UK children’s author Allan Ahlberg has turned down the first-ever Booktrust Lifetime Achievement Award from UK literacy charity Booktrust because it is sponsored by Amazon.

In an open letter to The Bookseller, Ahlberg, 75, wrote: “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.” He cited his objections to Amazon’s practices on corporate taxation, as well as “Amazon’s baleful influence on the British book trade … see also what’s happening with Hachette in America.”

Ahlberg, according to his Penguin author page, is “a former teacher, postman, plumber’s mate and grave digger, is in the super- league of children’s writers. He has published over 100 children’s books.” He continued:

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.

“Amazon’s defence is that it is not breaking any laws, but could Booktrust not have found a more moral sponsor?” concluded Ahlberg. “Could we do without sponsors?”

As Ahlberg’s statement suggests, his reaction could partly be taken as collateral damage from the Amazon/Hachette dispute, as well as overall objections to Amazon in general. And as David Gaughran was quick to tweet, Amazon’s taxation practices have been represented – or rather, misrepresented – in very partial and biased terms across broad swathes of the media, some at least of whom have fallen victim to anti-Amazon astroturfing.

The question still remains for Amazon: Is it worth using the pot-calling-kettle-black argument about its tax practices? Yes, other companies, particularly publishers, do the same thing and don’t get anything like the media attention. Yes, this is common practice for many multinationals. Does that make it ethical? The jury is still out.

On the other hand, Amazon’s critics also have to answer the question: Are they taking issue with Amazon purely and only over its tax practices? Or are they using those as a convenient stick to beat Amazon with, when what they really object to is the decline of the traditional bookshop, the rising presence of the ebook, digital piracy, American MNCs in general, etc. etc. As you can see above and in Ahlberg’s original letter, I suspect there’s far less ambiguity about the answer to that question.


  1. Quote: “Does that make it ethical? The jury is still out.”

    No, the jury didn’t even need to go out to debate that one. A book giant like Amazon evading taxes that Sally’s Tiny Little Bookstore pays is unethical, however legal it might be.

    Keep in mind that all taxes do harm as well as good (the latter when spent properly). That’s why there are so many different kinds of them. It spreads the harm around.

    That’s also why when one entity, whether Amazon or Bono, both notorious offenders, evade taxes, then the burden falls elsewhere, either in higher taxes on others or in poorer services. It’s particularly foul when the party evading taxes is a hypocrite in other ways. Here are illustrations of what I mean.

    * Apple’s iBookstore pays authors generously: 70% of retail for all prices from $0.99 to $199.99. Amazon’s Kindle store cheats them, paying only 35% for ebooks priced outside the $2.99 to 9.99 price range and charges a hideously inflated download fee inside that range. That’s why Amazon pretending to be a patron of writers is so phony. You might as well pretend that the original Scrooge of Dicken’s tale cared about Tiny Tim.

    * U2’s lead singer, Bono, is equally phony. He harasses European governments to give more to poorer countries while not merely using loopholes to evade paying taxes himself, but shifting his business scheme when one loophole is ended to fit into another. Details here:

    The relevant quotes:

    “It’s not that U2 has evaded taxes in the legal sense. But in 2006, after the Irish government decided to cap the income level that would qualify for tax-free earnings for artists, the band moved some of its business to the Netherlands.”


    That might be easier to get away with if not for Bono’s moralizing about Africa, and the Irish activists are having none of it. A spokesman for Art Uncut, which opposes expenditure cuts by the government and blames tax dodgers, told the Mail that “Bono claims to care about the developing world, but U2 greedily indulges in the very kind of tax avoidance that is crippling poor nations.” He added: “We will be showing the very real impact of U2’s tax avoidance on hospitals and schools in Ireland. Anyone watching will be made very aware that Bono needs to pay up.”

    Color both Amazon and Bono as phony as a pink three-dollar bill, not that they care.

    My thanks to UK children’s author Allan Ahlberg for putting Amazon in its proper place.

    Also, it’s silly to claim that there’s something naughty about choosing Amazon or Bono as targets and not saying as much about others. Both are high profile. Publicity directed at them will force others to change too.

  2. As in the days of yore when my novels would have had to sell via distributors and publishers I think were corporate evildoers, today I need my works on Amazon’s digital shelves to get my work to the Kindle-using readers. That does not make Amazon any less a corporate evildoer does it.

  3. Is it ethical?


    Amazon is beholden to share holders. If they intentionally pay more taxes than required by law they would not be operating in the best interests of those share holders.

    Amazon is operating a business.

    Do you (and I) want them to be better corporate citizens? Yes.

    If you can show your shareholders you are being a better company by using less packaging in your shipments that is both good for business and for the world overall.

    No one has any ethical requirement to pay more to someone else than they have to.

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