Rare Book Monthly

Articles - October - 2005 Issue

Amazon Cuts The Cord: Now What For Abe and Alibris?

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The mighty river is washing away its partners.


By Michael Stillman

Just when it seemed there was enough confusion in the online bookselling world, Amazon decided there wasn't, and proceeded to terminate their well-established relations with the top used book selling sites. The ramifications of their decision immediately spread to Abe, Alibris, and Half.com. Where it all will settle is anyone's guess, but once the stuff hits the fan, no one is ever quite the same.

Of course Abebooks has been leading the way in controversy over the past few months. They have been redesigning their site in a way which, if intended to antagonize their sellers, was certainly successful. On the assumption this was not their intention, the call is still out as to whether these changes will be a step in the right direction. Technical glitches in the implementation have evidently affected sales and raised much ire in the Abebooks community, while an obscuring of direct contacts with the individual dealers has particularly angered antiquarian, rare, and other high end booksellers (see our article from last month: http://www.americanaexchange.com/NewAE/aemonthly/article.asp?f=1&page=1&id=290). The last thing Abe needs at this point is more controversy, but more controversy is just what they have been granted, courtesy of Amazon.

As everyone undoubtedly knows, Amazon is the world's largest online seller of new books. A few years ago, they expanded into used books as well, and quickly developed a huge supply of available titles through cooperative ventures with used book leaders Abebooks and Alibris. Dealers who listed their books on these sites could automatically have their books listed on Amazon as well. A similar program was also instituted with the website of the largest traditional (bricks and mortar) new book seller, Barnes and Noble.

However, on or around September 20, Amazon informed its partners that they would be partners no more. Amazon decided that it would no longer accept listings from what Abe calls "aggregators," sites which aggregate listings from multiple booksellers. They would only accept listings from the individual booksellers themselves. This change is major. While we do not know what percentage of Abe and Alibris sales are actually made on Amazon, we do know that it is substantial, and for some booksellers, it is a majority of their sales. Once the dust settles, we can anticipate some of those dealers may be realigning their loyalties based on how their sales are affected. For beleaguered Abe, the timing could not be worse, as there is much disaffection already within their community. Fence mending will be paramount for them.

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