Abeazon Reaction

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The news that Amazon would be acquiring Abebooks caused quite a stir in the book industry. Very quickly, most of the major players went on the record with a reaction to the announcement. Anirvan Chatterjee, Founder and CEO of Bookfinder, did a great job of compiling the reaction and also had his own take on the news.

As a long-time industry-watcher, I think this is pretty big news, certainly the most significant acquisition in the online used/rare book space to date—and yet not a lot may change.

Chatterjee went on to speak about his own experiences.

When AbeBooks acquired BookFinder.com, there was some concern from well-wishers that they’d shut us down or make us skew our results—but neither happened, or was even an option. We’re still a small independently-managed operation, but now with more resources to draw upon.

Tim Spalding, Founder and President of LibraryThing, congratulated Amazon on the “shrewd acquisition” but also reassured users that things would not change.

LibraryThing remains LibraryThing. We will continue to uphold and advance LibraryThing values, including open data, strict privacy rules and support for libraries and independent bookstores.

In a subsequent dialog with users Spalding addressed the seemingly conflicting investments Amazon now has in LibraryThing and Shelfari.

I just wish it were closer to April fools. We could blog the launch of Libraryfari. (Don’t worry, that particular turn of events would happen over my dead body.)

Brian Elliott, CEO of Alibris (and my former boss), was more focused on what Alibris could continue to provide to both consumers and booksellers.

While ABE and Amazon are busy integrating and explaining why sellers should still pay fees to both of them, we’ll be busy helping drive more sales volume to our sellers.

Elliott laid out a three pronged strategy that included improvements to seller storefronts, advancements in collectibles and continuing to leverage business partnerships. The latter is a true asset. Many seem to forget that Alibris helps power Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books-A-Million, Chapters/Indigo and Blackwell U.K. That’s the #1, #2 and #3 brick-and-mortar book retailer in the U.S., the #1 brick-and-mortar retailer in Canada and a leading U.K. retailer.

Brendan Sherar, CEO of Biblio, was less diplomatic in an interview with Bookpatrol.

I believe it is unhealthy for the overall market, because it further removes competition and choices for collectors, readers, and booksellers alike. In a free market economy, that is generally accepted to be a bad thing. When competition and choice are reduced or eliminated, markets inevitably move towards lower standards for product quality and service for all concerned, as well as unrestricted pricing strategies which ultimately hurt the customers – in this case, booksellers and bookbuyers.

Sherar went on to indicate that booksellers are, in general, a very independent bunch (to which I concur) and that any consolidation that may occur would likely create opportunities for “emergent and disruptive businesses”.

Luke Lozier of Bibliopolis provided a great response via email about a week after the initial announcement. I could excerpt parts of Luke’s response but I believe you’ll be better served by reading it in its entirety.

Let’s be fair. It’s not a good policy to stick your thumb in the eye of the 900 pound gorilla that sits (anywhere it pleases) in your industry. That’s not to say that any of the above weren’t being honest. But perhaps some tempered their reaction and were being a bit diplomatic. Not an entirely bad business practice.

What will happen?

It seems clear to me that Amazon will leave Abebooks as an independent entity. The Canadian government will have a lot to say about any workforce consolidation or reductions. Yet, you’d think that Amazon would, at some point down the road, seek to create some operating efficiencies.

The idea that Amazon will do to Abebooks what it did to Bibliofind is not going to happen. Boris Wertz points to ShopBop.com and Anirvan, in a quick email exchange with yours truly, also used Endless as positive examples.

Integration of inventory between the two sites seems difficult, both from a technical perspective but also, as mentioned by Elliott, from a business perspective. If you’re integrating inventory, why exactly would a seller continue to pay fees to both sites? And fees are important, VERY important.

All of the above was written in the week after the initial August announcement. I kept wanting to crank out a blog post but … I’ve had a number of balls in the air and the farther away we got from the event, the less important it seemed.

So fast forward to the present. What’s happened? Not much. At least not yet.

Obama Change LogoAnd what about the chatter among sellers between then and now? Well … distraction in the form of politics took the magnifying glass off this major event.

Change. It applies to politics and books.

Even when the final acquisition was announced on December 1st the reaction was muted.

In fact, a completely unscientific perusal of messages and reactions leads me to believe that a majority of sellers may actually welcome the change. Here’s one such missive culled from the web.

Amazon makes me mad and there were times they’ve almost amde [sic] me feel like crying … but… by golly they provide a site that make sales. With them I feel if they make money they leave some for me to make to [sic]. ABE made me think of vampires … they’d drain customers and listers.

As I’ve noted (here, here and here), the book industry isn’t doing particularly well. Large corporations can weather the economic downturn through staff reductions and other cost saving measures. But individual sellers don’t often have that luxury. Perhaps they’ve got part-time help, but for the most part these are solo operations.

Sales make all the difference and pragmatism may override any sentimental feelings for the “old” Abebooks of Rick Pura and Cathy Waters. Even those who rage against the homogenization of the industry may temper that ire if it comes with a steady stream of orders.

It will be interesting to see what 2009 brings and I’ll post some thoughts and predictions in a future post.

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