Amazon, Third Party Sellers, and the Evil Empire

Written by Annie Diamond

Amazon continues to be the worst with their policies surrounding third-party sellers and “buy” buttons. Amazon, which started out as a bookseller, has continued its practice of allowing third-party sellers to take equal prominence with first-party sellers under Amazon’s “buy book” option.

Here’s how it basically works:

  1. An author writes a book, let’s take completely a hypothetical book like Chuck Tingle’s Buttception: A Butt Within A Butt Within A Butt;
  2. Generally, the author sells the rights to the book to a publisher (the first party);
  3. The publisher sells the book to different retailers and the author gets a cut of books sold (the second party);
  4. The publisher generally puts some of these copies on Amazon—usually for, like, ten dollars;
  5. Some jerkish third party also sells a copy of Buttception: A Butt Within A Butt Within A Butt, but for four dollars. This copy of the book is listed as “new.” These books are generally not new copies—they’re typically hurt, remainder, or comp copies;
  6. The average buyer sees that new book they’ve been wanting to read (Buttception: A Butt Within A Butt Within A Butt). They compare the prices: actual bookseller price of ten dollars, or Amazon’s shipping copy (except listed as “new”) price of four dollars?;
  7. They press the “buy” button. Because it is cheaper, they buy the copy from the third-party sellers instead of the bookseller or a copy from the actual publisher;
  8. The business is hurt, the publisher gets no money, having already written off the hurt/remainder/comp copies as a loss, and none of this goes on the authors royalty report.

Amazon enables these third-party retailers by allowing them to sell under the primary-purchase button. It used to be that only Amazon, which had copies from the official publishers, could sell under this category. Now third parties can also sell, so long as they’re selling new books. Even though there’s no way the publisher would let them have heavily discounted versions, Amazon allows non-official retailers and companies to sell these hurt/remainder/comp copies, which are considered new, at a much cheaper price.

And third-party booksellers often win the “buy” button battle. According to Publishers Weekly, Doug Lessig of Firebrand, a company that combines publishing and technology, tracked third-party sellers on Amazon. Third-party sellers win the button on an average 5% of titles sold a day and can sometimes win up to 15% of titles sold that day. These titles sold by third-party sellers are, on average, selling the title for 33% less than the actual bookseller.

Amazon is allegedly getting to the bottom of third-party sellers who might mislead customers about what “new” actually means. But the sheer amount of third-party sellers makes that task difficult.

Now, Publishers Weekly reports that review copies from Simon & Schuster are sold with stickers that say, “Review Copy, Not for Re-sale.” When asked, a representative from the company said that they were “stickering these books in response to the proliferation of review and promotional copies being sold by third parties.”

In conclusion? Support authors and don’t buy from third parties. If you want a book for cheap, just get it from the library.

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