Over the last few days, the RWA message boards have been inundated with authors discussing a new Amazon policy where third party vendors can compete to "buy" the Amazon Buy Button to sell print books in new condition.
There have been a lot of angry articles posted about how this policy undercuts authors. There are a few key issues:
1) It appears that when a third party seller wins the button auction, their Buy Button supercedes the Amazon Buy Button, but not in an obvious way. So a reader may believe they are buying the book from Amazon when they are in fact, buying from a third party. And it becomes very difficult for readers to find the actual Amazon Buy Button.
2) Because this is a third party sale, the author receives no royalties from the sale. Amazon gets a payment from the button auction and the third party seller gets the reader's money. These sales also don't count towards an author's sales ranking.
3) The third party books appear to be free samples given away at conferences and signings, ARC review copies or pirated copies created from digital PDFs of the ebooks. They are often priced significantly below the retail price for the book.
4) Often a third party seller only has one or two copies of the book. If a reader wants to buy multiple copies (for gifts or a book club for example), then they are unable to do so. Once the copies are sold, then the book is listed as "sold out" or "out of stock" even though Amazon may have dozens of copies or the book is available through Print on Demand. Until the third party seller's purchased time is completed, it is very difficult for readers to buy the book.
Now, I can appreciate the appeal of a bargain. There have been (and still are) many times in my life when I needed to make my pennies stretch. So I've got no problem with readers deciding to purchase a cheaper copy of a book they want. On that side, it's no different from going to a used bookstore. But I think it's also important for readers to be aware of what is going on, especially because the online market makes it much easier for sellers to disguise their intentions.
However, I do care when readers pay for a book and get something other that what they've expected or are tricked into believing a book isn't available. So what can a reader do?
First, be aware that this policy is in place. Tell your fellow readers about it so that everyone knows to look for the subtle signs when ordering books.
Second, if you decide to purchase a book from a third party, take a screen shot of the initial order. Then, if the book you receive is obviously used or damaged in some way (for example, a cut on the cover or spine indicates that the book has been returned from a bookstore and was not supposed to be resold) then take a picture and send the picture and the screen shot to Amazon. This policy came to light because readers complained to the author about receiving damaged books. Amazon has said they will only take action if they have proof that a third party seller is misrepresenting used or damaged books as new.
Third, if a book you want is listed as unavailable or if it's difficult to find the Amazon Buy Button, then wait a day and try again. These third party sellers are only given a brief window of opportunity, in some cases, only a few hours. Again, contact Amazon and include a screenshot. If readers complain, then Amazon will revise its policies.
There has been speculation that this Amazon policy is a strike against the traditional publishers, who have been pushing up e-book prices in an effort to drive people back to print books. (Take that statement with a grain of salt on all sides, I'm a conspiracy-theory kind of girl and even I'm not convinced of the reality of a shadowy battle to control book sales.) My thought is that Amazon is simply out to make money and hasn't thought through the process. If they discover it is costing them sales and money, it will probably be changed.
Meanwhile, I think it's important for readers to know what's happening. So please share this information.