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What Happened to Amazon’s Bookstore?

The New York Times – “A 2011 thriller was supposed to cost $15. One merchant listed it at $987, with a 17th-century publication date. That’s what happens in a marketplace where third-party sellers run wild. John C. Boland was poking around the Amazon bookstore when he saw the science thriller “Hominid” for sale at dizzying prices. It was $907 from Sandy Dunes Surplus, $930 from Rocky Mountain Books and $987 from Open Range Media. He didn’t need a copy. He wrote the novel and published it himself. List price is $15. Mr. Boland has been selling books on Amazon since 2009. He lets the bookseller handle everything for his imprint, called Perfect Crime, including printing, billing and shipping. “Best retailer on the planet,” he calls it. “They eat the competition’s lunch.” Despite that endorsement, Mr. Boland sued Amazon at the end of August, accusing the all-devouring retailer of, in essence, eating Perfect Crime’s lunch. His suit says Amazon let Sandy Dunes and other vendors on its platform run wild with Perfect Crime titles, offering copies for ridiculous amounts. The sellers also bizarrely asserted that “Hominid” was published in 1602, a mere 409 years before it was actually issued, which further irked the writer. The suit, in federal court in Maryland, offers a glimpse into Amazon’s dominance and perhaps its vulnerability. Amazon’s online store has surpassed Walmart, making it the largest retailer outside China. By delivering essentials and luxuries to those stuck at home during the pandemic, it helped many people navigate a bleak moment. Shipping times that used to be measured in days are now counted in hours. It is one of the few companies valued at more than a trillion dollars. For all that success, however, Amazon is under pressure from many directions. There are sellers like Mr. Boland, who say they are suffering from the Wild West atmosphere on the site; regulators, who are taking a closer look at Amazon’s power; unhappy warehouse employees, who would like a better deal; and lawmakers, who want Amazon to disclose more about its third-party sellers. There are also the devious sellers themselves, whom Amazon says it is having a hard time eradicating.

Amazon started as a bookstore, but it’s now a marketplace — an e-commerce bucket that any seller can put their stuff into,” said Jane Friedman, a publishing industry consultant. “The result is that the shopping experience has really gotten worse over time.” The bookstore is the oldest part of Amazon, still central to its identity but no longer to its bottom line. It feels like where every Amazon shopping experience could be heading — immense, full of ads and unvetted reviews, ruled by algorithms and third-party sellers whose identities can be elusive…”


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