AbeBooks Institutes Charge On Shipping
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.