Saturday, July 09, 2011

Mother of Mercy, could this be the end of the Thrilling Detective Web Site?

It's been a while, but I've got a little news....

I've been fired. By Amazon.

The recent law passed by the California government that dares to suggest that Amazon collect sales tax on purchases made online by residents of California (just like the store around the corner) has provoked Amazon into firing all its affiliates in California. Not right away, mind you, but soon. September, it looks like.

Regardless of what you think of the government's action, it's worth noting that Amazon didn't simply stop doing business in California -- no, they would never risk losing millions and millions of dollars of revenue simply on a matter of principle. Rather, they've sacrificed their affiliates (most of them small mom-and-poppers like me) and expect them to get pissed off enough to do their fighting for them.

Great plan, that.

Because, yeah, I'm angry. But not at California.

Sorry, Amazon, we've had a long and beautiful relationship over the years, and I really don't mind collecting (or paying) sales taxes. It's a consumption tax, after all, and let's face it, somebody has to pay for roads, schools and the like. I think it's my duty as a citizen to pay such taxes, even while reserving the right to complain when I'm not fond of what they're sometimes used for, and I've never bought into the notion that penny-pinching and greed (or tax evasion) is a sign of patriotism.

We'll leave that sort of revisionist history for those who think Paul Revere was a cowboy serial killer who freed the slaves or whatever.

Nope, penny-pinching and greed are simply signs of penny-pinching and greed, and hiding behind an antiquated, pre-internet loophole in the tax laws to avoid paying your fair share, whether you're a fat ass corporation or simply a cheapskate, is just wrong.

C'mon, Amazon. Do you really think your business will collapse if people have to pay sales tax on the items they purchase from you? Other online entities do it, and have been doing it for years, and they're at least as obsessed with the bottom line as you are.

And I laugh at the notion of you blaming the law on pressure from big box stores, as you did in one of your letters to me. That's like the Russian Mob demanding the cops arrest pickpockets.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of politicians in office (and plenty just dying to get in) who think anything good for big companies will automatically be good for all of us (or at least their re-election coffers).

But after years of waiting for some pie-in-the-sky trickle down theory to actually start working, it's clear it never will. The rich have steadily become richer in this country (despite their constantly whining ) while the average working family's spendable income has been stagnant (at best) for over thirty or forty years (most of it under "business-friendly" administrations), their manufacturing jobs have been outsourced (thanks, GOP!) and what little protections and services they/we once could counted on have been gutted to appease the corporate overlords. (Do we really need to know if our food is safe or our coal mines won't collapse? Do we really need to look after our soldiers?)

Here's a clue. That isn't wealth that's trickling down on us from the fat cats.

All that's left, for those of us lucky enough to still be employed, are poorly paid jobs in the service and retail industries, the only part of the economy to show any real growth over the years, and now on-line desperadoes like Amazon, who make zillions off working Americans, feel they don't have to follow the same rules as the little shop (or even the big store) around the corner does. And expect those same small shop owners, who may have once supplemented their income by being an Amazon affiliate, to take up arms in the name of corporate profits?

Yeah, so who cares if some local store goes out of business? Most Americans don't really care, despite all the flag waving and rhetoric. What really counts, apparently, is that someone saves 30 cents sales tax on a used book from Amazon.

Say what you like about big box stores (I work for one, and I could say plenty), but at least they hire LOCAL people.

But I digress....

In case you haven't quite figured out what this has to do with anything, well, the Amazon affiliate program is essentially what keeps THRILLING DETECTIVE WEB SITE going.

Sure, I accept advertising, and occasionally someone slips me a few bucks, courtesy of PayPal, but without Amazon, I'm not sure if I'll be able to justify the time and resources the site requires. And yes, I would gladly collect sales taxes, just as I gladly pay them.

But Amazon wants to use me and thousands of affiliates just like me in their pissing contest with California, so I'm not even being given the chance to be a good little tax-paying, law-abiding citizen.

Hell, just venting may be dangerous. Amazon may have me deported.

I'm looking at alternative affiliate programs now (B&N wants a DNA sample from my great-great grandmother) but Daddy Warbucks, if you're out there, now's your turn to speak up.



Blogger Guillaume said...

Boy, that sure sucks! Your website is such an essential database for anyone interested in crime fiction, it would be devastating (to me at least) that it ends.

4:43 PM, July 09, 2011  
Blogger Kevin Burton Smith said...

Well, we'll see. Maybe I'll act like one of those fat cat corporations the GOP is so in thrall to, and relocate offshore.

Is Venice Beach considered part of California? Personally, I'm not even sure it's part of our planet...

5:10 PM, July 09, 2011  
Blogger Brian Drake said...

I sure *wish* California taxes went to roads and schools and other important things like that; here in the Bay Area, the roads are falling apart and a lot of schools are dumps. Methinks all the tax money is being "Robin Hooded" to the "poor and less fortunate".

I don't necessarily agree with what the state leaders have done (they just want more money to flush away), nor do I think Amazon should have made the decision they made).

But Amazon is allowed to make that decision, and to suggest they have a duty not to is to suggest too much...because if there is a way to get around paying taxes, they will find a way. It may be right or it may be wrong but the fact is they can do it; the nice thing is, when you get rich (if you are so inclined), you can find a way not to pay taxes, too. I cannot wait to find a way myself when I get rich so please go and buy my books on Amazon!

I hope you don't close the site. Y'all published my first story (under my real name) way too many years ago for me to want to tell...

9:40 PM, July 09, 2011  
Blogger Kevin Burton Smith said...

Evankovich, is that you?

12:27 AM, July 10, 2011  
Blogger Don said...

A few points (which won't matter)
1) CA has been running on empty for a while. This is not the fault of Amazon, a productive business that deserves its success.
2) CA is a tax-sucking monster that wants to use productive companies and individuals to bail itself out from its criminal irresponsibility.
3) The internet is the greatest thing since the Big Bang. Attempts to censor, tax, regulate and otherwise change it are stupid, not responsible.
4) This is not a GOP thing. I thought Bush was a moron, but this transcends partisan politics. AND -- both political parties feed at the corporate trough. The idea that the GOP is unique is delusional.
5) States need to balance their budgets, cut their spending, lower their taxes (to spur growth) and stop cry-baby whining when someone like Amazon doesn't bend over.
6)The U.S. is FILLED with corporations that suck on the public teet. Amazon is one of most innovative companies out there, and she does it without demanding public money or favors. Letting Amazon keep ITS OWN MONEY is not a crime.

You should be angry at CA. Until more people are, things will not change.

3:45 PM, July 10, 2011  
Blogger The Eclectic Geek said...

I spend a lot of time on Thrilling Detective, so I hope things go well. I will miss the site if it has to go down. I've been relying on it to help me catch up on a lot of classic crime fiction that I should have read when I was younger by checking series titles against the site listings. I've also been making a lot of use of some of the writing tips in my own ongoing attempts to write a PI novel when I'm not busy working on the little bit of paying writing I have to do.

I have to say that I agree with Mr. Smith's characterization of the Amazon issue. This isn't about 'Amazon keeping their money', this is about Amazon playing by different rules than other vendors and expecting the people they have cut loose to be angry at the State of California instead of the Amazon executives who decided to cut them loose.

California has a host of economic problems, sure. The root of these problems is a Republican establishment that is ruthlessly opposed to changes in the income tax rates and a Democratic establishment that allowed itself to become addicted to bond issues during the 1980s and 1990s in an attempt to circumvent GOP intransigence on the income tax instead of fight for meaningful change on the issue.

What should be remembered is that no state income tax money in California is being "Robin Hooded" to the poor and less fortunate. It's all going to pay public debt held by wealthy capitalists who invested in state bond issues. California's debt crisis, combined with tax loopholes which only the richest Californians can afford to use, mean that your money is being "Sheriff of Nottinghammed" to the people who need it the least but happen to own a lot of bonds.

7:00 PM, July 10, 2011  
Blogger Kevin Burton Smith said...

Don, learn to read something beside Ayn Rand, and save your predictable tax-hating vitriol for someone who'll swallow it.

I've already said I DON'T MIND paying or collecting taxes.

Maybe that makes me a good citizen or a lousy American or possibly even a deluded Socialist, but I don't care. Selfishness-- not wanting to pay one's fair share -- has never seemed like a particularly desirable trait to me, no matter how many flags or corporate spreadsheets you wrap around it.

California -- or any other government -- DOES have the right to close their own antiquated tax loopholes. And that loophole is exactly the sort of "public money or favors" that teat-loving big corporations take advantage of all the time. Mind you, in today's hypocritical doublespeak, closing a loophole is called a "unwarranted tax increase " or, even more ludicrously, "an attack on our cherished freedoms."

Nobody said this was a Democratic or Republican thing. There are certainly whores on both sides. I've already said I reserve to right to complain about how my taxes are spent, but I don't use that as an excuse to not pay them.

Last time I looked, we were still a democracy. Laws still have to matter.

My gripe, as The Boxing Geek and most others understood easily enough, was Amazon's response. It's not about principle on their part. It's about money, and avoiding paying or collecting taxes like most other businesses -- and citizens -- do. Were it about principle, Amazon'd say, "Okay, no more sales to people living in California. That'll teach 'em."

But they didn't do that, did they? There's no Roarkian principled stand involved here at all -- Amazon just cut loose some of the very people who have helped turn them into the fat cats they are. I've helped Amazon move hundreds of thousands of dollars of merchandise through the years (and yes, raked in my tiny sliver), and this is my reward.

I didn't do anything wrong, but Amazon is cutting me loose because they're ticked off at the government of the state I live in. Tiny affiliates like me are the cheapest way they can express their displeasure (and maybe get some people angry enough to fight on their side) without, you know, actually risking their bottom line.

They can afford to cut me loose? They can probably afford to collect sales tax, the way other, more responsible online businesses do.

12:22 PM, July 11, 2011  
Blogger Mark M Reid said...

I don’t want to start any flame wars. But I respect Mr. Smith because of thrillingdetective, and despite his politics, enough to try to shed some light.

Firstly, it must be plain that saying something like paying their fair share in the context of taxation is an entirely subjective notion, so much so that it means almost nothing. And sales taxes are the most regressive of all taxes, affecting the poor more than the rich, as poor people spend more of their disposable income than the rich (who tend to invest more). So, if KBS, for example, admires, say, Ghandi, for opposing the salt tax as an imposition on the poor, shouldn’t that same rationale also apply to Amazon? (True, Amazon has a profit motive, but then Ghandi had a political motive as well, for nothing is simple in this life.)

But let’s forget all that and think as a Sam Spade might. There are three ways to induce people to do what we want them to. One is sex. Well, we can shelve that one for now. The second is violence, like the politicians sending some toughs over to seize things and drag people down to the Hall until you fork over. And then there’s money. California wants Amazon’s money. True, they are technically taking money from the consumers, and only forcing Amazon to collect it for them, but that effectively raises Amazon’s prices, and makes them less competitive, while increasing their costs, by making Amazon pay people to do the work of collecting for the gov. Amazon doesn’t want to play. Do you really blame them? They are seeking to remove themselves from the jurisdiction of California. Just like all the other businesses that are leaving high tax states like California and my own state of New York, and for that matter leaving the US and other high tax countries as well. It’s California that is making you the victim, because they are telling your employer (more like contractor, but why quibble) that if he deals with you, he has to pay them. Sam would see it for what it is: a protection racket.

I’m not saying that people shouldn’t pay their taxes. I’m just saying it’s not an immoral thing to want to pay less of them. And if someone prefers to say, not smoke so that they don’t have to pay the cigarette tax, or not drink so that they don’t pay the alcohol tax, why is that different from a company that just doesn’t want to hire people from California so that they don’t have to become California’s tax collector (and for no pay, at that)?

I love thrillingdetective, and I hope a way is found for it to continue. But there is something ironic about a man who runs the world’s best site about a genre which extols tough guy virtues of self-reliance, earthy cynicism, and dedication to a justice that doesn’t just work for the wealthy, and then simultaneously whines (sorry, but…) because politicians are having trouble extracting even more money from a public that they have largely put out of work, impoverished and bossed about. Politicians are whores, and they don’t have hearts of gold, I assure you. And government is a necessary evil. A thrilling detective might play ball with the cops in the end, and might hand over Brigid O’Shaughnessy in the end, but he doesn’t work for the cops, right? He never forgets what they really are, and what powers they actually work for. Or as Jake Gittes might say, they “still have to swim in the same water as the rest of us.”

7:50 PM, July 14, 2011  
Blogger Brian Drake said...

Yes it is. :)

12:36 AM, July 15, 2011  
Blogger Kevin Burton Smith said...

Brian, I'm hoping you mean "Yrs, it is" Evankovich, and not "Yes, it is" the end of the Thrilling Detective Web Site.

And Mark. If I'd wanted a non-sensical tax-bashing rant, and yet another misguided apology for corporate greed I'd have just tuned in to Fox. I especially loved that defense of outsourcing. Really shows what you think matters. And what this country really means to you.

In thirty years of mostly corporate rule, the rich are richer than ever (even now) and paying less taxes than ever, while the average workers have seen their earning power stagnate, and their jobs (for those lucky enough to have had them) disappear, all in the name of some asshole's misguided trickle down theory that, surprise, surprise, still isn't working.

Guess what? The companies got richer. Guess what? We didn't.

So who's really whining? Me or Amazon? I'm willing to suck it up -- I already declare and pay my taxes. And comparing the decision to quitting smoking to not paying taxes? To continue your analogy, Amazon isn't quitting smoking; that would take guts. No, they're simply going to smoke stolen cigs to avoid paying taxes.

Here's the thing: Amazon SHOULD be forced to swim in the same pool as any other bookseller, be it B&N or the little indie around the corner. Those brick and mortar stores collect sales tax and actually employ local people. The fact Amazon doesn't employ people in my community (except maybe an affiliate or two like me), while happily raking in profits from my community shouldn't make them exempt from sales tax. Especially not through an antiquated tax loophole that states DO have the right to close. And brace yourself: more states are looking at closing that loophole.

Will you be helping Amazon pack for India?

That's why Amazon is lashing out at little guys like me. They don't have any legal standing and they don't have the balls to actually put it on the table by refusing to do business in California or New York.

But speaking of dicks, I know exactly where Sam Spade or the Continental Op would be in this fight. Their creator went to jail for his beliefs, and here's a clue: they were miles away from yours.

6:51 AM, July 15, 2011  
Blogger Brian Drake said...

Kevin, Yes, I am Brian Evankovich. Keep it a secret, though. I have most people fooled.

11:09 AM, July 15, 2011  
Anonymous Rickf said...

Politics aside, i sincerely hope and pray for you and yours. It's easy to forget about the individuals who are hurting during this recession

1:39 PM, July 16, 2011  
Blogger Mark M Reid said...

I said I didn’t want to start a flame war, so I will limit myself as best I may. Let me start with your claim that I defend outsourcing. That would be like defending gravity. “Outsourcing” is just another word for decolonization. It is a way of arguing that people in other countries must starve so that people here can keep jobs which foreigners will do for less. I guess your idea of patriotism might be that we keep Amazon here by force somehow. Whether that means the return of tariffs, the confiscation of Amazon by the state, or the conquest of India, you do not say. But if that’s your idea of loving this country, well, yeah, I guess you are right. I am not for it.

But let me add that I have actually worked in factories that have moved overseas, and have had friends and relatives permanently laid off because of it. I understand that pain. What I don’t understand is why you think letting the government make everything more expensive with taxes is going to improve that. It just means that to pay that American worker a living wage (you do believe in a living wage, at least for Americans rather than those dastardly foreigners, right Mr. Smith?) will be that much harder for an employer who has to sell his products at a competitive price to stay in business.

As for the beliefs of the authors mentioned, certainly Hammett was lefty and was incarcerated for it; I don’t recall the same of Chandler, but I defer to your superior knowledge in this field. On the other hand, I have been jailed for my beliefs back when I was conventional lefty myself. But just as Hammett turned left after being a Pinkerton, I started to question some of my beliefs after I became a civil servant serving the poor (I started in child welfare in Harlem). I think to adhere to the same old beliefs after your own experience shows you otherwise is a foolish thing, so I have had to admit that I was wrong many times. But after 25 years in government living off of your taxes, my view is that it is all a racket run by the rich, and their PACs, and their contracting, and even their unions (which I belong to and pay dues to, since I’m mostly required to despite law to the contrary.)

Maybe I am wrong now. I don’t know. But on the side of my college they put an inscription from Emerson: “We are of different opinions at different hours but we always may be said to be at heart on the side of truth.” All I ask is that you consider that you may be wrong.

And as for the crack about whining, please pardon me. It was kindly meant. I only thought that you were unaware of the tone that I detected, but perhaps that was in the eye of the beholder.

6:33 PM, July 16, 2011  
Blogger Kevin Burton Smith said...

Mark, you're hilarious!

Companies are moving out of America, not to avoid taxes or paying a decent wage or dealing with pesky environmental or safety concerns and child labour laws, bur out of the goodness of their hearts, to help the poor foreigners?

And really. Amazon will be going out of business if they're forced to collect sales taxes, and people will fall into poverty and despair if they have to pay a few pennies per dollar on all those absolutely essential items Amazon sells like paperbacks and used copies of Celine Dion CDs?

Yeah, right. Go pull the other one.

You're objection here is not to Amazon being made to collect sales taxes just like every other bookseller, but to the notion of taxes at all.

But nobody -- and certainly not Amazon -- has yet explained to me how Amazon dropping me as an affiliate helps their cause -- or mine. A little sympathy and a viable way to keep the site going were more what I had in mind.

Don't worry, Mark -- you're in no danger of starting a flame war here. All you came armed with is a soggy match.

12:09 PM, July 17, 2011  
Blogger Naomi Johnson said...

California can use the additional revenue, as could any state right now, but that isn't the state's sole interest. From an antitrust perspective, forcing amazon to collect sales tax would, to some degree, level the playing field between online stores and retail stores now doing business in California. Why should amazon be exempt from collecting sales tax, thereby holding an edge over its bricks-and-mortar competition, when companies that actually employ people within the state have to collect those taxes?

And what kind of ethical or moral compass does amazon possess when it retaliates (what else can one call it?) by firing the unoffending affiliates while continuing to reap the profits of online sales in California?

2:06 PM, July 18, 2011  
Blogger Kevin Burton Smith said...

Naomi. Thank you. You've expressed far better than I have one of the many facets of this whole mess.

Suffice it to say it's particularly complicated and complex for me, a Canadian (one reason taxes don't bother me) living in the U.S. (where taxes are a dirty word), who works for one of Amazon's competitors, yet has relied on Amazon's affiliate program to make ends meet for over 13 years.

3:53 PM, July 18, 2011  
Blogger maryo said...

Good discussion. Along with everyone here, I'm unhappy about Amazon cutting off its California vendors. What a mess.I enjoy this web site. Please don't give up.

I'm also unhappy that, as an author and self-employed person the state of California demands that I pay taxes on all my online purchases because I file a Schedule C every year and have an income above a certain level. (I have also paid double SS taxes for lo these many years in good times and bad, but that's another story.)

In fact, all Californians are legally required to pay tax on their online purchases, but who does this except those that are hounded by the state? Wouldn't it be easier and more fair if Amazon took care of this for the millions of us that make online purchases primarily through them? At this point, the law is enforced against some individuals while others can let it slide.

What happened to the ideal: all of us making contributions at a graduated level, based on income, to help our society? We should all hurt when our leaders spend. We should all be thinking about what should be spent and how. And here's my personal wish for a pony: wouldn't it be great if we could check a box on our 1040s and state forms on how we want our tax contributions applied?

6:43 PM, July 18, 2011  
Blogger Kevin Burton Smith said...

Maryo, I feel your pain, and I think we can all agree that yes, taxes are a bitch, and governments always spend them on things we don't won't them to. But in a civilized democracy, those are the rules.

Alas, Amazon wants to be an exception to those rules. Other online vendors already charge sales taxes so obviously it can be done.

In fact, -- their Canadian wing -- DOES charge sales tax. And yet somehow, they manage to turn a profit.

10:53 PM, July 21, 2011  
Anonymous Ron DeSourdis said...

Political sentiments aside, it's obvious we would all agree that the loss of this site would be equally detrimental to our emotional, intellectual and hard-boiled values.

The fact that the discussion here of hot-button issues has thus far been intelligent, respectful and (reasonably) devoid of personal invective makes me wonder whether the site does fit into the wild, weird, wonderful world-wide web as we have come to know and love it. But I do want to go on record as another of those who will feel more than a twinge of regret should you be forced to quit.

Hopefully you will find the clue that cracks the case in our favor.

7:33 AM, July 25, 2011  
Blogger Kevin Burton Smith said...

The thing is, Ron, I never saw it as a particularly hot-button issue.

My gripe was about how big bucks Amazon was using nickel-and-dime affiliates as pawns in their pissing battle with various states, while trying to disingenuously portray themselves as the victim here.

I'll be redirecting my Amazon buy links oh-so-slowly towards Barnes & Noble and other vendors, but it'll be months before I see whether it will be worth the trouble.

In the mean time, I'll keep an eye out for a deep-pocket advertisers or maybe just a rich mystery-loving widow.

Suggestions (or whopping big bags of cash) also appreciated...

Or maybe I'll chuck it all and just write. But first, a name change. In order to milk the latest crime fiction cash cow, I'm changing my name to Kevs Burtensmithensen...

10:14 AM, July 25, 2011  
Anonymous Ron DeSourdis said...

Has a nice ring to it (to quote Paul Revere)...

1:15 PM, July 25, 2011  
Blogger Joe Stein said...

Well, if you go, I’ll be more than disappointed, because there isn’t any other site to touch this. I’m an occasional, but regular visitor and it is quite simply the best reference point for this genre anywhere.
Living in Britain, I’m out of the loop on the California tax situation and I don’t have any real right to comment on it. I also have no idea what Amazon do re: tax in the UK or Europe, but if you’ve been following the big news in our little island recently, you’ll know that whenever a corporation gets that big it starts to write its own rules. Maybe that’s its self seeking purpose, to protect its shareholders’ revenues and maybe if you’re CEO or CFO of a company like that you spend a lot of your time working out ways to do that, or they kick you out.
What I do know is that it’s always the guys who are not in the corporations that get the kicking. That’s not just socialist rhetoric, it’s a fact of life. Firing affiliates?
You can be the biggest capitalist, running your own small/medium business, but it’s only when you get to a certain size that you can get away with challenging/ignoring the rules like this. I have a fairly simple view of stuff like this. It may be what people do, but that doesn’t make it right.
Kevin, good luck and I hope you can figure out a way of staying around.

4:03 AM, July 29, 2011  
Anonymous Tim Broderick said...

Interesting what people miss - Amazon would collect the sales taxes and pass them onto the states, just like any other store. Amazon doesn't itself pay the sales taxes.
Kevin, I hope you put out a plea for funds before pulling the plug. I'm good for a sawbuck or two.

5:28 AM, August 10, 2011  
Blogger Kevin Burton Smith said...

Yeah, I'm surprised the tax haters missed the whole point. It not about if taxes should exist at all, but whether an antiquated sales tax loophole should be allowed to stand and benefit a phenomenally successful online business while local businesses -- which actually employ local people and do collect and pass on sales taxes -- struggle to survive.

But as if too often the case, people tend to make a stand from where they sit. It's not about what's "right" -- it's only about what's right for them.

So screw local workers or principles. What's really important is saving a few pennies of sales tax on a James Patterson paperback.

10:54 AM, August 10, 2011  

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