. (Maybe I should be complaining that they’re not buying their store inventory using my Amazon links?)
Spreading Inspiration is ALWAYS Good for Business.
Ultimately, they’re forgetting the most important thing.
Selling knitting books means selling yarn. Sometimes knitters will buy the yarn first and then look for the pattern to match, but they just as often start with a pattern that they need to go find the perfect yarn for. That pattern could come from anywhere–a book, a magazine, a designer’s blog, a website. But putting inspiration in the hands of knitters is just going to sell more yarn. I understand that they’d rather people bought the books from them, but ultimately, that’s not the point.
Information Should be Free.
The modern world is requiring all of us to rethink things, but freedom of speech should not be one of them. I would never insist people buy books only using links from my site. I would never tell them that they must buy from Amazon. I would never discourage them from buying them in person from a bookstore or a friendly yarn shop.
What I AM doing, though, is trying to spread the word as far as I can. I tell people about the books to catch their attention and whet their appetites, and then I send them to (1) someplace where they can buy it, and (2) someplace they can read other people’s opinions before making a decision. I’m not providing restrictions. I’m providing options–and making sure people know about books they might not have heard of.
People are Free to Make Their Own Choices.
At the end of the day, people can and should make their own decisions about where they buy things. Buying local is good for the environment. Buying from a big-box store is good for the wallet. Buying in person is good for browsing. Buying online is good for convenience … you know all the arguments as well as I do.
The point is to let people make up their own minds. Heaven knows I’m not pressuring anybody to use my Amazon links–I’m just grateful when they do.
And if these shop owners feel they have to unsubscribe to my blog feed out of protest for my using links to their “competition?” That’s their choice, too. But trying to limit the dissemination of information, or to direct it in only the direction they want it to go? Especially on a website that they admit they’ve found useful but are not remotely connected with? It rather smacks of small-mindedness, narrow-vision, and censorship, don’t you think?
Am I crazy, that this email bugged me so much? What do you think?