Bookselling Relationships: Partnerships or Parasitism?
by Renée Magriel Roberts
Every day around 4PM I begin to crash after too many hours at the computer and I've found it comforting to put up my feet and watch Dr. Phil on TV (this activity is not shared by my husband, who is more likely to be found picking up heavy boxes of books, or working on the roof of the warehouse to keep the rain off our inventory).
Dr. Phil is an everyperson's everyshrink. I've found him particularly effective in working with women in abusive relationships where his message is "it is not your fault" and at the same time "you have to ask for the life you want". I've seen him work with real control-freak husbands, who seem to be completely oblivious to what they are doing to their partners. They manage to convince their wives that they have no other options; with no other options the abuse escalates and continues. Turn on the TV any day around 3 or 4 PM and you can see people who are having their lives sucked out of them.
You may ask what this has to do with bookselling. It has everything to do with bookselling in today's current Web-based environment. Like many other booksellers I must go where the customers are and partner with selling websites, such as ABE, Amazon, and eBay. These relationships began for me as a partnership. However, as these mega-marketing sites continue to strengthen their respective monopolies, they use their power to increasingly abuse the sellers who are providing their products.
I feel violated just about every day. Not by the thieves who send their endless lottery-winning emails to my spam folder, or the phishers informing me that my paypal account is about to be closed unless I input my login and password. Not even by the book crooks who want me to send a lot of good material to Indonesia, express mail please. I can deal with them.
No, it is my so-called website "partners" who are giving me that dry-sucking feeling. In other venues, the business moves by these sites would probably be illegal, or be broken up as monopolies. However, strangely, in webworld, hard-core pressure-based business practices appear to be totally ignored. ABE is an obvious example, although the principles I'm describing surely apply to other sites.
What I am speaking about specifically is the sites' penchant for expanding their profits entirely at the expense of the bookseller by forcing us to "purchase" services we may not want (or want from them), or even need. It is not enough to be charged a fee for listings. We are charged a percentage of each transaction, completely at the whim of the selling site. We can no longer choose who we might use to process our major credit card charges, nor do we have any control over the decisionmaking regarding the transaction (as we do not see those that are refused).