On Not Buying Everything From Amazon

I buy a lot of stuff from them. Books, batteries, Bose earphones, travel alarm, anchovies…it’s a brilliant operation  — quick, simple, low-cost. But lately I’ve been backing off a bit. Yesterday I went into Builder’s Booksource in Berkeley and bought 2 books — Cracks in the Asphalt – Community Gardens in San Francisco, and Steal Like an Artist, which George, the owner showed me, plus 2 copies of Dwell Magazine (which I think sucks — going to write something about them soon).

   I read a while back about people finding books in bookstores and ordering from Amazon on their phones right then. Hold up here! Is low cost the only criteria? How about supporting the bookstores so they can stay open and you can go in and browse and talk to book-loving personnel?

   I’ve switched to ordering all my photo equipment from BH PhotoVideo in New York. To find an item like a Canon battery charger with fold-out (rather than cord) prongs, I talked to someone at BH, who directed me to the item I wanted right away. One time a guy there turned me onto a nice little card reader that he used himself. Their prices are about as good as Amazon. If you’re into photography and in Manhattan, go there — huge place — like 50 sales people at the digital counter — (take a number like for sandwiches at Whole Foods).

  Thirdly, I’ve been buying tools lately at Jackson Hardware, an employee-owned super tool and hardware store in San Rafael, Calif. Yesterday I bought a Makita model 4350T jigsaw, and it cost me $25 more than at Amazon. But the sales guy walked me through Makitas, Bosch’s, Dewalts and how to work the controls on the Makita for 4 different cutting actions. I ended up buying this top of the line one for $199. (At my age, it’ll last me for the –ulp! — rest of my life.)

   There’s a prevalent argument for buying everything from Amazon because they’re cheaper. I’m sayin that the almighty lowest cost ain’t all there is to it.

Mony Mony by Tommy James & The Shondells on Grooveshark

About Lloyd Kahn

Lloyd Kahn started building his own home in the early '60s and went on to publish books showing homeowners how they could build their own homes with their own hands. He got his start in publishing by working as the shelter editor of the Whole Earth Catalog with Stewart Brand in the late '60s. He has since authored six highly-graphic books on homemade building, all of which are interrelated. The books, "The Shelter Library Of Building Books," include Shelter, Shelter II (1978), Home Work (2004), Builders of the Pacific Coast (2008), Tiny Homes (2012), and Tiny Homes on the Move (2014). Lloyd operates from Northern California studio built of recycled lumber, set in the midst of a vegetable garden, and hooked into the world via five Mac computers. You can check out videos (one with over 450,000 views) on Lloyd by doing a search on YouTube:

16 Responses to On Not Buying Everything From Amazon

  1. You are so right. In New Zealand the huge mega stores have put thousands of little family businesses out of business. And into a life of hell. They have to go to these big horrible places to buy what they once made and sold to find it's now made in China…

  2. To late for most people to realize the big boxes and amazon and their ilk are the evildoers and when we support them we are evil too. Beause after-all it is about our percieved reality and the happiness it brings

  3. I think that one of the problems with the blogoshere is that too many blogs make their money by directing people to Amazon where the blog gets a cut and this cuts out the local businesses. And are we just buying too much stuff? I remember when local businesses were the only game in town and if they didn't have something we didn't buy it. A great topic.

  4. It's thanks to a small, independent bookstore (Armchair Books in Whistler, BC) that I came across Tiny Homes (it was face-out near the window). That's what got me into all the other Shelter stuff!

  5. Thanks for suggesting we stop to think about what we're doing. I've become lazy and use amazon a lot – it's easy, my cc card # is right there, I don't have to brave the traffic or being accosted in the big box store parking lot by panhandlers who, I might add, have become very aggressive lately bordering on scary (well, I do live in Vegas). You are a breath of fresh air Lloyd and I always enjoy your blog – and you're still cute as a button.

  6. You're absolutely right that lowest cost is not the end all be all. But Amazon is brilliant at what they do and environmentally sound to boot. I am still astounded by the availability, I type in the obscure part number from some appliance like the door spring in my microwave and they have it and furthermore for less than half the price of the outrageous local shop that refused to refund my $450 for the oven electronic control unit when it turned out it wasn't the problem. They get it to my door in 2 days and will gladly accept any return for any reason. We live in a rural area and UPS services these outlying neighborhoods every day saving us 35-45 mile roundtrips to big box stores.

    Think of the bazillions of items and vendors that Amazon is coordinating flawlessly, this is excellence on a scale never seen before. If Obama had called up Jeff Bezos and contracted out the Healthcare web site does anyone doubt what the outcome would have been?

    Granted there are instances where personal service and interaction are wanted and appreciated. I lived in San Francisco for years and never ever shopped at any national retail store, only at local shops, it was a fantastic and frankly elitist experience because in 90% of America the only choice now is between a big box store and Amazon. The fact is there never was much choice out here at all, Amazon is a godsend to the rural life.

  7. Your article, and every comment sans one (more in a second) are my mantra, even though I do purchase from Amazon at times. The last comment, I can only say this. I live on a tiny island where there are NO big box stores and if you want say, a lamp, it involves a day, traveling back and forth on the ferry, getting a taxi (or you can bring your own car over but that can be a big hassle) and Mom & Pop stores even on the big island of Puerto Rico are few or non-existent for one item or another – like say, blue cheese. So I know about 'rural' living. But we do have access to the internet and I think the point is, we can still buy from family or small businesses online, though yes, as was mentioned, sometimes the cost is more. Sometimes I'll read about a place that doesn't have shipping but you can pretty easily reach out via email and ask if they will sell you something and many times people are willing to work it out. There's etsy too, with some surprising options on goods, and while etsy takes a cut, that is about as direct as it gets. Finally, the comment about 'are we just buying too much stuff'. Yep. Thanks, Lloyd, for putting this out here. May the tribe increase.

  8. Amen. There was a great short Radiolab episode about the working environment at Amazon fulfillment centers. It's well worth a listen, and eye-opening: imagine having a countdown clock playing on your headphones for every task you do at work! Not the kind of work that augments the human condition, I'd say. http://www.radiolab.org/story/brown-box/

    Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on Dwell, too. That magazine drives me bonkers – depressingly empty spaces, uncomfortable furniture. Keeping up with the Joneses, 1950s style, nothing different.

  9. Except where you live in the middle of nowhere and do not have a bookstore, decent hardware store, tool store, etc within 90 miles and those charge like they are the only source. Plus we don't make many trips out so we have the brown truck. We built a house last summer and a lot of stuff came down the lane in the brown truck. Amazon makes living out here away from the craziness of the world much easier.

  10. I never shop from A-zon. Look at the power they have in publishing as well as all the small business they put out of business.

    Now you just need to convince Mr. Kelly that Cool Tools can be bought elsewhere!

  11. We could debate Amazon until the end of time…. The reviews are one thing that makes Amazon nice… Change is tough Lloyd 🙂 I am awaiting your diatribe on Dwell mag originally I was quite intrigued and looked forward to there publication but it's become so yuppified that even I the harbinger of change have decided that every issue seems just like the previous one with adds for unaffordable and mostly unneeded products. Can't wait!!!!!

  12. Hi Lloyd,

    I've followed your blog for a long time and love your books. I too used to love Amazon and have tried to ween myself lately. As Tom B. mentions there are some major issues with Amazon's labor practices that put them on par with Wal-Mart. Also FYI to Tom, Abebooks is owned by Amazon. biblio.com or alibris.com are pretty good alternatives.

  13. Amazon was a great invention and very useful for many things. However, I'm quite willing to pay a bit more for expert sales guidance. Even in the most selfish terms, low cost isn't always the way. One other thing: I remember the rule of mom-and-pop stores. They weren't necessarily great to buy from or to work for.

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