How a Group of Antiquarian Booksellers Successfully Took On Amazon

The International League of Antiquarian Booksellers, a global network of groups for those who sell rare books, led a successful protest against Amazon-operated AbeBooks after it tried removing countries from its service. The protest saw success in just two days.

As one of the world’s largest companies, Amazon may be in a position to twist some arms to get what it wants, but it might have found its match in a community of antiquarian booksellers.

This week, the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB), a global body that supports both those who sell rare books and their national organizing associations (complete with a motto in Latin, “amor librorum nos unit,” or “the love of books unites us”), led a boycott against AbeBooks, an online marketplace owned by Amazon. The reason? AbeBooks had announced it would stop supporting booksellers in a number of countries, citing a move to a new payment provider for the shift.

After two Czech booksellers brought the situation to ILAB’s attention, the league gathered its members to take part in a boycott of AbeBooks.

“AbeBooks was saying entire countries were expendable to its plans. Booksellers everywhere felt they might be next,” protest organizer Scott Brown, a bookseller in Eureka, California, told The New York Times.

Starting Monday, November 5, hundreds of booksellers across 26 countries closed up shop on AbeBooks, removing about 4 million books from circulation on the service, according to the Times. By Wednesday, Amazon announced it was ready to make a deal—and met with ILAB’s leadership. Now, the company will ensure sellers in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, South Korea, and Russia will be able to remain on AbeBooks until December 31, with a more permanent plan to follow.

In comments to The Guardian, ILAB President Sally Burdon noted that the way the saga brought together the bookseller community was truly inspiring.

“It’s fantastic,” she told the newspaper. “In fact, the whole thing has been amazing: the result, yes, but also the phenomenal support, worldwide, that my fellow booksellers have shown for others in the trade. I know lots of people have been quoting ILAB’s motto, amor librorum nos unit, but it’s really true, and wonderfully uplifting.”

Jan and Ondrej Schick, the booksellers who raised the issue, celebrated their fellow antiquarians in a statement published on the league’s website:

Dear Colleagues, you have achieved something we have only dreamed of: You have demonstrated that virtues like selfless solidarity and support have a value beyond the interests and decisions of a company however large it may be. With utmost gratitude, Jan and Ondrej Schick (Antikvariát Valentinská, Prague).

The situation represents a shift in the relationship the many sellers have with Amazon, in that collective power proved effective in pushing forth change. It’s a situation that other groups of Amazon sellers, such as the recently launched Online Merchants Guild, are likely to keep an eye on in the future as Amazon’s clout continues to grow.

(Baloncici/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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