Rare Book Monthly

Articles - May - 2008 Issue

AbeBooks Institutes Charge On Shipping

Abe05-08

On April 2, AbeBooks announced its new commission structure.



By Michael Stillman

Few issues in the book trade cause anywhere near the controversy we see when AbeBooks announces a price increase. In a sense, this is a great tribute to Abe, as it shows the importance of the role they play in the old and rare book business today. Nonetheless, Abe receives few plaudits when one of these increases is announced. These are tough times for anyone not in the oil business, and while rate increases may be grudgingly accepted while sales are booming, sellers understandably see these increased commissions as coming straight out of their hides when sales are stagnant. Meanwhile, Abe looks at rampant inflation, especially for anyone dealing primarily in US dollars, and concludes that a rate increase is justified.

Here is what happened. On April 2, Abe announced a two-part increase. The first, and most controversial, extended the 8% commission Abe charges on sales to the shipping charges as well. Previously, if a book sold for $20 with a $5 shipping charge, Abe took in 8% of $20, or $1.60. Now it is 8% of $25, or $2.00 (plus, as before, 5.5% for credit card processing). The second part of the increase comes from listing fees for large sellers. The monthly fee for listing 50,001-100,000 went from $175 to $200, for 100,001-150,000 $225 to $300, for 150,000+ $300 to $400. We have not heard much objection to this part as it primarily affects the mega-listers, and this is a small group generally outside the mainstream of traditional bookselling. Abe also instituted a cost reduction on large orders, reducing the credit card processing fees on orders over $500. The fee on the excess over $500 will be reduced from 5.5% to 3.5% (the first $500 remains at 5.5%).

We asked Abebooks PR Manager Richard Davies why the listing site decided to extend commissions to shipping charges, and he responded with two reasons. We first recall that in the past, Abe has tended to skirt around the issue of wanting/needing additional funds and cited secondary reasons, such as advertising, a response that tended to anger more than placate sellers. This time, there was no beating around the bush. Davies explained, "we wish to increase our revenues because we face rising operating costs in online marketing and IT infrastructure." The increase was motivated primarily by a desire to raise revenue, and Abebooks is not attempting to hide that reality.

However, it was not the increase itself so much as its form that seemed to bother many booksellers. Applying a commission to shipping has them upset. At this point, I will air my suspicions that it is the increase more than its form that is the real issue for many. It reminds me of Colonial America, where the colonists vociferously objected to taxation without representation. In the 200+ years since, we have found that Americans really don't like paying taxes period, regardless of whether they come with representation. It's hard to imagine what form of increase would please dealers. However, there are certainly some reasonable objections to applying the increase through a commission on shipping.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Caius Julius Hyginus, <i>Poeticon Astronomicon,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1482. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Giovanni Botero, <i>Le Relationi Universali... divise in Sette Parti</i>, Venice, 1618. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> <i>L'Escole des Filles</i>, likely third edition of the first work of pornographic fiction in French, 1676. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Illuminated Book of Hours in Latin on vellum, Flanders, early 16th century. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes Regiomontanus, <i>Calendarium,</i> Venice, 1485. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Pedro de Medina, <i>Libro d[e] gra[n]dezas y cosas memorables de España,</i> Alcalá de Henares, 1566. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b><br>Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> Salamanca, circa 1496-97. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Andrés Serrano, <i>Los Siete Principes de los Ángeles, válidos de Rey del Cielo,</i> Spain, 1707. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes de Sacrobosco, <i>Sphaera mundi,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1478. $15,000 to $20,000.
  • <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> A Rare 3-rotor German Enigma I Enciphering Machine. $70,000 to $90,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Important collection of correspondence between Werner Heisenberg and Bruno Rossi. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Walt Whitman Autograph manuscript containing his thoughts on death. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> David Roberts. <i>Holy Land</i>. Six volumes. 1842-1849. First edition. $15,000 to $25,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Extensive collection of Ray Bradbury's primary works, most signed or inscribed. $15,000 to $20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Peter Force. Declaration of Independence. $12,000 to $18,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Steinbeck. <i>Grapes of Wrath</i>. A fine copy of the first edition. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Lewis & Clark. <i>Travels to the Source of the Missouri River</i>... First English edition, extra-illustrated. 1814. $10,000 to 15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Manuscript document signed by Nuno de Guzman relating to Hernan Cortes, 1528. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> “Nos los inquisidores..." The first book in English printed West of the Mississippi. [1787]. $5,000 to $8,000.

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