Children's book author refuses award backed by Amazon

Allan Ahlberg refused a lifetime achievement award because it was sponsored by the internet bookseller Amazon.

AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin packages are scanned on a conveyor belt before they are shipped out at an Fulfillment Center, Dec. 2, 2013, in Phoenix.

When Allan Ahlbert, British children's book author, received the news that he was to receive the Booktrust Lifetime Achievement Award, he said that he was ecstatic – at first.

In a letter to The Bookseller, Ahlbert said, "I was, of course, delighted. I told my wife, told my daughter and ran around the house. Then I discovered that the award was sponsored by Amazon and felt obliged to refuse it."

The well known British children's book author, who collaborated with his late wife Janet on such titles as "Peepo" and "Each Peach Pear Plum," felt that he didn't want his accomplishment marred by a relationship with the online retailer, which he says has questionable tax arrangements.

"Tax, fairly applied to us all, is a good thing. It pays for schools, hospitals – libraries!" Ahlbert wrote to The Bookseller. "When companies like Amazon cheat – paying 0.1% on billions, pretending it is earning money not in the UK, but in Luxembourg – that’s a bad thing."

Ahlberg is referring to Amazon's European practice of billing through Luxembourg, a country with low tax rates in order to cut costs. According to the BBC, the company – which pays taxes only on its profits – also limits its tax exposure by putting much of the money it makes back into expanding warehouses and negotiating deals on its products.

Recently, the EU has started to make "inquiries" into Amazon and other companies that it feels may be paying less than their fair share of taxes in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, according to Forbes. Of course, Amazon has always insisted that it pays the required amount of tax in all its various countries of operation, notes the BBC.

Amazon has weathered tax-related controversy before, but Ahlbert's symbolic stand comes at a particularly bad time for the company. Amazon is also making headlines for its ongoing feud with Hachette, recent strikes concerning labor and pay in Germany, and the recent implementation of the so-called "Anti-Amazon" law in France, which prohibits online booksellers from providing combined discounts and free shipping to their customers.

The children's author wrote in his letter to Bookseller that "For my part, the idea that my 'lifetime achievement' ... should have the Amazon tag attached to it is unacceptable."

The prize that would have gone to Ahlbert would have come with £5,000, which is about 8,550 US dollars.

According to the BBC, the Booktrust prizes were handed out last week. The books and authors honored were voted on by 12,000 schoolchildren across the United Kingdom. There was no mention of an award for lifetime achievement at the ceremony, and Ahlbert's involvement was not known until he published his open letter to The Bookseller yesterday.

Booktrust CEO Viv Bird said in an emailed statement that "We are naturally disappointed we could not celebrate Allan’s achievements and his lifetime’s work, but this was his personal decision," according to Reuters. "Amazon’s sponsorship of the Best Book Awards, in its inaugural year, enabled us to celebrate some of the best of children’s literature, create a buzz around books, and make a significant contribution to our mission of encouraging more children to read."

Weston Williams is a Monitor contributor.

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