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Amazon Draws Fire Over Used Book Policy

By Lori Enos
Nov 15, 2000 12:00 AM PT

The Amazon Marketplace, through which visitors to the e-commerce bellwether can sell used items to other customers, has sparked outrage among writers and publishers who feel that the blending of new and used books will be costly to their bottom line.

Amazon Draws Fire Over Used Book Policy

Although Amazon has been selling used books through its zShops and auctions for some time, the new format makes it easier for buyers to choose used books instead of new ones.

For example, customers interested in John Grisham's "The Brethren" can find it new at Amazon for US$16.77 or purchase a used copy through the Amazon Marketplace for anywhere from $8.50 to $13.65.

Amazon as 'Middleman'

Although the listings for both used books and new books appear side-by-side, Amazon is actually acting as a middleman for customers to sell books to other customers.

The company has also made it easier for sellers to promote their books. Every Amazon listing -- including books, CDs and videos -- now appears with a blue box under the title that asks, "Already own this item? Sell yours here."

Listing items is free, but Amazon takes a commission of 99 cents plus 15 percent. Shipping is the responsibility of the seller.

Outrage and Annoyance

Cissy Hartley, the founder of, told the E-Commerce Times that writers are expressing "various degrees of outrage and annoyance" over the prominence that Amazon is giving to used book listings on the Web site.

In addition to the revenue issue, there are also reports that a review copy of at least one book has been found at the Amazon Marketplace before its official release date.

Hartley also said that the writers' protest has been picking up steam and getting more organized in recent days.

In protest, many concerned writers are changing the links on their own Web pages from Amazon to or to discourage visitors from patronizing Amazon, Hartley said.

So far, none of the major publishers have publicly protested Amazon's new policy, but Hartley said she would not be surprised if this row eventually caused a shift in publishers' relationships with Amazon.


In other Amazon news, the company announced Tuesday the opening of an e-book store that will sell e-books in the Microsoft Reader format and will include both recent best sellers and traditional titles.

Although this is the first time that Amazon has grouped e-books into a separate store, the company has been selling e-books from small independent e-publishers for several years.

Additionally, in an effort to stave off the fulfillment problems that plagued the e-tail segment last holiday season, Amazon announced last week that it will give free shipping on orders over $100 that are placed by November 22nd.

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