I must admit, I am caught on the horns of a dilemma. I've been writing this blog nearly every day since February, since completing the Barriers to Choice Review for the government.
I am in favour of choice. It is a difficult word; I've sat in meetings with hospital doctors when they all folded their arms and stared at me, just because the conversation was supposed to be about choice. But, for all the ambiguities and difficulties, there is something a good deal worse than choice - no choice.
But what I see around me is often the signs of shrinking choices. Most of the secondary schools in the area I live in have been taken over by a carpet millionaire. Where is the choice there?
I would like to move my business account to a local bank which will invest my savings in local enterprise. There isn't one. Where is the choice there?
And I would like to use this blog to link to my books so that people can buy them somewhere else apart from a monopolistic website like Amazon. Where is the choice there?
There is my dilemma. I write this blog partly to remind people occasionally that I've written some rather readable books which they have almost certainly failed to read yet. There are other websites to rival Amazon, but they don't really fit the bill.
There is Hive, which is brilliant, but they charge postage on orders under £15 (I use them to buy books, but it is more difficult selling books that way). There is the Book Depository, but the regulators - in their wisdom - allowed Amazon to take them over. There is Waterstone's, but they don't sell my ebooks.
It is a sure sign of monopoly when you don't actually have any choice. I have a choice when it comes to buying, and I certainly exercise it, but Amazon is now so powerful that it seems pointless to sell books by linking to anywhere else.
In any case, this isn't just about books. Amazon already operate an unfair advantage by doing their business offshore and avoiding UK tax, which their UK competitors can't. The future for any competition seems bleak - not to mention the tax receipts from retailing.
What we urgently need is a potential UK competitor to Amazon. I would certainly use them - no, let's be clear - as long as they are efficient, I am absolutely aching to use them. So here is my solution: it is time for Ocado to gear up and take their rightful place. I'm right behind them...
But it will require the UK government to step in and make sure that any new UK competitor can operate effectively and fairly against tax avoiders like Amazon. They can't allow the tax avoiders to drive out the rest - but that will happen, unless they ACT.
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