Fifty years ago, in the aftermath of World War Two, a group of pacifists opened Housmans radical bookshop at its current address at 5 Caledonian Road, in London’s Kings’ Cross. Ever since, Housmans has worked hard to continue its mission of promoting ideas of peace, human rights and a more equitable economy by which future wars, and all their inherent suffering, might be avoided. At a time when independent bookshops are closing down left, right and centre, it is reassuring that Housmans is still holding its corner.The biggest threat to independent bookshops has been the rise to dominance of the online bookseller Amazon.com. Amazon has achieved an unrivalled supremacy over the marketplace, but this near-monopoly wasn’t achieved without the usual unethical practices that are so common to the world’s biggest corporations.What is wrong with using Amazon?
In 2001 the Guardian first reported on the poor working conditions in Amazon's warehouses, and nothing much has changed since. In December 2008, a Sunday Times reporter went undercover to their Marston Gate warehouse near Milton Keynes and discovered that staff were required to work seven days a week and were punished for taking sick leave, even if they had a note from their doctor. According to Unite the Union, Amazon continues to see trade union representation as illegitimate. But it’s not just Amazon workers who suffer at the hands of the multi-national corporation. Publishers are also squeezed for every penny, as Amazon forces them to supply them at rates so low that it leaves authors and publishers out of pocket – particularly damaging smaller publishing houses. Amazon’s dominance of the market means that publishers have little choice but to comply with their demands. Aside from the ethical considerations, this affects readers in reduced output from small presses, and diminished availability of radical titles. Providing an ethical alternative and so into this arena steps Housmans Bookshop. Housmans, in conjunction with Gardners Books, has just launched its own online bookshop to rival Amazon. Although still prioritising their stock of radical interest and progressive politics, the site is also able to provide around half a million general titles. “Many of our most politically conscious colleagues use Amazon, and when asked why, it’s because they know of no alternative. But now, wherever they live, people will be able to support independent and progressive bookselling from the comfort of their own home.
I think it’s essential that we are able to provide an alternative to help dent Amazon’s monopoly,” explains co-manager Nik Gorecki. “It’s up to sympathetic book buyers to do the right thing, and buy their books elsewhere.” “This year Housmans celebrates fifty years of trading from our Caledonian Road address, but in order for us to be here another fifty years we have to stand up for ourselves, and trust in ethically-minded book-buyers to support independents. The staff at Housmans has fought many battles over the years for causes we believe in, and this is one battle we can’t afford to lose. Please support the shop that supports your campaigns! Housmans Bookshop 5 Caledonian Road King's Cross London N1 9DX Tel: 020 7837 4473