Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Letter to the Editor: UMass should renegotiate its deal with Amazon

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The new Amazon @ UMass virtual bookstore, located in the Campus Center. (Shannon Broderick/Daily Collegian)

The new Amazon @ UMass virtual bookstore, located in the Campus Center.
(Shannon Broderick/Daily Collegian)

The University should renegotiate its deal with Amazon and reopen the Textbook Annex with another third party partner for three ethical and economic reasons.

First, the arrangement with Amazon represents the complete commodification of literature.
As Karl Marx systematically explained, the institution of capitalism, whether in private or public organizations, will perpetuate the de-humanization of all goods and services. As a public institution dedicated to critical thinking and higher education, I expect my university to protect the human aspects of labor and literature instead of giving into the machine of capitalism.

By disintegrating the process of creating and disseminating literature into corporate controlled publishers, inhuman supply chains, exploitative labor practices, online shopping, and ultimately a disconnected online financial transaction that sends a book through Amazon conveyer belts to the Amazon pick up station, the University and Amazon have fully disconnected the consumption of literature from the production of literature.

Second, the arrangement establishes a bureaucratic monopoly.

Amazon offers a series of services that many students found beneficial, and so those students elected to purchase those services, but now, students must purchase those services regardless of the student’s preferences.

We are now, through no agency of our own, a captive audience to Amazon.

Although Amazon claims that students will save an estimated 30 percent this year through Amazon, there are little mechanisms to monitor or ensure these savings, and no competition for students to turn to if these savings don’t appear.

Third, in a blatant marketing ploy Amazon and the University have obliged students to purchase Amazon Prime.

In corporate advertisements sprawled across our University, and in the Amazon link sent to students last week, the company claims to provide personal delivery to UMass students to the “following zip codes” in the Amherst area, and if you “don’t live in those zip codes” you can instead get one “day delivery to the campus store;” however, conversations with the store employees and Amazon customer service reveal that one can get one-day shipping to their address or to the store for one day pick up only if they are UMass student who elects to pay for Amazon Prime.

I can’t afford, and don’t want, to purchase Amazon Prime, but, since Amazon and the University have effectively established a monopoly, I must purchase Amazon Prime or be at a disadvantage to students who got their books expediently. If the textbook annex were still here I would have had my books on the first day of the semester, now, I will be waiting until mid-September.

Considering the commodification of literature, the limiting of choices and uncertain savings, becoming a captive audience, and the blatant marketing ploy, does this deal really help students? I feel as though I have been forced into purchasing from Amazon with little benefit to myself.
In light of the broader narrative of the corporatization of higher education, the monopolization of industry, and the reportedly unfair labor practices at Amazon, this deal is just another machination of capitalism commodifying human labor and its product.

Michael Havlin

6 Comments

6 Responses to “Letter to the Editor: UMass should renegotiate its deal with Amazon”

  1. Kris on September 14th, 2015 7:47 am

    I remember when one of my Marxist gen-ed professors wanted us to buy books for her class from Food for Though Books in downtown Amherst. The place was a socialist wet dream. It’s also closed now, because the donations it kept soliciting weren’t enough to keep it open, much less the business it did. I went down there, checked out the price, checked out Barnes and Noble, checked out Amazon, and made my decision. I’m fairly certain that the money I saved on Amazon that day was enough to pay for a Prime membership. Prime is free for students for 6 months, and then it’s only $50 a year after that while you’re a student. If you are telling me you can’t afford $50 a year for what’s obviously going to be more than $50 in savings, you have confirmed my suspicion that you don’t work.

  2. LBH on September 14th, 2015 11:32 am

    “The machine of capitalism” is a hilarious line. Make sure that line isn’t attributable to anyone when it comes time to interview for a job. Ironically, the system you’ve just described is Obamacare for books! I don’t know what an “inhuman supply chain is” but “exploitative labor practices” certainly describes our current federal government’s policy toward economics.

    I wonder how Mr. Marx would have felt had he lived to see how his philosophies were catastrophically carried out throughout the world. Talk about de-humanization, just talk to citizens of the USSR, Cuba, Venezuela or any other number of terrible places.

    On a more poignant note, just imagine how you’ll feel when it’s your health care plan instead of textbooks!

  3. Stefan Herlitz on September 14th, 2015 1:49 pm

    Even accepting the premises of your argument, why do you want the Textbook Annex back, and what would you want to be ‘renegotiated’ in the contract?

    The Textbook Annex was run by one company, Efollett, and was more expensive than Amazon. Nowhere in your letter do you describe any way that the Textbook Annex was preferable, because there really isn’t one. It was terrible, truly terrible. You can buy books through Amazon at a lower cost with a greater level of convenience, which is what I generally did even when the Annex was open.

    Ultimately, it seems you’re really just angry at the publishing business for selling books to the world’s largest online retailer. You can buy textbooks from other sources if you want, just don’t expect co-ops or book collectives to have the books you’re looking for, let alone low prices.

  4. KLM on September 16th, 2015 12:07 pm

    You misunderstand the one-day delivery of textbooks.

    Free one-day delivery of textbooks is available to the Campus Center pickup location, to residence halls, or to neighboring zip codes with no charge for delivery and no need to join Amazon Prime.

    Amazon Prime is only necessary if you want to get one-day delivery of non-text book materials, like electronics, health and beauty supplies or the many other things Amazon sells.

  5. Zac Bears on September 22nd, 2015 11:18 am

    Stefan: From what I’ve heard this year, Amazon book prices are higher at UMass than they used to be. I mostly got textbooks on Amazon as well, but now that it controls the campus textbook market at UMass, it has no incentive to offer low prices to compete with eFollett or local bookstores. Once Amazon got their contract, they either (1) chose to raise prices because there was no competition, or (2) had to raise prices to pay for one-day delivery and their new campus infrastructure and staff. Either way, students lose.

  6. Stefan Herlitz on September 22nd, 2015 11:50 am

    Zac, are you suggesting that Amazon, a massive international bookseller, chose to raise prices because there’s no longer an extremely expensive bookstore on one particular college campus? The difference in competition is negligible.

    It’s not like UMass students get different pricing from the millions of other people who use the site.

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