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    Adventures of a rare book dealer (and former small bookshop owner).

ABE Changes

Written on May 1, 2008

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For those readers who are not themselves booksellers, the recent fee hikes at abebooks.com, one of the most widely-used online sites for the buying and selling of used and rare books, likely have passed unnoticed. In the relatively small world of book dealers, however, the additional costs have been the topic of conversation for weeks, with the tenor of discussion often approaching hysteria. But because organizing booksellers is like herding cats, little in the way of effective protest was mustered. The IOBA did send this letter of protest:

Dear Hannes,

The Board of Directors of the Independent Online Booksellers Association is writing this open letter to you, the President of AbeBooks.com, in the hope that you will reconsider the recently announced new fee of an 8% “commission” on shipping charges. Shipping is a constantly increasing expense paid to third parties, and the actual costs are not under the control of individual booksellers. Until relatively recently, shipping terms were arranged between booksellers and their customers, with no outside interference, and this is still a highly desirable and practical method of conducting business. Independent booksellers are increasingly concerned over the continuing erosion of traditional values in our cherished profession. One of the most alarming aspects of this new shipping commission is that it will have an inequitable impact on international booksellers.

We understand the requirement that AbeBooks.com generate sufficient revenue to cover ongoing expenses and acquisitions, and we respect the right of any business to set their own fees and practice their own corporate guidance, but when a new fee is proposed which will adversely affect some of the members of our Association far more heavily than others, we wonder if this
disparity was an unintended consequence. With booksellers and buyers from around the world, AbeBooks.com is the only truly international large book-listing site. As such it has in the past offered an opportunity for booksellers in distant countries to reach buyers elsewhere. These sellers are already confronting competitive disadvantages with high postage costs and currency issues, and now these same sellers are facing a fee increase from AbeBooks.com that will be from four to ten times as great as that paid by US-based sellers who primarily ship to their large domestic market.

For most US-based sellers shipping to a US address, the additional fee will be a nominal 24 to 32 cents, but for a seller in Australia shipping even a lightweight book to the US by the most economical method, the additional fee will be over $1.00. Heavier books and air shipping will frequently result in a surcharge of over $3.00. That might not sound like much, but it is the latest in a long string of fee increases and commissions set against the backdrop of what for many of us has been a period of steadily declining sales on AbeBooks.com.

As an international organization ourselves, IOBA thinks that these fees are highly unfair to our members from countries other than the United States, with the potentially greatest impact on our members in Australia, Canada, and the U.K. Surely AbeBooks.com did not intend to discourage international sales by placing such an onerous additional fee on those orders.

It is not too late to temporarily suspend imposition of these fees, and to devise an alternative method of calculating commissions or raising revenues or cutting expenses which would generate the income that AbeBooks.com seeks in order to grow and prosper, but would do so in a more equitable fashion.

Sincerely,
Shawn Purcell, President
and the Board of Directors of the Independent Online Booksellers Association

However, due largely to the efforts of one dealer (Susan Halas), two major publications today took notice of the dust-up: ABE’s hometown paper The Victoria Times and the trade journal of the book-world Publisher’s Weekly.

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