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Amazon hears from hometown critics

A four-part series in the Seattle Times charges Amazon with aggressive business practices and a lack of philanthropy.

By Husna Haq / April 2, 2012

Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos told the Seattle Times in a previous interview, 'Our core business activities are probably the most important thing we do to contribute, as well as our employment in the area.'

Ted S. Warren/AP

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Whether it's Apple’s Cupertino headquarters, Target’s Minneapolis home base, or General MotorsDetroit, hometowns are usually supportive of their local businesses.

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Unfortunately for Amazon, the relationship with its hometown – Seattle – isn’t quite so rosy. In a string of blistering articles written over the past several days, the Seattle Times has portrayed local powerhouse company, Amazon, as an aggressive, self-interested market dominator that has done little for its home city.

“From the moment Jeff Bezos launched Amazon.com in a small Bellevue house in 1994, it has cultivated a reputation as the consumer’s friend,” begins the introduction to the Seattle Times’s four-part series on Amazon. “But as Amazon prepares to turn 18 this summer, its practices are drawing increasing scrutiny, from civic leaders in its hometown to lawmakers around the country, from business partners to labor activists.”

The article then proceeded to list Amazon’s apparent offenses in detail.

“We found that the company is a virtual no-show in the civic life of Seattle, contributing to nonprofits and charities a tiny fraction of what other big corporations give. In the political world, the company's hardball efforts to fend off collecting sales taxes – a key advantage over brick-and-mortar stores – has ignited a backlash in several states. In the publishing world, smaller companies have begun to publicly criticize Amazon's bullying tactics. And in some of its warehouses around the country, Amazon is drawing fire for harsh conditions endured by workers.”

One story in the series, entitled “Amazon.com trying to wring deep discounts from publishers,” outlines the company’s efforts to bully publishers into selling books at drastically low rates. In one example, Amazon sent publisher McFarland & Co. an email saying it would buy its books at a 45 percent discount, “roughly double its current price break.” Although Amazon represented nearly 70 percent of McFarland’s retail sales (and 15 percent of its overall business), the publisher held its ground. 

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