On March 1, while the only people paying real attention were hypervigilant third-party sellers and book geeks on Reddit, Amazon enacted a policy change that allows third-party sellers to compete for the Buy Box for books in “new condition.”
When you go to a product page on Amazon, the ADD TO CART button is the default offer. Other used options fall below the Buy Box. Where books are concerned, the default Buy Box option has always belonged to the publisher. When you buy a book, Amazon pays the publisher 45 percent of the list price, so authors are making a profit (albeit small) every time you buy. This contributes to authors’ royalties and also means that your purchase is supporting the entity that published the book, namely the publisher.
The suggestion in some of the articles I’ve read on this topic is that this new policy hurts small sellers, favoring bigger third-seller operations. But I’d like to break down how much this policy hurts authors and publishers.
I finally clued in to how problematic this policy is a couple weeks ago when one of my authors emailed me to inform me that her book was no longer being listed on Amazon—at all—as available from her publisher, in this case, SparkPress, one of my company’s two imprints. When you typed in the title of her book, the only listings that came up were from third-party sellers. Amazon’s policy states that “eligible sellers will be able to compete for the buy box,” but in this case, we had been completely wiped off of Amazon as an eligible seller in any capacity, without being notified.
As an experiment, I typed in a few backlist books from my Seal Press days. By my third try, I’d hit upon Second Wind, by Cami Ostman. Same scenario. No offering from the publisher. When you click on the product page, here’s what you see: Read More…
Authors Should Be Holding Amazon Accountable, And Here’s One Easy, Actionable Step
This is a follow-up to a post I wrote last month about Amazon’s new Buy Button policy. That post described what the policy is—Amazon allowing third-party sellers to “win” the Buy Button and sell “new” books in that prime piece of real estate on a given book’s primary page listing. I also expressed my belief that the policy harms publishers and authors. I raised more questions than I had answers for then, but I’ve spent the past month talking to industry folks and shopping on Amazon and I wanted to share the results here. (I also invite you to join the Independent Book Publishers Association and its Advocacy Committee (which I chair) in a fun sleuthing mission we’re launching—see Call to Action below—to expose whether or not the books being sold by third parties are in fact “new.”)
What Qualifies a Book as “New” on Amazon?
According to Amazon, what makes a “new” book is pretty straightforward:
New: Just like it sounds. A brand-new, unused, unopened item in its original packaging, with all original packaging materials included. Original protective wrapping, if any, is intact. Original manufacturer’s warranty, if any, still applies, with warranty details included in the listing comments.
Except that it’s not so straightforward when it comes to books. Books are not sold in original packaging with packaging materials included. The only protective layer books have around them are their covers/spines. Books are easily damaged in transit, and as such they’re often deemed “hurt” (a returned book that may have been slightly damaged).
According to Ware-Pak, a warehousing, distribution, and fulfillment service for authors, a hurt is “worn and cannot be sold as new.”
These slightly worn books are placed into a bin to be eventually sold off to one of the remainder wholesalers.
I know that a number of industry players have been in contact with Amazon since this whole Buy Button policy thing got out more widely. I’ve even communicated by email with someone at Amazon who expressed interest in having a call, but then wrote back to say she was “booked solid” and welcomed my questions by email. I sent a list of my concerns last week and haven’t heard back.
My biggest and most pressing concern is this: Who’s holding the third-party vendors accountable for selling “new” books? It certainly isn’t Amazon. As I mentioned in my first post, if I’m a consumer who’s getting a steep discount, like one-third or more off the list price, am I going to issue a formal complaint because my book has “shelf wear”? Most likely not.
Three of three books I ordered this month from the Buy Button had significant enough damage to be qualified as “hurts” by my distributor’s standards. Please note Ware-Pak’s language above, in which they express these books “cannot be sold as new.” But Amazon just created a sales channel by which they’re overriding that “cannot” and making it really easy to sell shelf-worn books as new.