A few weeks ago I learned that I had been chosen for the inaugural Booktrust Lifetime Achievement Award.
I was, of course, delighted. I told my wife, told my daughter and ran around the house. Then I discovered that the award was sponsored by Amazon and felt obliged to refuse it. The award was to be presented, along with many others, also Amazon- sponsored, at Booktrust’s recent Best Book event.
The Amazon sponsorship deal is a mistake. Amazon’s baleful influence on the British book trade is frequently referred to—see also what’s happening with Hachette in America—but it is its position as “The UK’s No1 Tax Avoider” (Ethical Consumer) that bothers me.
Tax, fairly applied to us all, is a good thing. It pays for schools, hospitals—libraries! When companies like Amazon cheat—paying 0.1% on billions, pretending it is earning money not in the UK, but in Luxembourg— that’s a bad thing. We should surely, at the very least, say that it is bad and on no account give it any support or, by association, respectability.
Booktrust does good work and has a well-deserved reputation. Amazon, via its sponsorship, gets up close to Booktrust and hopes that some of this rubs off. Sadly, I’d say, it also works the other way: Amazon sponsors Booktrust; Booktrust sponsors Amazon, and all of us— writers, illustrators, publishers, judges—get drawn in. For my part, the idea that my “lifetime achievement”— i.e. the books (and all of Janet’s work too)—should have the Amazon tag attached to it is unacceptable.
It’s a miserable business with no easy way out. Amazon’s defence is that it is not breaking any laws, but could Booktrust not have found a more moral sponsor? Could we do without sponsors? “The Shoestring Book Awards”, perhaps, paid for by the book trade itself.
Or something, anything, rather than this unhappy entanglement.