The Authors Guild, a trade group for writers, this week sent an e-mail 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.
This is the latest development in a 16-month effort by the guild to persuade the online bookseller to stop offering used books for sale by other customers on the same Web pages as new ones.
“Amazon's practice does damage to the publishing industry, decreasing royalty payments to authors and profits to publishers,” said an e-mail from executive director Paul Aiken to members of the New York-based organization.
Amazon.com is a pioneer of affiliate programs, where Web sites linked to a merchant get a cut of resulting sales. Its affiliates number in the hundreds of thousands.
According to The Authors Guild, Amazon has been pushing its “notorious” used book service more aggressively than ever.
As a result, “[w]e believe it is in our members' best interests to de-link their websites from Amazon,” Aiken's e-mail said. “There's no good reason for authors to be complicit in undermining their own sales. It just takes a minute, and it's the right thing to do.”
The message recommended the affiliate programs of Barnesandnoble.com and “especially” independent bookseller site BookSense.com as alternatives.
Aiken said he is realistic about the guild's ability to affect Amazon's sales.
“We're not doing this thinking it will bring Amazon.com to its knees,” he said.
The guild is also not demanding that Amazon stop selling used books, he said. It is asking Amazon to sell used books on a separate section of the site.
So far, the request has fallen on deaf ears, Aiken said.
Amazon did not return a call for comment by deadline. However, its position has been that the service drives customers to try authors and genres they otherwise wouldn't by offering the work less expensively.
Amazon recently began more aggressively pitching its used book service by telling returning book buyers what they could earn by selling their used purchases to other Amazon customers. Amazon takes a cut of used book transactions.
Used books reportedly accounted for 15 percent of Amazon's sales last year.
When asked about offline used book sellers, such as New York's famous Strand Book Store Inc., Aiken said, “The Internet is Strand on steroids … We're not saying that each used book purchased displaces a new book purchase at all. We're [also] not saying that publishers and authors have lost 15 percent of their sales at Amazon, but the Internet does change things, and it does have the ability to really have an effect on publishing economics.”
Aiken cited the college textbook industry. “Who didn't buy used textbooks in college?” he said, adding that the industry's response has been to drive prices higher.
In other book markets, however, “you don't have some professor ordering you to buy the book.” Also, introducing new editions every couple years, as is done with college textbooks, is not an option in other markets, he said.
Amazon began offering the used book service in November 2000. The guild and the Association of American Publishers sent Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos a letter in December 2000 protesting the service.
“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.
“Without talented authors producing a large number of new titles every year, Amazon's sales will certainly suffer. If book authors and publishers aren't adequately compensated for their work, however, then more and more writers will be compelled to pursue other creative outlets and professions.”