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

- by Renee Roberts



Amazon also has a permanent rating system that cannot be changed or erased, even when a customer has clearly made an error — for example, one praised me for quick shipping and then gave me the lowest possible score, confusing direction of the scale (Is 1 better than 10, or worse?). The rating system also serves as a kind of weird, de-facto program for institutionalized blackmail. I had one customer who purchased a book, kept it for a couple of months, and then wanted to return it (with us paying the shipping both ways, of course). We made the mistake of protesting, eventually took the book back anyway, and the customer still put a negative rating on our site as a kind of revenge for our unwillingness to act as her personal lending library.

While Amazon handles the entire financial transaction and very reliably deposits money into our account, on demand, or on a two-week schedule, nevertheless having a third party involved can sometimes be awkward, particularly if we are negotiating with the customer for the purchase of a different book. In such a case we quickly make a refund so that Amazon is out of the equation, and then work with the customer directly.

Sellers already listing on Alibris and ABE can automatically send their ISBN-listed inventory to Amazon through the optional bookseller programs on those sites. In that case, while you avoid paying the monthly Amazon fee, your listings are bunched together with other ABE or Alibris sellers. Customers have absolutely no idea from whom they are buying, so it is virtually impossible to use a sale to generate repeat business, and the prices are jacked up to allow ABE or Alibris an additional profit margin.

Personally, I don’t like those particular programs. I feel that if we are selling on Amazon, we should do it directly and deal with Amazon ourselves, not through a third (or fourth) party. We need direct access to our customers in order to give them better service. Moreover, with the ABE and Alibris relisting deals we cannot list both ISBN and pre-ISBN titles, which we can when working directly with Amazon — and this is crucial to our particular business mix.

The really good news out of Amazon is that they will soon have available databases of antiquarian titles that are pre-ISBN, so that high-level Marketplace pages will be available for rare books. From our perspective that is going to mean more sales and less confusion in the listings on what is already the best site on the Web for the selling of books. Marketplace is also expanding on Amazon’s sites outside the United States: the United Kingdom (, Canada (, France (, Germany ( and Japan (