Amazon Draws Protest With Used Books Sales

by Staff

When began selling used books alongside new titles in November 2000, top executives at the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers protested the practice, arguing that it pays nothing to writers and publishers. Nearly two years later, the online retail giant's successful marketing of used books has renewed the dispute.

Amazon's most recent sales tactic-posting personalized messages asking customers to consider selling books they initially bought through Amazon-spurred the Authors Guild and the AAP to action. On April 9 the Authors Guild sent an e-mail to its more than 8,000 members urging them to stop linking to Amazon from their personal Web sites and buy books elsewhere.

"Amazon initially placed a box on new book pages offering the same book, used, for less," says Authors Guild president Nick Taylor. "The Guild thought this was unfair to authors and publishers by depriving them of royalties, and asked that Amazon move its used book offers off the new book page, or at least hold off for awhile to give a new book a chance without competing with itself."

With a traditional trade book publishing contract, an author generally earns a ten percent royalty on the first 5,000 copies of a book sold, 12 to 12.5 percent on the next 5,000, and 15 percent thereafter. Authors receive nothing on the sale of used books.

To counter the Authors Guild's e-mail, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos sent one of his own to used book sellers asking them to contact the Guild in support of selling used books. "We've found that our used books business does not take business away from the sale of new books. In fact the opposite has happened," Bezos wrote. "Offering customers a lower-priced option causes them to visit our site more frequently, which in turn leads to higher sales of new books while encouraging customers to try authors and genres they may not have otherwise tried."

-Julia Kamysz Lane