As of today, we’re taking part in the widespread protest mounted by antiquarian booksellers against AbeBooks (owned by Amazon). The form of this protest is to put one’s books “on vacation” on AbeBooks (AB), which is to say, they are not listed for sale.
The proximate cause is the decision by AB no longer to support sellers in the Czech Republic, South Korea, Hungary and Russia. I wish, frankly, that I knew who started the protest; at this point we can do little more than claim to have joined a movement.
Opacity is much of the problem. AB did not initially provide the sellers with a reason. When pressed by the press (thanks, guys!) AB attributed the decision to a payment processor ceasing operations in those countries. Whether genuine cause or mere pretext, this ought to have been communicated to the sellers straightaway.
With the exception of South Korea (although they have banned Japanese books in the past), these countries have grim histories (and present policies) of banning books. AB isn’t banning books, but it is restricting their sale after having made themselves central and even indispensable to commerce. This “royal prerogative” of corporations — to make and unmake industries and places — needs to be examined and ought to be curtailed.
We have long known that AB is owned by Amazon. That has always been a source of discomfort to us because of Amazon’s role (not responsibility — role) in dismantling long-established systems of bookselling. Because we are a youngish bookshop without a large stable of clients, we felt that we ought to sell via AB because it is large and international. We were approached by AB at a book-fair as part of a bid to improve the quality of booksellers, and so we joined about two and a half years ago.
As we discussed whether to take part in the protest, I confess that I was hesitant (David was decisive): we are junior to other booksellers, we are just now getting established at our new location, the holiday season is coming up, we have no good alternative to AB. These are insufficient reasons, and David and I therefore stand with our colleagues — those in the countries affected and some 460 others who have mounted this protest — against this action.
J. Rosenberg, senior cataloguer
D. Johnson, proprietor
AB has now reversed its position — or, at least it has immediately reversed its decision, and promises to facilitate these booksellers indefinitely. Consequently, we have returned to AB.