Is There an Ethical Way to Buy Books Online?

My quest to find one underscores how Amazon’s power could grow during the pandemic

Megan Morrone
Published in
6 min readApr 21, 2020


Photo: georgeclerk/Getty Images

I’ve tried to give up Amazon before, but this time I mean it. While people everywhere are suffering and dying (in unequal measure) from the coronavirus pandemic, scrapping Amazon feels like one of those small, helpful changes that’s actually in my control. I can’t come up with a cure for Covid-19, but I can wash my hands, stay inside, and stop supporting a company that treats employees badly and then targets those who object to that treatment.

Quitting Amazon has never been easy. The company’s scale powers unparalleled choice and convenience. Before the coronavirus, for example, I had a decade-long Amazon Subscribe & Save standing order for toilet paper to cover the butts of my family of five. Never did I have to think about whether there would be enough.

As soon as I started hearing about the hoarding, or what we thought was hoarding, I canceled the toilet paper order. But what has been hardest for me about avoiding Amazon this time around has been figuring out a good alternative for the product Amazon started out selling — books.

The weed dispensary and the wineries and the toy store and the Italian ice shop have remained open, yet my library was declared a nonessential service. Copperfield’s, the local bookstore where I usually buy books, also closed. About a week into quarantine, I’d already run out of things to read. You can replace toilet paper with a bidet, but there’s no bidet for books. And finding a replacement vendor has proven difficult in a way that underscores Amazon’s dominance, and how this pandemic threatens to expand it.

I can still check out electronic books from my local public library, but I don’t want to. I’ve been trying to make myself enjoy reading e-books for more than a decade. I hate it so much. My job consists mainly of reading on a laptop or a phone screen, and in my pandemic-isolation leisure time, I want to be as far away from those screens as possible — and I want to avoid a Kindle for obvious reasons.

I first thought I’d spotted a promising solution when I saw a tweet from Powell’s, the well-known independent bookstore, announcing that it now had “100…