If Amazon.com gives almost nothing to charity, should we care?

Arts, entertainment, and more.
March 6 2009 6:19 PM

The New Scrooge

Are there lemonade stands that devote more to charity than Amazon.com?

amazon.com.

With Amazon.com's recent announcement of profits of $645 million on revenues of $19.17 billion last year, the company isn't just surviving the recession—it's pounding its rivals into the dust. So it's cakes and ale all around for charitable beneficiaries of the Seattle giant's largesse, right?

Sure—if they're buying.

While Amazon.com is famously cheap in its prices, it's also become infamously cheap to the community it lives in. The tacit silence over Amazon's stinginess was first broken in a 2007 complaint on a Publishers Weekly blog by a rival Seattle bricks-and-mortar bookseller. When Paul Constant, books editor at the Seattle alt-weekly the Stranger, followed up on the post last year, he hit a stone wall: "[Amazon.com] has refused to return repeated e-mails and calls from The Stranger about the company's seemingly nonexistent contributions to the Seattle arts scene," he wrote at the time. "Internet searches for any sign of philanthropy on behalf of the company prove fruitless."

Wait … no corporate giving at all? None?

Amazon.com's own account hardly inspires confidence. True, their Giving page cites employee efforts, and the Bezos family maintains its own comparatively modest foundation. The company has also allowed other people's donation money—and page views—to course through its site. But the only listed donations by Amazon.com itself are a single Nonprofit Innovation Award that has not been given since 2005, and the delivery after "recent flooding in Southeast Kansas, [of] more than 10 pallets of household goods ... to local Red Cross shelters in Coffeyville, Kansas." What they don't note is that "recent" is July 2007—and, as Amazon.com is the largest employer in Coffeyville, that their own employees may have been among those benefiting from the goods.

Recent Amazon.com SEC filings and annual reports make no mention of grants, charitable donations, local arts support, or any other civic-minded efforts by the online giant. By contrast, their rival Barnes & Noble actually notes community relations in its annual reports and maintains a Sponsorships and Charitable Donations page complete with application instructions. For that matter, most multibillion-dollar corporations pay at least some lip service to doing good—especially when the company itself is doing great.

Advertisement

Puzzled, I e-mailed Patty Smith, Amazon.com's director of corporate communications. Yes, she said, she'd like to hear Slate's questions. But when asked specifically about the extent of Amazon.com's charitable contributions—indeed, for any comment at all on a corporate policy regarding philanthropy—the company's response was silence. Repeated calls and e-mails have since gone unreturned.

Two perfectly reasonable explanations come to mind for this. The first is that Amazon.com is exceedingly discreet—that it changes into superhero tights in a phone booth, then rockets off to provide clean water to poor villages, dole out blankets to shivering orphans, and phone in whopping anonymous grants during Car Talk pledge drives.

The other is that there are lemonade stands that donate more to charity than Amazon.com does.

But should this matter to consumers?

TODAY IN SLATE

Culturebox

The Ebola Story

How our minds build narratives out of disaster.

The Budget Disaster That Completely Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

The Shooting Tragedies That Forged Canada’s Gun Politics

A Highly Unscientific Ranking of Crazy-Old German Beers

Education

Welcome to 13th Grade!

Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.

Culturebox

The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

Want Kids to Delay Sex? Let Planned Parenthood Teach Them Sex Ed.

Would You Trust Walmart to Provide Your Health Care? (You Should.)

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 9:42 PM Landslide Landrieu Can the Louisiana Democrat use the powers of incumbency to save herself one more time?
  Business
Continuously Operating
Oct. 22 2014 2:38 PM Crack Open an Old One A highly unscientific evaluation of Germany’s oldest breweries.
  Life
Gentleman Scholar
Oct. 22 2014 5:54 PM May I Offer to Sharpen My Friends’ Knives? Or would that be rude?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 4:27 PM Three Ways Your Text Messages Change After You Get Married
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
  Arts
Culturebox
Oct. 22 2014 11:54 PM The Actual World “Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 5:33 PM One More Reason Not to Use PowerPoint: It’s The Gateway for a Serious Windows Vulnerability
  Health & Science
Wild Things
Oct. 22 2014 2:42 PM Orcas, Via Drone, for the First Time Ever
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.