There&#146;s a <i>Reason </i>It&#146;s a Big River — A Guide to Swimming in the Amazon

- by Renee Roberts


99.9% of this title sold on Amazon Marketplace.

On the other hand, Marketplace only enables a limited descriptive field in its listings, while the Z-Shop setup includes ample room for a detailed description, as well as an uploaded image of the book itself. Because you can also designate search paths for books listed on the Z-Shops, you can create virtual catalogues of interesting titles and specialties. The Z-Shops site also contains information about your store, including the addresses of your other Internet domains.

I performed an interesting experiment recently to see if I could generate increased traffic in my Z-Shop ( by significantly lowering prices. I selected for my experiment a book that we also publish (Britt-Mari Näsström, Freyja, Goddess of the North) and which, as a used book, is very scarce. What we discovered was that even if we lowered the price by 1/3 in the Z-Shop and on other sites, we still sold 99.9% of our titles in Marketplace. The Marketplace real estate is that valuable.

Why is this so? It’s because Amazon customers looking for rare books are more security-conscious than they are price-sensitive, and they are also in a hurry. Antiquarian sellers know that there are plenty of good ways to find out where to buy rare titles, including the obvious sites like ABE, Alibris, ZVAB, Bibliology, and Antiqbook. There are also national antiquarian dealer sites, and of course numerous stand-alone sites run by individual booksellers. There’s also the telephone: you can reach out and “touch somebody”, actually talk to a real, live expert in whatever it is you seek. We sell about half of our books directly to customers and on other sites — many to other dealers — and the rest on Amazon.

Customers, however, know that Amazon guarantees every transaction. They feel completely safe on Amazon, and many have open accounts that make it easy for them to buy. They are not comfortable inputting their credit card information into alien sites. The Amazon engine, as well, gives customers a lot of useful reinforcement, acknowledges each transaction, allows them to review their accounts, and to ask for help if they need it. If they find a rare book in their price range, they do not, as far as I can determine, spend much time price-shopping in other venues.

Marketplace selling on Amazon, however, is not entirely free of aggravation, even beyond the high cost of the commission structure. For example, Amazon uses fixed shipping costs and inexplicably takes a small piece of each shipping allotment, even though it incurs no expense in shipping other sellers’ books. Most of the time, the shipping allocation just about covers the seller’s out-of-pocket expense. However, in the case of books that are expensive, require special handling, are oversized, or that are very heavy, the Amazon-mandated shipping charge can fall well sort of covering the seller’s actual shipping expenses.

Unfortunately, sellers are not allowed to ask customers for additional shipping and there is no way on Amazon’s site to do so. However, I have found that people are usually very reasonable. If they want an expensive set of books shipped from Massachusetts to the U.K., they are going to want insurance and in some cases special handling or a specific carrier.