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Independent bookshops call for government to crack down on Amazon’s taxes

Independent book shop in West End Lane Independent book shop in West End Lane

Friday, May 16, 2014
8:00 AM

Independent bookshops across Hampstead and Highgate have condemned online giant Amazon as allegations continue to be made over the amount it pays in tax.

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Last week it was revealed that Amazon had paid just £4.2million to the Treasury in 2013 despite selling goods to UK shoppers worth a total of £4.3billion. This is due to all sales to UK customers passing through its EU headquarters in Luxembourg, where there is a low-tax jurisdiction.

The arrangements prompted Margaret Hodge MP, chair of the public accounts committee, to call for shoppers to boycott the online store, saying on Friday: “If you are a small bookshop in the high street you can never compete with their prices, because you pay taxes.”

Owners of bookshops joined the condemnation, urging residents to “support shops who support the community”. Danny Van Emden, of West End Lane Books, West Hampstead, said: “We have to pay our taxes so why shouldn’t they? We sometimes get customers browsing, asking for recommendations, and then say they’re going to buy on Amazon instead because it’s cheaper.

“It’s incredibly frustrating. But the longer this kind of thing goes on the more I think customers become fed up of feeding the beast that Amazon represents. We get sentiments of solidarity from our customers now.”

Michael Goodwin, owner of Highgate Bookshop, Highgate High Street, also felt frustrated. “Amazon is 
undercutting businesses in a dramatic fashion so it’s incredibly unfair that it doesn’t pay the same level of taxes we pay,” he said. “We’re lucky – we have many loyal customers who understand that you can’t have a local bookshop and shop at Amazon. But we still need a level playing field.”

Since its launch in 1994, Amazon has branched out from selling books to selling almost all manner of goods.

Originating in Seattle, it now operates all over the world.

Marek Laskowski, owner of Primrose Hill Books, Regent’s Park Road, said it was “the model” Amazon represents – not just its tax arrangements – that was the problem. “It’s not just bookshops that are affected. Amazon has a broader impact that undermines many other traditional businesses,” he said. “It’s a parasitic model, sucking money out of almost everything.

“We had posters in our shop window two years ago about Amazon’s taxes, and it’s still a problem.

“In my mind there is a moral choice – if you want a high street full of betting shops, tattoo parlours and little else, then shop at Amazon. An online store like that doesn’t bring a community together like a high street shop can.”

Calls for the government to do more to help independent shops are longstanding. In November, Hampstead traders describing facing a “Waterloo moment” in their survival amidst a dwindling footfall and tougher online competition.

They travelled to Downing Street to ask that business rates be slashed and that online giants, such as Amazon – who don’t pay the same rates – should “bear their rightful share”.

Action among both consumers and publishers has also been ongoing.

A petition calling for Amazon to “level the playing field” and pay more tax has gained more than 175,000 signatures.

A spokesman from Amazon said: “Amazon pays all applicable taxes in every jurisdiction that it operates within.”

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