On June 28, I made my second last purchases on Amazon.com. If you’re not Australian, you probably aren’t aware that from July 1, 2018, Amazon.com will no longer be shipping to Australia. In fact, we won’t even be able to view the website.
“Well, why don’t you just use one of the overseas versions, like Amazon.co.uk?” you might be asking. The answer is: we can’t. We’ll be blocked from viewing those too.
I’m not sure what it means for our access to self-published books, which Amazon.com mainly hosts through its CreateSpace network, but an example posted further in this article (no. #9) doesn’t paint a pretty picture.
Even our ability to access Kindle books, previously purchased on Amazon.com, will be impaired.
Why is Amazon.com doing this? In April 2017, the Australian government announced a 10% Goods and Services Tax (GST) on all imported online purchases under $1000. In response to this, Amazon.com decided to cease its services here:
“While we regret any inconvenience this may cause customers, we have had to assess the workability of the legislation as a global business with multiple international sites,” an Amazon spokesman said, adding that the firm was taking the measure to comply with the legislation and not to avoid paying tax.
Uh huh. I’m sure it has nothing to do with our government’s crackdown on “multinational companies, including Amazon, Google, Facebook and Apple” dodging tax.
Amazon.com’s actions against Australian consumers moved our Treasurer, Scott Morrison, to remark:
“I find it hard to believe that one of the world’s most technologically advanced companies, two years later now say they’re unable to work out a technological solution when it comes to the simple application of a sales tax on their products in Australia.
“They face different VAT rates all around the world, UK, Canada.
“I think it’s disappointing that Amazon will take this out on consumers in Australia but that’s their commercial decision. If they don’t like selling things into Australia because they don’t like paying tax, there are plenty of options here at home.”
There are indeed. In fact, we have Amazon.com.au, Amazon’s Australian branch—which has higher item markups and only a fraction of the items of its American counterpart. Exactly the kind of alternative we need. Thanks, Amazon!
I’ve been using Amazon.com for purchases and checking out forthcoming books since 2005 (at least). There’s a very good reason why I use sites like Amazon.com: my interests are very niche and a lot of the stuff I buy is not available locally (Amazon.com.au only launched in December 2017).
To illustrate how different my online shopping experience will be after July 1 using the crappier alternative, I’ll use my own last purchases with Amazon.com and compare their availability and prices on Amazon.com.au (prices don’t include shipping).
Trigger warning: you’ll see several Twilight-related books here. For the record, I’m not a Twilight fan (I still haven’t read the books or seen the movies), but I am interested in the fandom surrounding the saga. If this offends you, look away now.
#1. Amanda Hobson and U. Melissa Anyiwo, eds., Gender in the Vampire Narrative
Price: US$36 (AU$42.72) paperback; US$99 (AU$133.98) hardcover
Price: AU$58.66 paperback; AU$169.99 hardcover
#2. Joe Nickell, Adventures in Paranormal Investigation
Price: US$18.35 (AU$24.83) Kindle; US$29.95 (AU$40.53) hardcover
Price: Kindle unavailable; AU$41.44 hardcover
#3. Joe Nickell, The Science of Ghosts: Searching for Spirits of the Dead
Price: US$10.54 (AU$14.24) Kindle; US$14.40 (AU$19.45) paperback
Price: AU$14.21 Kindle; AU$24.92 paperback
#4. E. David Klonsky and Alexis Black, eds., The Psychology of Twilight
Price: US$8.94 (AU$12.08) Kindle; US$14.95 (AU$20.21) paperback
Price: AU$12.01 Kindle; AU$25.98 paperback
#5. Emily Reynolds, Twilighting: My Exploration of the “Twilight” Phenomenon
Price: US$11 (AU$14.87) paperback
Price: AU$45.25 paperback
#6. Luigi Garlaschelli, Vampiri. I primi documenti
Price: US$9.12 (AU$12.33) Kindle; US$21 (AU$28.39) paperback
Price: AU$11.99 Kindle; Paperback unavailable
#7. Emily Welkins, Till the Last Drop!
Price: US$3.07 (AU$4.15) Kindle; US$12.99 (AU$17.56) paperback
Price: AU$3.99 Kindle; Paperback unavailable
#8. Lorna Piatti-Farnell, The Vampire in Contemporary Popular Literature
Price: US$46.32 (AU$62.65) Kindle; US$49.95 (AU$67.55) paperback; US$133.33 (AU$180.34) hardcover
Price: AU$62.39 Kindle; AU$73.50 paperback; AU$184.18 hardcover
#9. B. L. Hewitt, The Twilight Effect
Price: US$3.25 (AU$4.39) Kindle; US$12.95 (AU$17.51) paperback
Price: AU$4.38 Kindle; AU$64.52 paperback
As you can see, the differences between Amazon.com and Amazon.com.au range from “You better like Kindle only books” (hint: I don’t), “Eh, not much difference in price” to “$64.52 for a self-published paperback?!”
While there is a way to get around the geoblock (which I won’t mention in case Jeff Bezos is watching), the workaround to Amazon shipping here seems like a lot of hassle.
But Amazon.com’s finger to the Australian consumer may turn out to be a gain for other international retailers. Ebay, Etsy and Alibaba haven’t been so willing to sell out the Australian consumer. In fact, they have been actively promoting themselves as viable alternatives in the wake of Amazon’s announcement.
To be fair on Amazon.com, though, there are viable economics for their withdrawal which the government might not have thought through in its efforts to appease local retailers:
It looks as if Amazon, which generated almost US$180 billion in sales last year, views the Australian market as just too small to justify the hassle. In fact, one study has estimated that Amazon will only gain a 16% share of Australian online retail sales by 2025.
Amazon’s view on Australia’s red tape may well be right. Modelling by Australia Post suggests that if the postal service were tasked with assessing and collecting the GST on international deliveries, it would cost almost A$900 million to collect A$300 million in revenue.
Whatever the reasons, the real loser in this deal is Amazon’s Australian customers and Amazon.com itself. After all, eBay suddenly looks a lot more enticing…
- my second last purchases: It would have been my last order, if I hadn’t found out that The Psychology of Twilight was already in my collection. Fortunately, the order hadn’t been processed so I cancelled that item and bought B. L. Hewitt’s The Twilight Effect on June 30 instead. That book is my last official Amazon.com purchase. My Amazon orders list goes back to 2005. The first item purchased—on May 10, 2005—was Jonathan Maberry’s [Shane MacDougall, pseud.] The Vampire Slayers’ Field Guide to the Undead.
- We’ll be blocked from viewing those too: Emily Piesse, “Amazon will block Australians from overseas sites from July 1. Here’s how it will affect you,” ABC News, May 31, 2018, updated June 29, 2018, accessed June 30, 2018, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-05-31/amazon-blocks-australia-shopping-deal-how-it-affects-you/9820312. [Saved link]
- Even our ability to access Kindle books: Anthony Caruana, “Amazon Blocked in Australia: How It Affects You,” Lifehacker Australia, June 4, 2018, accessed June 30, 2018, https://www.lifehacker.com.au/2018/06/amazon-to-shutdown-access-to-us-site-because-of-gst/. [Saved link]
- “While we regret any inconvenience”: Byron Kaye, “Amazon Geoblocks Australia from U.S. Site as Tax Change Kicks In,” Reuters, May 31, 2018, accessed June 30, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-amazon-com-australia/amazon-geoblocks-australia-from-u-s-site-as-tax-change-kicks-in-idUSKCN1IW0C5. [Saved link] For more on the specifics, see Frank Chung, “‘We Regret Any Inconvenience This May Cause’: Amazon to Stop Shipping to Australia from July 1,” news.com.au, May 31, 2018, accessed June 30, 2018, https://www.news.com.au/national/nsw-act/we-regret-any-inconvenience-this-may-cause-amazon-to-stop-shipping-to-australia-from-july-1/news-story/f90d87e59d29cc589ea9c184f3f5f40b. [Saved link]
- “multinational companies”: “Amazon’s Amazing Australian Tax Move,” The Age (Melbourne), June 5, 2018, accessed June 30, 2018, https://www.theage.com.au/national/amazon-s-amazing-australian-tax-move-20180605-p4zjn5.html. [Saved link]
- “I find it hard to believe”: Frank Chung, “‘Turnbull’s Online Shopping Tax Punishes Aussie Consumers’: How to Avoid the Amazon Rip-Off,” news.com.au, June 1, 2018, accessed June 30, 2018, https://www.news.com.au/finance/business/retail/turnbulls-online-shopping-tax-punishes-aussie-consumers-how-to-avoid-the-amazon-ripoff/news-story/a9fc27c89f4f9c8ad933c34551e463df. [Saved link]
- actively promoting themselves: Rohan Pearce, “Etsy, eBay and Alibaba Eschew Amazon-Style Geoblock,” Computerworld, June 1, 2018, accessed June 30, 2018, https://www.computerworld.com.au/article/641843/etsy-ebay-alibaba-eschew-amazon-style-geoblock/. [Saved link]
- “It looks as if Amazon”: Gary Mortimer, “Fear Not, Shoppers: Amazon’s Australian Geoblock Won’t Cramp Your Style,” The Conversation, June 4, 2018, accessed June 30, 2018, https://theconversation.com/fear-not-shoppers-amazons-australian-geoblock-wont-cramp-your-style-97612. [Saved link]