September 25, 2014

David Mitchell (not that one, the other one) eloquently compares Amazon to malaria, pimps


Same, buddy. Image via Wikipedia.

Same, buddy. Image via Wikipedia.

I have no problem with David Mitchell (the novelist). I even saw the Cloud Atlas movie twice for some laughable reason. But I have much more love for David Mitchell (the comedian). He’s the star of Peep Show, a British TV program that serves as the funniest and most brutally honest catalog of masculine failure ever to be dramatized. He’s a fearsomely intelligent talking head on various British quiz shows, and his and Robert Webb’s comedy sketches are frequently brilliant. So how can he make me a bigger fan of his? By insulting Amazon!

As reported in the Bookseller, Mitchell gave the keynote speech at the annual conference of the Bookseller’s Association of the UK and Ireland (And Also Still Scotland), and he brought the house down. Along with providing a perfect opportunity to publicize his upcoming book, Mitchell’s speech detailed his vehement opposition to Amazon’s journey to become a “rapacious near-monopoly” and the subsequent deleterious economic effects, particularly when considering Amazon’s paltry tax payments and their comfy status as recipient of too much corporate welfare from the UK government.

It has emerged that despite £4.2bn of UK sales, the company paid just £2.4m in corporation tax in 2012. In the same year it received £2.5m in government grants, which makes it a benefits scrounger. Is there any point in my being angry about this? Everybody else already is. According to a spokesperson, Amazon already pays all applicable tax in every jurisdiction.

Of course, Amazon has previously skirted European governmental regulation, and Mitchell rightly views Amazon’s expansion in the UK as troubling, if horribly beautiful in a certain way.

The elegance of that corporate choice is like the ambiguity of the Mona Lisa smile, Mike Tyson’s punch or the adaptability of the malaria virus. There is no point in criticizing anybody or anything that can do that, they can only be admired or destroyed…I understand the changes in work and business patterns that have been caused by the internet are irreversible. Still, it is amazing that Amazon, in an act of dazzling contempt, has managed to persuaded the Treasury actually to pump water into the rising sea.

When questioned by an audience member, Mitchell affirmed he would be selling his books via Amazon; “I would be crazy not to. And I am a prostitute in that way.” Making this one of two instances thus far in which the intersection of David Mitchell and book publishing made for some sad, darkly funny stuff.


Liam O’Brien is the Senior Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.