AbeBooks Institutes Charge On Shipping
As to the type of increase, Mr. Davies explained, "buyers are unhappy with high shipping costs. We want to avoid listings where a book is priced cheaply but accompanied by expensive shipping. Buyers have made their opinions very clear to us and we wish to improve the whole experience for them." Good point. Few things can turn off customers more quickly then a seemingly low price accompanied by tacked on fees that make the real price high. Artificially high shipping expenses on mailed goods is a common practice. Usually, it is just meant to create the appearance of a bargain, but sellers could not help but notice that under Abe's old pricing system, lowering book prices while increasing shipping costs reduced the commissions they had to pay. This loophole has now been closed, but not without some unintended consequences.
The greatest objections come from those who ship overseas, both Europeans and Australians shipping to America, and Americans shipping in the other direction as well. Abe's intention may be to capture mainly American sellers who tack inflated shipping charges onto low priced books, but for those who regularly ship overseas, those large shipping costs are all too real. Overseas shipping has become increasingly expensive, and those who are punished most by this change are the international sellers who charge actual shipping costs. A bookseller who charges $30 to ship an item that costs $30 to ship, must now pay $32.40 in shipping and commissions. Either he or she must absorb a loss, raise prices, or create the appearance of overcharging for freight. None of those is particularly appealing.
The opposition on this issue has been led by IOBA, the Independent Online Booksellers Association. In an open letter to Abebooks' CEO Hannes Blum, IOBA President Shawn Purcell pointed to perceived unfairness in charging a commission on an expense over which sellers have no control. While conceding that AbeBooks needs to raise sufficient revenue to cover "expenses and acquisitions," and saying "we respect the right of any business to set their own fees and practice their own corporate guidance," Purcell questioned whether Abe intended to raise fees in a manner that would affect some booksellers more than others. He particularly focused on overseas dealers selling into the U.S. market. They already must contend with high shipping costs and a declining dollar. Purcell sees the increase as targeted at the booksellers who can least afford it.
Others pointed out that one of the most notable examples of high shipping, the $1 book that comes with a $5 shipping charge, would be unaffected by this fee (it would remain at Abe’s minimum charge of $0.50). Still others questioned the logic of fighting high shipping charges by increasing the cost of shipping to booksellers. It sounds counterintuitive. Won't they just increase shipping charges further to cover this added cost? That would worsen, not alleviate the problem.
Is there a more fair way to implement a rate increase? Perhaps. But the reality is that some sellers are bound to be more affected than others by any rate increase. Increasing the commissions on the price will favor those who shift more of the book's cost onto shipping. Maybe the most logical place to increase is in the listing fees. After all, this flat fee is, in effect, being eroded by inflation. However, increases here could be seen as burdening small sellers more, and might force some to leave Abe entirely. Somebody's ox is always going to be gored more than someone else's, no matter what Abe does.