Dog-Eared and Dispatched: December 1, 2013
Welcome to December, literary citizens! All of us at Late Night Library hope you enjoyed a lovely Thanksgiving and had the chance to support your favorite indie bookstores on Small Business Saturday. This week in the wild world of book culture, BBC goes undercover to investigate the workplace conditions of an Amazon warehouse. Next, Publishers Weekly names American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher their Person of the Year. Lastly, the Indies First Initiative goes global as Canada launches their Shop Around the Neighborhood campaign.
On Monday, November 25, BBC’s current affairs program, “Panorama,” broadcasted “The Truth Behind the Click,” a documentary that gives the public an inside look at the working conditions of a U.K.-based Amazon warehouse . The undercover investigation began when 23-year-old BBC reporter Adam Littler became an employee for the warehouse. Equipped with a handset that beeped whenever he wasn’t moving fast enough, Littler’s job as a picker included scanning orders from the factory’s 800,000 square foot storage space every 33 seconds. “We are machines, we are robots: we plug our scanner in, [and] we’re holding it, but we might as well be plugging it into ourselves,” Littler said of his experience. “We don’t think for ourselves. Maybe they don’t trust us to think for ourselves as human beings, I don’t know.” Professor Michael Marmot, one of the U.K.’s leading stress experts, told BBC that the conditions Littler and other Amazon employees are working under could very well lead to physical and mental health issues. “There are always going to be menial jobs, but we can make them better or worse,” Marmot stated. “And it seems to me the demands of efficiency at the cost of individual’s health and wellbeing—it’s got to be balanced.” In response to these accusations, Amazon representatives told BBC that the company holds the safety of its employees as its “number one priority,” going on to add that their own company-appointed expert has assured Amazon that its workplace practices “comply with all relevant legal requirements.” Nevertheless, many independent booksellers like Keith Smith of Warwick Books are hoping that the revelations brought forth by this documentary will make consumers think twice . “I think the public’s perceptions are already changing. We certainly noticed a big difference as the result of our petition to get Amazon to pay tax and the subsequent debate in Parliament. We have lots and lots of people saying ‘I am not going to buy anything on Amazon any more and we should all support our local shops,’ and I have had people writing to me from all over saying can we supply them with books so that they don’t have to use Amazon,” Smith stated. “I just think they are a reprehensible company all round, and the ‘Panorama’ findings bear out that they are totally unreasonable in their demands on their workers.” [The Bookseller, BBC One]
American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher was named Publishers Weekly‘s Person of the Year this Tuesday, November 26. PW editors determine their annual award-winner based on who they believe has made the most significant contributions to book publishing and bookselling. Teicher was distinguished from other candidates due to the ABA’s role in assisting independent bookstores and reviving independent booksellers’ influence within the industry over the course of the last year. “It was clear from discussions with the editorial team that the role independent booksellers are playing in keeping print books a viable business needed to be recognized in 2013, and with the leadership Oren and the ABA Board has provided it became an easy choice,” PW Co-editorial Director Jim Milliot said. In the ABA’s press release , Teicher thanked PW for the “extraordinary honor,” going on to say, ” But the real winners of this award are independent booksellers nationwide. Their hard work, continuous innovation, and passionate commitment to serving their customers and their communities, while connecting writers and readers, are responsible for this resurgence in indie bookselling . . . And, while I am very humbled in being singled out, no one knows more than I that whatever recognition ABA receives also belongs in large part to my remarkable colleagues on the ABA staff.” A full interview between Teicher and ABA board president Steve Berchu will appear in PW‘s December 2 issue. [Publishers Weekly, ABA]
Yesterday, November 30, Blue Heron Books and a number of other independent Canadian bookstores officially joined the Indies First Initiative via Canada’s “Shop Around the Neighborhood ” campaign. After learning of Sherman Alexie’s proposal for “Small Business Saturday” earlier this year, Blue Heron bookstore owner Shelley Macbeth teamed up with the Canadian Booksellers Association to establish a likeminded celebration of Canada’s local bookstores and businesses. Participating authors included Terry Fallis (The Best Laid Plans), Ted Barris (The Great Escape: A Canadian Story), and Vikki Vansickle (Jane, The Fox & Me). Although there was substantial author/bookseller interest in the campaign, time constraints made this year’s events rather abbreviated. By next fall, Macbeth and other participating store owners hope to execute a much larger, nationwide program. “My hat’s really off to Sherman Alexie and all the authors in the U.S. supporting [Small Business Saturday],” Macbeth told Shelf Awareness. “Had [Canadian authors] known in sufficient time here, I’m sure they would have backed it. What author wouldn’t go out to support indies after that gauntlet is thrown down?” [Shelf Awareness]