A long-simmering dispute between the Authors Guild and Amazon.com returned to the news when the organization e-mailed over 5,000 members encouraging them to remove links from the authors Web sites to Amazon.com. The Authors Guild acted after Amazon.com stepped up its marketing efforts for its "Amazon Marketplace" program, where consumers can sell used books, CDs, and other items. The guild has over 8,000 members, and more than 700 of them have Web sites.
The e-mail contended that the online retailers aggressive promotion of used titles harmed authors and argued that "there's no good reason for authors to be complicit in undermining their own sales." Instead it suggested that they link their Web sites to barnesandnoble.com and "especially" BookSense.com. Following news reports of the guilds action, the online traffic at the BookSense.com hub more than doubled.
The Authors Guild first complained to Amazon.com in December 2000, specifically about the companys practice of placing a Web link for a used edition of a title directly beneath the listing for the new copy price. The guild and the Association of American Publishers wrote Amazon.com pointing out that some of the used editions available were of very recent titles, and argued that the practice had the potential to "cut significantly into sales of new titles, directly harming authors and publishers."
Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild, told BTW that neither the December 2000 letter nor subsequent conference calls with Amazon.com convinced the online retailer to change its marketing practices. In linking buyers and sellers, Amazon.com earns a commission of 99 cents plus 15 percent of the final sale price, and takes on no inventory-related costs. About 15 percent of all the companys unit orders in the final quarter of 2001 were through the "Amazon Marketplace," as reported by the Wall Street Journal. The company contends that its marketing efforts potentially increase purchases of new titles. "By exposing customers to new authors at a price that may be more attractive, those customers will be more likely to buy a new book when it comes out," said an Amazon.com spokesperson, Patty Smith, as quoted by the WSJ.
However, it was a new wrinkle in Amazon.coms electronic customer outreach that convinced the Authors Guild to act. "Amazon recently began more aggressively promoting" the marketplace, Aiken said, by alerting online browsers to how much they might make by selling titles they had purchased in the "Amazon Marketplace."
The e-mail contended that Amazon.coms used book sales tactics "[do] damage to the publishing industry, decreasing royalty payments to authors and profits to publishers." Aiken told BTW that the guild believed the long-term effect of the marketing efforts would be decreasing profits for publishers and, consequently, a potential decrease in the number of titles published.
The Authors Guild suggested BookSense.com as a preferred Web site for links because, Aiken said, "We have supported independent booksellers frequently . We think its a valuable thing to back the work of independent bookstores." -- Dan Cullen