A lot has been written recently about British values, which seem to encompass queuing, politeness, and apologising to foreign tourists when they bump into you in Tube stations. (And not just stopping dead in the exits in large groups, bah!) The latest beneficiary of British politeness in all its perversity is the giant internet retailer, Amazon.
Other countries, currently, are being very un-British about voicing their feelings about Amazon. In the United States, authors including the comedian Stephen Colbert have lashed out against the retailer's tactics, which include "persuading" the publisher Hachette to offer better terms by delaying delivery of its books, refusing some pre-sale orders and suggesting alternatives to customers searching for Hachette books. Amazon say "negotiating acceptable terms" is an "essential business practice". As Colbert has said on his prime-time TV show, Amazon's methods harm first-time authors more, but as a national broadcaster with an audience of over a million, he's in a position to make an issue of it.
Meanwhile, last week, the French parliament passed a so-called "anti-Amazon" law, which will end Amazon's ability to aggressively discount books. "This is a sign of our deep attachment to books in this nation," said the French Minister of Culture Aurélie Filippetti, "and it demonstrates the belief that France builds itself through its past and its future." At the same time, some British publishers have spoken on condition of anonymity to The Bookseller, about "heavy pressure" from Amazon over terms. The magazine has heard about a new clause meaning that books could not be sold for a lower price than Amazon's anywhere, not even on the publisher's own website. Amazon is also said to want the right to print books itself, should a publisher be temporarily out of stock. The UK Government's response is to keep asking Amazon ever so nicely if it will please stump up some taxes, sorry, to pay for the roads that it uses to deliver its books, the education of its readers, the healthcare of its employees …
Now, in a new twist, Transport for London (TfL) has announced it will join Network Rail in allowing "click and collect" points in its stations and car parks to make it even easier for Amazon to pile books high and sell 'em cheap. How very British of us, to say, "Sorry about the taxes thing, have some of our stations, too. Shall we sack some staff to make room for you?"
I can only assume that Amazon is paying these stations a huge amount of money to compensate the tax-payers and passengers who fund TfL and Network Rail, but the company's press office declined to comment, saying only, "I am sorry we don't break out those numbers". Ah well, at least they said sorry. Maybe next Amazon will learn some other British values, such as being polite, using Tube stations properly, and paying taxes.