Amazon to Colorado Associates: “You’re Fired!”

Amazon.com continues to demonstrate their willingness to play the bully and to take hostages in their business dealings. Remember when they attempted to strong-arm the publisher Macmillian into pricing ebooks their (Amazon’s) way by deactivating the BUY buttons on all of their (Macmillan’s) authors, a tactic whose main victims were authors (who lost sales and possibly future publishing contracts thereby) and Amazon Associates affiliates (whose links suddenly were all broken), neither of whom had any say in the pricing scheme Amazon was supposedly protesting?

Not having yet learned how stupid it is to hurt the public whose opinion you hope to sway, Amazon have done it again. On March 8, they closed all Amazon Associates accounts owned by Colorado residents (some of whom aren’t even Colorado residents anymore, real smart there Amazon, there’s an extra helping of failsauce on your failburger) because they didn’t like the recent Colorado tax legislation:

In response to recent legislation in Colorado (HB 10-1193), Amazon.com has sent a letter to its affiliates in Colorado informing them that the on-line sales giant will no longer be advertising through businesses in the state that that make money by referring buyers.

In order to close a $1.5 Billion budget gap, Colorado Democrats this session have passed a law that would make it possible to collect sales taxes on on-line purchases by creating an economic nexus between state residents and on-line retailers.

The bill, which was part of a package of tax measures aimed at increasing revenue, originally sought to create a nexus between the state and on-line retailers based on their ties to local affiliate websites, which link to products. The bill was ultimately altered due largely to fears that retailers like Amazon would simply cut ties to Colorado companies that make money by referring buyers.

(Huffington Post, “Amazon Reacts To Colorado Internet Sales Tax Measure By Firing Its Colorado Associates.“)

So. Let me get this straight. To begin with, Amazon think they have as much right to influence Colorado legislation as do Colorado constituents, despite them not being Colorado constituents. Strike one. And they attempt to exert this right to influence Colorado legislation by essentially firing all their Colorado affiliates, and telling them that if they don’t like being fired, well, they should pressure their Colorado legislators into repealing HB 10-1193. Strike two. And they tell their Colorado affiliates this not back when the new bill was in the works, when a campaign of phone calls to legislators might have been a useful thing to organize, but instead on March 8, well after the new bill became law–and several hours after actually killing all the hostages. I mean the Associates accounts. Such that on March 8, with no warning, a whole bunch of Coloradans found themselves with broken links and a loss of revenue. Strike freakin’ three.

Given that HB 10-1193 was altered so that it would not affect affiliate referrals, why did Amazon still decide to fire their affiliates and yet still sell products to Colorado residents? Seems like, if you don’t want the burden of all that extra paperwork involved in either “collecting sales taxes or provid[ing] a summary of people’s web purchases in the state,” you stop doing business in that state so as not to be subject to that burden anymore. Why hurt an entire class of Colorado resident whose hurting gets you nothing but a loss of their good will? It would have made as much sense for Amazon to stop selling books by say, Connie Willis and other authors living in Colorado, and say that Colorado’s legislators “forced” them to do that.

Clearly, Amazon know better than to cut off their nose to spite their face. Thus they opt to spite their face by cutting off other people’s heads.

And for even richer irony, Amazon want you to think they oppose HB 10-1193 because it hurts small businesses. Newsflash: Amazon hurt small businesses by killing all Colorado-based Associates accounts.

There is, no doubt, a valid argument to be made against HB 10-1193. There are several arguments, ranging from “Not more tax-and-spend! Get out of my paycheck, big government!” to “Aren’t sales tax on online purchases prohibited by federal legislature?” to “Sales tax in any form is regressive and no state should levy it.” There are also arguments for HB 10-1193, such as “Online retailers, by not having to charge state sales tax, have an unfair advantage over local retailers, which advantage they enjoy at the cost also of everyone living in the state who relies on local infrastructure getting the funds allocated from sales tax in the state.” As I say, there are arguments in either direction.

But I’m not going to get into those arguments. I’m going to just point out the inarguable: Amazon think they are entitled to get their own way in all things, and are quite content to use hostage-taking tactics to get their way, hurting the very people who they ought to have sought as allies. Look, Amazon have actually managed to piss off opponents of HB 10-1193. That’s stupid of them.

I made very little with my own Associates account. I believe I had about $3 in there before they instituted a quarterly fee and reclaimed my meager earnings for themselves. And I had changed all my own Associates links into IndieBound Affiliate links back when Amazon, over Easter weekend 2009, suddenly delisted all search rankings for GBLT-related material as being in the “adult” category (because Heather Has Two Mommies = gay pr0n, right?) and subsequently tried to blame it on some dude in France. And the Macmillian incident only increased my resolve to close my Associates account. I aspire to be published by a Macmillian subsidiary myself, and I dislike having the validity of my links subject to sudden piques of Jeff Bezos’s temper. March 8, Amazon spared me the bother of closing my account myself. Amazon, you are dead to me. Good night, sweet prince. By which I mean “good riddance, you jerk.”

(Have you tried IndieBound, by the way? IndieBound helps you find books at, or refer people to, local, independent booksellers who actually have a stake in Colorado’s well-being! Unlike Amazon, who don’t even appear to have a stake in books!)

But I seriously feel for all those individuals and small businesses in Colorado for whom the Amazon Associates program provided a non-trivial portion of their revenue.

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