Screw You, Amazon? Five Other Ways to Get Cheap Books Into Your Classroom

amazon postSo, I cancelled my Amazon account last week.

The procedure for doing this is absolutely fascinating. You have to email Amazon directly, first of all– no quick and easy “unsubscribe” button– by diving determinedly through six or seven layers of the website to find the form and email address you need.

Then you go through a round or two of concerned Auntie I can’t-believe-you’re-getting-divorced emails (steaming cup of tea and cookies, your hand captured and pressed warmly, her brow furrowed as she leans over the kitchen table and asks, “Are you sure?”).

You’re cut loose, finally, with a message I can only describe from my overactive imagination as– well– stricken.

As you requested, your account has been closed and I’ve unsubscribed your e-mail address from our mailing list. Your account is no longer accessible to you or anyone else.We’ve appreciated your business and wish you the best of luck in the future.
Best regards,

Oh, Anand. I never meant to hurt you.

As it turns out, marketers are kind of happy I’ve kicked Amazon to the curb. It’s likely I am a “problematic customer,” more prone to complaining about the service and shoving their emails into my Spam box.  I’m just obstructionist enough to find this delightful.

I’m also more problematic than they think: I don’t find Amazon emails annoying, but rather morally suspect. The New Yorker reports beautifully here about the take-no-prisoners attitude of Amazon and its founder, Jeff Bezos, towards book publishers (arguably a cartel in and of themselves), and Mother Jones also recently sent someone undercover to work in a warehouse that supplies companies like Amazon. Here’s one of my favorite lines from that shudder-inducing piece: “I feel genuinely sorry for any child I might have who ever asks me for anything for Christmas, only to be informed that every time a “Place Order” button rings, a poor person takes four Advil and gets told they suck at their job.”

I’ve tried this once before when I was still in the classroom– cancelling my account, that is. But then I discovered that I couldn’t find my DVD of the adaptation of Gary Paulsen’s “Nightjohn,” and I needed it for my unit in, like, six days. I caved, and re-registered.

There’s disturbing parallels, like that one, all over warehouse employment and public education. Like the low-wage temps warehouses hire, as a typical teacher I don’t really have the money to pay for the approximately $500-800 in extraneous supplies most teachers spend out of their own pockets, so I need to use Amazon for their cheap prices (and the likelihood that they actually stock the “Nightjohn” movie from 1996). Like dehumanized warehouse employees, as a typical teacher I also don’t have any time to plan or think ahead, so I’m discovering my lack of critical equipment much too late. I need the author of the Mother Jones piece to take her four Advil at 3 am and go find my damn video. 

I feed the monster. Or perhaps more accurately, the monster feeds itself. 

So I’m not dissing teachers for holding onto their Amazon accounts– believe me, I understand. But I humbly offer here five alternate paths I have employed over the years to stop feeding the monster, at least in terms of books.

1) GO TO WWW.BETTERWORLDBOOKS.COM FIRST.  Better World Books is not nearly as well known as it should be among teachers. 8 times out of 10, they have the weird book I need, and more cheaply than Amazon. Better World Books collects and sells only used books, and donates or recycles all of its products that it doesn’t sell on line. They environmentally offset their shipping. I never pay shipping costs. And judging from all their press, it’s a good place to work. Check it out.

2) GO TO WWW.INDIEBOUND.ORG NEXT. IndieBound hooks you up with local booksellers so that you’re not only getting out of the Amazon game, but also the Barnes and Nobles one. I have always been able to find the titles I need here; no moldy Dick-and-Jane leftovers from the 60’s, unless you want them.

3) BECOME A MEMBER OF WWW.PAPERBACKSWAP.COM. The digital version of “Hey, I have this book I finished– do you want it?” Completely free. Audio books available through this website as well.

4) GET LOCAL LIBRARY BOOK SALES ON YOUR CALENDAR. Most branches of your local library will have kick-butt cheap-as-heck decent-books sales semi-annually, around the same time; I stick the typical dates on my Google calendar and set to repeat once a year to twig me to check out the dates and head over. First day usually gets you the best selection; last day will usually net you some kind of “bag of books for $5” sale. No sticky questions about what you’re money’s supporting, either.

5) EXPLORE ALTERNATE PUBLISHING COMPANIES.  The one mentioned in the New Yorker piece, OR Books, is a great place to start. Granted, most of their select titles are for grown-ups (my absolute laugh-out-loud favorite being _Fifty Shades of Louisa May_), but check out the annual Independent Book Publisher Awards in the Juvenile and Young Adult categories to get a very good sense of what other treasures are out there. Here’s three to check out for fun:

If you contact these little places, explain you’re a teacher who teaches in their demographic and would like to serve as an advance reviewer; you can also sometimes get free books that way.

Got any tips and tricks for sticking it to the Book Man? Leave them in the comments. Meantime, at least for now, I am enjoying my Amazon-free me. 


One thought on “Screw You, Amazon? Five Other Ways to Get Cheap Books Into Your Classroom

  1. This is great! A good friend of mine wrote this piece:, which also highlights how scary Amazon is…
    I order so much from Amazon for my job and I really hate it, but it can be tough finding so many copies of a book on such short notice and to know they will arrive on time! Though I have been trying to order directly through publishers when I can. Thanks for the suggestions and continued inspiration!

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