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Bookseller Revolt: Independents Vacate Abebooks in Solidarity

Banned Booksellers Week has begun with a bang. David Streitfeld’s piece in the New York Times has kicked off what some hope will be a defining moment in the history of online bookselling. 

For the week of November 5 to 11, 2018, booksellers around the world will remove their inventory from Abebooks, an Amazon company, in a show of support for their brethren in South Korea, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Russia who were told they can no longer sell on their platform. 

Many were angered at the flippant response provided by Abebooks as to why the booksellers were removed claiming that “it is no longer viable for us to operate in these countries due to increasing costs and complexities”.  An apparent issue with a payment processing company has forced them to cease operations in these select countries essentially eliminating the critical online revenue streams for many of these booksellers. Knowing the reach and power of their parent company this seems like a surmountable issue.

Founded in 1995 Abebooks was one of the early players in the online bookselling field, quickly becoming the dominant force in the used and collectible space and offering hope to many of the independent booksellers of the day who where trying to make their way in the online world. Abebooks was acquired by Amazon in 2008 ending that hope and any chance of keeping one’s independence. 

 

Bookseller admin screen denoting that books have been placed on vacation, removing them from circulation via

This is the latest in a string of brazen actions that have already altered the trade beyond anything recognizable to past generations of booksellers. 

Remember the arrival of the penny-sellers? A breed of bookseller spawned by technology that infiltrated the online marketplace and devised a pricing technology to ensure that their copy would be the cheapest one available online even if it went down to a penny! In a 2007 post I noted there where 300,000 books listed on Amazon for a penny.

This piece of software essentially devastated huge swaths of the used book market. The race to the bottom had begun. 

Then in late 2014 another new breed of bookseller emerged, the Bookjacker!  Technology now made it possible for these “booksellers” to flag books that are uploaded and only appear on one marketplace and then re-upload them to additional marketplaces under their moniker  and at an inflated price!  So now we have a class of  fourth-party sellers who don’t own any books, raid the inventory of third-party sellers and whose only affinity to books is a monetary one. Remember Amazon gets paid twice, once when the deceived customer buys the book and once when one of those outfits buys the tangible copy from an independent bookseller. It also harkens back to Amazon’s earliest days as a drop-shipper. Commodities not vessels became the mantra.

If there was a hint of respect left for their community of independent booksellers and the inventory they procure and make available to the world there would never be room for bookjackers in the marketplace and they would never eliminate entire countries of booksellers. 

Banned Booksellers week is a great start and fingers are crossed that booksellers will continue to take aggressive action against the companies who no longer have their basic interests in mind.

As of this writing 536 booksellers from 26 countries have placed 3.3 million books, who one veteran bookseller has estimated to be worth over $1 billion, on vacation from Abebooks.

Official statement  (pdf) of the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers 

New York Times piece: Booksellers Protest Amazon Site’s Move to Drop Stores From Certain Countries

Scott Emerson of Eureka Books was in early on this and who has some editorial wiring is keeping good tabs of the protest here 

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