Interesting how last week on August 1st,Â Amazon.com announced it bought ABEbooks, one of the largest resellers of out-of-print books (over 100 million books they claim). ABE was a Canadian outfit that began seven years ago as a service to booksellers who wanted to post their listings online and remain fairly independent about it. Book Beat was one of those thousands of small independent retailers who used the service. We left ABE last year as we saw them become more demanding and greedy. They no longer allowed booksellers to process their own orders, inflated credit-card processing fees and took a larger cut from the already slim margins of booksellers. Bookselling collectives popped up mainly in Europe to combat the oppressive conditions online. Many are now jumping ship under the Amazon announcement of August 1st (at least those who don’t feel the need to give Amazon their share).
It may seem a strange move that Amazon bought ABE, as they claim to see the future of the book only in digital terms:
“…over at Amazon they are inadvertently thinking of ways to make the world worse for children and for the grown-ups who love them to pieces. What Jeffrey P. Bezos, Amazon’s founder, wants more than anything is to do away with the book as we know it. “Jeff once said that he couldn’t imagine anything more important than reinventing the book,” said Steven Kessel, one of Bezos’s top guys. Kessel is in charge of digitizing everything in sight.” –The Washington Post
Buying ABE works into Amazon’s strategy of owning and destroying the book market. They did it before in 1999 when they bought Bibliofind. (Book Beat were also once members of Bibliofind, one of the best service providers for professional booksellers selling online). Amazon paid over $20 million for it and then quickly closed it down. Buy out your competition and shut it down. American economics 101.
“Amazon.com has suggested that electronic booksâ€“the kind viewed on its Kindle deviceâ€“are the future. Meanwhile, selling popular paper books helps pay the companyâ€™s current bills. So isnâ€™t Amazonâ€™s latest acquisition a step toward the past?” -Wall Street Journal
The small bookseller feels in increasing sense of doom and encroachment not from a level playing field but from a system that forces you to pay your own competition in order to survive -a bit like loading ammunition into your killer’s weapon. The public’s love affair with Amazon has created a non-taxed behemoth here in the US that has helped to decimate local economies and culture in favor of convenience and low price. In France (and other European countries) where books are highly valued and ingrained in their culture, they have laws in place to avoid the practice of mass market discounting and preserve their cultural standards. Amazon continues to pay heavy fines and operates at a loss in order to remain in Europe. Amazon was ordered to pay the French government 1,500 Euros each day they remain in business and hand over 100,000 euro ($146,000) to the French Booksellers’ Union, which sued Amazon in 2004 over its shipping policy. “The union said it was pleased with the court’s ruling, which would help protect vulnerable small bookshops from predatory pricing practices.” -The New York Times Â
Another important yet unreported consequence from Amazon buying ABE is that this will also give them 100% owner of Bookfinder.com, the internet’s most powerful booksearch engine. By owning Bookfinder, Amazon will control the most important portal to the access of out-of-print books. Bookfinder is considered the google of the book world. Would Amazon ever consider abusing their stewardship of Bookfinder? You better believe it.
Small publishers too have felt the lopsided and often unjust practices by Amazon a threat to their survival. See: Why I Stopped Selling to Amazon.comÂ . The joke isÂ one huge marketing image and claim that “The World’s largest bookstore” has deviously foisted on the public. Their supply of “virtual books” is about the same available to any bookseller (unless they are no longer in business).
Slate magazine: “In fact, Amazon’s “megawarehouse” in downtown Seattle contains just 200 or so titles. Any other book must be obtained from a wholesale distributor or the publisher. This is exactly what any traditional bookstore does when it doesn’t have a book in stock. The difference is that traditional bookstores start out with a lot more than 200 titles in stock. “Earth’s Biggest Bookstore”? More like “Earth’s Smallest.”Â –-Slate.com on the Amazon Con
The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Lonesome Dove recently published his memoir Books, a title that describes his long-term love for bookstores and bookselling. He has bought the inventory of no less then 30 bookstores for his own shop Booked Up in Archer City, Texas filled with over 400,000 quality “junk free” books. Many chapters are devoted to tales and obituaries of once loved bookstores with not oneÂ mention of the the ongoing threat from Amazon. The bookselling profession is one fading fast, like the corner drugstore and most remnants of small town USA, it is a cultural footnote passing away.Â “Civilization can probably adjust to the loss of the secondhand book trade, though I don’t think it’s really likely to have to. Can it, though survive the loss of reading? That’s a tougher question, but a very important one.” -Larry McMurtry, BooksÂ Â