Like so many modern technological “advances”, Amazon has the capacity to be a boon or a bane. In the book world, it allows us access to hard-to-find or out-of-print books and allows students to rent costly textbooks at a fraction of the cover price. At the same time, it competes with brick-and-mortar bookstores that act as community centers and it strong-arms both authors and publishers to accept its lower prices.
Fortunately, Amazon’s attempt at establishing its own bookstores has been less than stellar while local dedicated independent booksellers are flourishing. You can’t teach an elephant to tap dance and Amazon bookstores can’t cater to booklovers the way community stores can.
I admit to using Amazon for many kinds of purchases when buying locally is problematic due to size, weight or unusually high cost, or when the item I want is not available. But a new, surreptitious move by Amazon should be alarming to anyone who cares about the health of the book business.
Until recently, a visit to the Amazon site for books differentiated between new and used books. Want a new book, click the appropriate button and you’d be sent to the publisher. Now, in select interactions, you could be sent to a third-party seller who is selling you a book that appears new but is actually used. And you won’t know it.
This bait and switch may seem innocuous. After all, if it appears new and you assume it is new, what’s the harm? The harm is that a used book will have previously been recorded as a purchase; the publisher and author will receive no compensation for the sale of your used book.
I am not against the sale of used books, just as I’m not against checking books out of a library. Both practices expand the circulation of books to more readers. I am against misleading sales practices that disrupt the fine balance that sustains the flow of books and supports the people who produce them: writers, publishers, stores. Each needs to earn a fair share of sales to survive and flourish. Amazon’s latest ploy is an unnecessary fraud, simply to further line its own pockets.
It is in your hands to stop Amazon from ripping everyone off. All it takes is to avoid clicking the buy button for a “new” book if it goes to a third-party seller on the Amazon site. Better yet, order the book from your local independent bookstore. You’ll be helping to nurture the garden of literary delights, now and for generations to come.