Culture Columnist


A student-friendly guide to book-buying that won’t bankrupt you - morally or financially.

The start of the academic year has been a bewildering time for many on campus. The ongoing pandemic has dramatically altered the way in which we conduct our studies, and confusion is widespread across the university. In these unpredictable times, however, every student can still rely on being presented with a long, daunting - and possibly expensive - reading list.

Setting out to purchase the tomes I’ve been directed towards by my teachers brought me to a familiar location: Amazon.com. Amazon is unequivocally a cheap and convenient place to procure textbooks - but the prospect of supporting the company left a bad taste in my mouth. I had, of course, heard rumours of Amazon’s scandalous exploits, and so before clicking the “buy now” button I chose to do a little further research on the matter.

Amazon has gained a poor reputation over the past few years; in the last decade, for example, the Amazon corporation has avoided paying over £75m in tax. Add that to a history of ethics violations, union-busting, and evidence of child labour being used in Amazon’s supply chain, and it is little wonder why a call for its boycott has developed.

To make matters even worse, Jeff Bezos, the owner of Amazon.com, is now worth a massive $175.4bn. He’s quite literally the richest man on earth.

In the face of all this, I resolved to seek out possible alternatives to Amazon - largely to prevent Jeff’s pile of money from getting any larger. In the words of the man himself: “Life’s too short to hang out with people who aren’t resourceful.” With this wise mantra weighing heavily on my mind, I mustered up all the resourcefulness I possessed in order to present to you, the reader, the following guide. I hope my efforts aid you in escaping the Amazon empire in an ethical, but also cost-efficient way.

An estimated 4bn trees are cut down annually in order to keep up with the world’s growing demand for paper. This figure may make the prospect of purchasing a physical paper book less appealing to those of us concerned about the looming climate emergency. The obvious solution to this dilemma is to turn to e-readers, which don’t require the pulverisation of quite so many trees. Fortunately, the widespread adoption of this online format is already underway.

However, for those among us who still find comfort in the reassuring physicality of a paperback book, there may still be hope. Just off Gibson Street, in adjacent lanes, lie two independent second-hand bookshops: Voltaire and Rousseau (12-14 Otago Lane), and Thistle Books (55 Otago Street). Within these inviting establishments, you can find a selection of books encompassing a wide array of topics, from philosophy to classic literature. And the prices are good - sometimes unbelievably so. After a recent visit to these literary goldmines, I departed not only with a stable credit score but also with a conscience free of the guilt that accompanies each Amazon purchase.

Nonetheless, to many readers, the thought of trawling through physical spaces in search of a particular book that may or may not even be there might seem a daunting one. This is especially true in the age of Covid-19, when a pleasant visit to a cosy bookshop may prove to be a risky (and perhaps unlawful!) endeavour. In this case, the reader may turn to the online sphere as a means of acquiring sought-after texts. Project Gutenberg offers the free download of over 60,000 eBooks, all within the public domain. Gutenberg is an essential website for anyone who is searching for classic titles, or for those who simply enjoy free stuff! So there you have it, a short guide on where to buy books when Amazon just isn’t cutting it. I wish you happy reading, and the best of luck in your attempt to navigate a university reading career between the Scylla of a limited budget and the Charybdis of monopolistic e-capitalism.


1 reply on “The Amazon alternatives you knew you needed”

Ethan Brodie says:

great article bro

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