On a blustery Monday night, over 100 people gathered in Burlington to discuss Amazon’s Stealth Invasion of Vermont, the first of two community forums highlighting the online behemoth’s threat to our local communities. Co-sponsored by Phoenix Books, Northshire Bookstore, VTDigger.org, and the Preservation Trust of Vermont, the forum featured a presentation from Stacy Mitchell and Olivia LaVecchia of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, followed by a discussion moderated by Fran Stoddard, a well-known Vermont media producer and host.
Mitchell highlighted some of the ways that Amazon is quietly altering the commercial landscape through its control of vital business infrastructure. Its ecommerce platform is used by tens of thousands of third party vendors. Through Amazon Web Services, it controls 44% of the world’s cloud computing capacity. And with its recent investments in shipping and package delivery services, Amazon seeks to control an even bigger piece of the retail pie. “Amazon has the pipes, or the rails, through which commerce has to move, and what that enables it do is to is it can decide ‘here are the most lucrative pieces of this business, here are the goods that we want to manufacture and sell, here are the services we want to provide. We’ll use the fact we control the pipelines to push anybody else aside. And for everything else we don’t want to control, we’ll let other companies do it. We’ll charge them a fee to ride our rails, and we’ll essentially tax the rest of commerce,’” Mitchell said.
With such intense online competition, Mitchell and LaVecchia emphasized the importance of local business alliances and the power of community. “Independent retailers do really have the strengths people continue to value,” said LaVecchia. Mitchell encouraged attendees to talk to others in our communities and our elected officials about these issues. “It’s going to be from the grassroots that is ultimately going to change things,” she said.
(Photo L-R: Paul Bruhn, executive director, Preservation Trust of Vermont; Stacy Mitchell, co-director, ILSR; Renee Reiner, co-owner, Phoenix Books; Fran Stoddard, moderator; Mike DeSanto, co-owner, Phoenix Books; Olivia LaVecchia, Research Associate, ILSR; Ed Morrow, co-founder, Northshire Bookshop)