Letter to the Editor: Helpful Hints About Our Market

Greta Robinson’s article “Amazon: The True Price of Cheaper Textbooks” presents an interesting emotional plea for the poor, trampled workers of Amazon. I imagined frantic minions with childlike hands, running desperately to the proper aisle to pick my textbook while the timer on the minion’s scanner quickly ticks away the seconds as I repeatedly check my order status online.

However, if you employ “the basic laws of our market” to argue your point, be sure to understand markets. While these are not all-encompassing, I offer a few helpful suggestions:

  1. You assume that the textbook market is perfectly competitive (this seems to be your underlying assumption in the second paragraph, although you confusingly call Amazon a monopoly later on) so that price equals marginal cost, ignoring any aspects of market power, and hence, a firm’s ability to price above marginal cost. A campus bookstore, especially one in secluded Montana, likely has few direct brick-and-mortar competitors. Even when considering Amazon as a potential competitor, a shopper has to spend time searching for the correct version of the textbook (rather than walk down the bookstore aisle labeled “ECNS” and pick up the only, yet correct, option), and then pay for shipping or an Amazon Prime membership. This is not an example of perfect competition, implying that prices are not set directly by costs of labor or textbook production.
  2. The poor Amazon workers are not as helpless as you would have us believe. As opposed to indentured servants or slaves, every day each employee has the choice to leave Amazon and find a new job. If the work environment is unbearably miserable (e.g., Amazon “can’t even manage to give their staff a water break”), the workers can search for better work or file a lawsuit (as they have — look up how the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case).
  3. The savings on a textbook are often more than $15. For me at least, it’s not worth foregoing $15 to stand in line at a campus bookstore so that I can feel good about helping the supposed hapless Amazon worker who willingly took a job in the warehouse filling my orders. In fact, my frequent Amazon Prime orders are part of why that worker has a job in the first place.

Mike Tarrant

MSU Alum

Former Exponent Opinion Columnist