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Wednesday, May 7, 2008


posted by on May 7 at 10:37 AM


Last night, I went down to Elliott Bay Book Company to buy Mother’s Day gifts to mail to my mom and to attend the Aleksandar Hemon reading (he was very charming, by the way, in an aloof, Eastern European way and, while he’s not the best reader of his own work, he did bring a Power Point presentation of the gorgeous photos in his most recent, very good book The Lazarus Project).

When I got there, customers and employees alike were abuzz with a recent happening: it seems that a furious customer had just shouted at an employee about the books lead that I wrote about’s lack of contributions to local arts organizations.

Now, I do quote an Elliott Bay employee’s blog—a blog not sponsored by Elliott Bay Book Company—in my article, but Elliott Bay had nothing to do with the story beyond that. The employee tried to tell the customer this, but the man was inconsolable. He said that, due to their involvement in that hack-work passing as journalism, he was never going to shop at Elliott Bay Book Company ever again. And then he threw his frequent buyer’s card at the employee and stormed out.

To which I have to say: You, anonymous angry consumer guy, are a total jackass. Way to protest my pointing out that a locally based global retailer doesn’t support local arts by boycotting a local retailer. You’re really making a case.

RSS icon Comments


Now thousands of people will hate him more than he has ever been hated before.

Posted by Mr. Poe | May 7, 2008 10:52 AM

But why was he so angry? I don't understand what was so terrible about the article?

Posted by boxofbirds | May 7, 2008 11:02 AM

what a douchy douchebag. i'm only sorry i wasn't there to tell him what a limp dick asshole he is.

Posted by scary tyler moore | May 7, 2008 11:02 AM

Seriously, why was he so angry? The article was well written and made a good point. Why hasn't Amazon stepped up like the other NW companies to support the arts in our area? I'm sure they have a matching gifts program and that is all well and good, but where are the company's charitable dollars going?

Posted by PopTart | May 7, 2008 11:11 AM

Wow, it's like the Elliott Bay employee told an Adobe employee that he has a pirate copy of Photoshop or something. sheesh.

Posted by mackro mackro | May 7, 2008 11:15 AM

Bezos has a temper...He got so angry, he threw his Kindle across the room, right in the middle of reading a particularely funny Boing, Boing article. Then, he cried, as he cradled the Kindle in his arms, the salty warm tears drenching his nerdishly ambiguous face.

Tomorrow, he'll burn both Elliot Bay Books AND the Stranger to the ground, and sow the soil with his salty tears so nothing grows again. Also, Paul Constant will be flailed.

Posted by michael strangeways | May 7, 2008 11:28 AM

@2 and 4: I'm going to put up the hate mail I've gotten on the piece soon. The best part is that I've gotten reasonable e-mails from Amazon employees (of course, I can't publish any of them because they're in fear of losing their jobs for defending their employer), but the people who are pissed on behalf of Amazon have nothing to do with the company. I think they're offended on capitalism's behalf.

Posted by Paul Constant | May 7, 2008 11:31 AM

I bet it was some hot-headed VP; they have offices a couple blocks away from Elliott Bay Books.

Posted by sunshine | May 7, 2008 11:33 AM

i like the idea that it was bezos. but until we know who this raging lunatic is for certain, i'm going to boycott twice told tales.

Posted by infrequent | May 7, 2008 11:38 AM

Hey, Constant, you philistine jackass, the officers of Amazon are doing the right thing. The officers have no business expending Amazon resources on anything other than making money for their shareholders. It's unfortunate that most public companies don't follow their exemplary example.

In the meantime, support the arts with your own and Tim Keck's money.

Posted by The Shareholder | May 7, 2008 11:44 AM

@10: I do support the arts. I also give to charity, although a good portion of my charity money is earmarked for donations to political campaigns this year. And if you're against giving money to the arts, then you actually fit the definition of philistine a lot more than me.

And a stock tip: if you want to make money as a shareholder, you'd probably do better not investing in retailers. Retailers' profit margins are exceedingly low, so even if the stock prices are high now, they'll eventually level out.

Posted by Paul Constant | May 7, 2008 11:50 AM

Personally, I thought it was about time someone pointed out Amazon's surprising lack of charity, especially in regards to the arts, and especially in their home city.

Posted by Will in Seattle | May 7, 2008 11:58 AM

Does Mama Constant make good cookies? Like oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, the sort that I have a hankering for right now? I'll bet she does.

Posted by David E. | May 7, 2008 11:59 AM

I think that #10 is technically correct, though I think that calling someone a "philistine jackass" about it is completely uncalled for. A company, like a machine, makes more and more money for the shareholders. Well, technically, that's what the shareholders want it to do. Money, money, money. Extraction of surplus value. M-C-M'. And so forth.

But why "philistine"? What does being a philistine have to do with wondering why Amazon doesn't devote a fraction of its profit to some sort of local arts foundations or causes? Frankly, it seems like it would be a good way to win over various people, or at least try to enhance its image?

Frankly, #10, you come across as a little hysterical. Are you the guy who threw the fit?

Posted by David E. | May 7, 2008 12:09 PM

@10 & @14 So, Microsoft in all its years of charitable giving has actually been hurting its shareholders?

I am not a corporate finance officer, but I believe the theory here is that corporations get to write-off charitable contributions, just like individuals do.

If you give enough, you owe less taxes, increasing your bottom line. If you increase the bottom line the company is valued higher attracting more investors. And that in turn makes more money for the shareholders.

But, again, I am not a business person so I could be completely wrong.

Posted by PopTart | May 7, 2008 12:21 PM

If charity is bad for shareholders why do so many corporations do it? Isn't the corporate system functioning correctly?

Posted by elenchos | May 7, 2008 12:26 PM

@4: Nope, not even matching gifts.

Posted by The Employee | May 7, 2008 1:05 PM

I'm a former Amazon employee, and one of the reasons why I left was the company's total lack of philanthropy -- no matching gifts, no donations to arts or charity, nothing at all. I inquired about it once and was told that the company didn't want to give away its shareholders' money. This is well-known inside the company, and not everyone is happy about it.

Posted by JimC | May 7, 2008 1:13 PM

@ 17 or 18 (or both, or anybody who's worked for Amazon or works for Amazon): If you'd like to talk to me about this, I'd appreciate it:

Posted by Paul Constant | May 7, 2008 1:36 PM

Amazon is a well-known hotbed of libertarianism. Does that equate to not doing corporate philanthropy?

Much as I hate to say it, though, corporations typically have no business giving away their shareholders' money to good causes, just as they have no business giving away their shareholders' money to excessive executive compensation.

That is a flaw, not a feature, in how corporations are chartered to function. There is no reward nor mechanism for anything but profit flowing to shareholders. It would be nice if that were not the case, and it seems like it should be possible to offer an alternative that's not "not for profit" or "non profit" but had the right tax and other incentives to allow a for-profit that had interests beyond greed.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman | May 7, 2008 1:39 PM

there might be goodwill/pr benefits for giving to charity. Oracle is not interested in that. I have a love/hate relationship with Larry on his whole style.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | May 7, 2008 1:45 PM

i'd ask a current amazon employee to post here to lend some insight to the topic. but then i remembered they get fired for that sort of behavior.

Posted by infrequent | May 7, 2008 2:11 PM

The shareholders in their capacity as individuals can support any not-for-profit organization of their choice. The purpose of the corporation is to make money for its shareholders.

A corporation has no business expending resources on a not-for-profit organization unless it expects some sort of return for its expenditure, a real return that will benefit its shareholders.

Posted by The Shareholder | May 7, 2008 7:47 PM

@ 23
As someone who grew up in Seattle (I'm finishing up my first year away from home), I'd like to point out the huge group of literate, politically savvy youth involved in the arts. "The real return that will benefit [Amazon's] shareholders" is simply brand loyalty. I find it hard to support a company that won't support the things that helped shape and guide me into becoming the young adult I am today: Youth Speaks Seattle, Pratt, Hugo House, SCT, ACT, Seattle Rep, Stone Soup, etc.

So I suppose I'm glad that I rarely used Amazon to begin with, and have local bookstores I can use instead. I see it simply as so: if they don't want to invest in me and my community, why do I want to invest in theirs?

Furthermore, is it not a little spurious to act as if Seattle's art community isn't something that can give a return to a company like Amazon?

Posted by young, but not dumb | May 7, 2008 10:11 PM

@15, the deductibility of contributions may operate to encourage charitable giving, but as a purely financial matter, spending $1 to get a deduction of $0.30 doesn't pencil.

Others here have alluded to it, but corporate boards (with the approval of big institutional investors) have in general made the determination that supporting the community and charitable giving do benefit shareholders in many ways.

Were it more mainstream and open-minded, Amazon's directors could very well conclude that supporting the community where it is based is good for its employees and a good recruiting tool; they could decide a high profile giving effort of the type that so many companies pursue is good for the brand and market awareness; and they could decide that the decision making about how to give to the community can be designed to enhance the experience of working at Amazon and make for better, smarter employees (see, e.g., The Boeing Good Neighbor Fund, Weyerhaeuser Foundation, all kinds of initiatives at Microsoft). They might even decide that the corporation should simply contribute something back to the communities from which it derives so many benefits, because it's the just right thing to do and good karma. And, it's deductible! As for you, @10, remind me not to hire you or join your company. I don't want to be around your creepy rigidity.

Posted by fixo | May 8, 2008 10:54 AM

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