Amazon.com Hits Back In Battle With Authors Guild

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Amazon.com yesterday urged customers to e-mail the Authors Guild and tell the writers' trade group to stop campaigning against the online merchant's used book service.


Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos sent an e-mail yesterday to "tens of thousands"of customers who have sold used books on the site defending the service, according to spokesman Bill Curry.


Bezos' e-mail was the latest shot in an ongoing battle with the Authors Guild over Amazon.com's selling used books on the same Web page at the same time as new releases. The letter was in response to an e-mail last week from the Authors Guild to about 5,000 of its 8,200 members calling on those who have Web sites to remove links to Amazon.com's affiliate program, and some resulting press coverage.


The Authors Guild contends Amazon.com's used book service damages the industry by cutting into new-book sales and, as a result, publisher profits and author royalties.


"[T]heir assertion that used books hurt the book industry and authors is not correct," Bezos said. "We've found that our used books business does not take business away from the sale of new books. In fact, the opposite has happened."


The service encourages people to try authors and genres they otherwise might not have tried, Bezos claimed.


"[W]hen someone buys a book, they are also buying the right to resell that book, to loan it out, or to even give it away if they want. Everyone understands this," Bezos said.


Used merchandise, which includes books, CDs and electronics, accounted for 15 percent of Amazon.com's revenue in the fourth quarter of 2001, according to Curry. Under Amazon.com's used-book service, customers sell them to each other, and Amazon.com charges a 99-cent fee plus a percentage of the sale for each completed transaction.


Amazon began offering the used book service in November 2000. The guild and the Association of American Publishers sent Bezos a letter in December 2000 in protest.


"If your aggressive promotion of used book sales becomes popular among Amazon's customers, this service will cut significantly into sales of new titles, directly harming authors and publishers," the letter said.


The guild claims it is not demanding that Amazon stop selling used books. It is asking Amazon to sell used books on a separate section of the site.


Nonsense, Bezos said. "Why would any company that cares about customers bury or hide a service that customers find valuable?"


What's more, the used-book service is simply good business, he said.


"It makes out-of-print books available and other books more affordable. Making books affordable is a fundamental good (as are libraries). This is why we've worked so hard (with used booksellers like you) to offer customers a huge selection of used books-- and our customers have voted with their wallets that they find this service valuable."


Curry claimed that by mid-day yesterday, Amazon.com had been copied on more than 4,000 e-mails to the guild as a result of the effort.


A receptionist said Authors Guild executive director Paul Aiken had left for the day and was unavailable for comment.


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