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

  • <center><b>Swann Auction Galleries<br>Edward Hopper & His Contemporaries:<br>Making a Modern American Art<br>June 30, 2022
    <b>Swann June 30:</b> Edward Hopper, <i>The Railroad,</i> etching, 1922. $70,000 to $100,000.
    <b>Swann June 30:</b> Edward Hopper, <i>Sheet of Studies with Men in Hats and a Saloon Keeper,</i> pen, ink & pencil, circa 1900-05. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann June 30:</b> Edward Hopper, <i>Night Shadows,</i> etching, 1921. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <center><b>Swann Auction Galleries<br>Edward Hopper & His Contemporaries:<br>Making a Modern American Art<br>June 30, 2022
    <b>Swann June 30:</b> John Marin, <i>Woolworth Building, No. 2,</i> etching & drypoint, 1913. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann June 30:</b> Charles Demuth, <i>Tulips,</i> watercolor & pencil, 1924. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Swann June 30:</b> Edward Hopper, <i>Under Control,</i> gouache, ink & wash, circa 1907-10. $30,000 to $50,000.
  • <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> JESSE JAMES. Autograph Letter Signed on the attack at his home which maimed his mother and killed his nephew Archie, 6 pp, March 23, 1875. THE MOST IMPORTANT JESSE JAMES LETTER EXTANT. $300,000 to $500,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> THE LETTER THAT ARRIVED TOO LATE: An important letter from Robert E. Lee to Ulysses S. Grant across the battlefield at Cold Harbor, June 6, 1864. $120,000 to $180,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> DAVY CROCKETT. Autograph Letter Signed on his political philosophy and his dispute with Andrew Jackson, "at home Weakley County," August 18, 1831. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> GEORGE WASHINGTON. Letter Signed to Colonel Richard Gridley, the first engineer of the American Army, Morris Town, January 9, 1777. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> SCOTT FITZGERALD. <i>Tender is the Night.</i> FIRST EDITION, INSCRIBED to H.A. Swanseid. $30,000 to $50,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS. <i>Tarzan of the Apes.</i> FIRST EDITION. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> J.R.R. TOLKIEN. <i>The Hobbit, or There and Back Again.</i> FIRST EDITION. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> NATHANAEL WEST. <i>The Day of the Locust.</i> PRESENTATION COPY, inscribed to director Richard Wallace in the year of publication. $6,000 to $8,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> FRANCIS PICABIA. Archive of 17 Autograph Letters signed to Jennie Thiersch on art and life, 1948-1951. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> JOHN HANCOCK. Autograph Letter Signed to his wife Dolly from the Continental Congress, 4 pp, Philadelphia, March 10-11, 1777. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> NIGHTGOWN WORN BY CHARLOTTE CARDEZA DURING THE TITANIC DISASTER AND RESCUE. $40,000 to $60,000

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