News

British Library reinstates Amazon link

The British Library is reinstating its link to Amazon on online catalogue records, after briefly removing the feature last week in response to criticism from leading booksellers.

The link takes readers of the library's catalogue records directly to the sales page for each title on the Amazon.co.uk website. Waterstone's m.d. James Daunt heavily criticised the link in The Bookseller last Friday (14th October). He said: "It's disappointing to say the least that a very British institution is driving readers away from local libraries and high street bookshops." The link was removed from the library's catalogue records shortly afterwards.

In a statement issued today (18th October), the BL said the link had been removed "while results of the pilot [linking scheme] were discussed internally" but that it was being restored "because of its usefulness for library users seeking further information about collection items".

The library said the Amazon pilot was set up "with the aim of providing users with the choice of an alternative method of obtaining a title if, for some reason, it is not available in the Library's Reading Rooms. It also offered users a rich source of additional information for many titles (book jacket images, contents pages etc) that supplemented the data the Library itself was able to provide." The library added the link was "simple and inexpensive to implement".

In last week's statement, it said the link had been "provided as a pre-built generic link that comes out of the box with the Primo software supplied by ex-Libris, the search engine behind the library’s website that also powers its online integrated catalogue."

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With immediate effect I will no longer be ordering any further British Library titles (my business has numerous BL stockholdings).

These are sad times where "old school" values are being eroded, it would not be such an unmitigated disaster were it not for the fact that the Amazon antiquarian catalogue is built on flawed data.

Many of this country's central libraries were coerced into disposing of their store stock at the end of the last century - Blair had this infamous "enterprise economy" , computer terminals would replace books in libraries, the dumbing down of society could begin. The British Library integrated catalogue, as with Library of Congress, should be sacrosanct : it is a culturally poor society which meddles with such records.

And if the link is there then the library should be charging Amazon for it being there.
plus a commision for every book sold from that link.

I would prefer it not to be there, but if it must as Taxpayer i want some money from the link being there.

Speechless!

Can we mobilise against this in some way ? What is BA position ?

And libraries want booksellers and publishers to support them? What a joke. So many other partners they could have chosen instead of or as well as Amazon. Just a lack of thought and understanding. We give the British Library free books for copyright reasons and all we get is inconsiderate behaviour like this. Cake and eat it springs to mind.

One is able to link to Amazon and receive a percentage of the sale in return. I hope that this is what the BL is doing in choosing this seller, at least...

This is what some public libraries' websites are doing at the moment.

I do not agree with the British Library's policy of sponsoring Amazon in this way. Most graduate students would not be able to afford to purchase rare and out-of-print books, so it seems rather pointless. And with so much rare material now being transferred to digital formats and being freely accessible, it seems rather pointless. Contrary to the snobbish attitude that having computers and digital books more freely available in schools is evidence of 'dumbing down', digitized books in fact benefit the British Library and Bodleian. There will be less sweaty hands that are not handling these precious objects with care.

I would be interested to know what the British Library is doing to help small independent bookshops and retailers.

In 2000/2001 I made substantial (in quantity) purchases from the store stock of a northern town's library services ; this once major industrial area probably had one of the finest public libraries. The store stock went to auction - the more general stock was sold in the north, the rarer items went to London. The realised prices were very realistic, for these fine books had obviously been donated over approx 120 years and had been well cared for (the head librarian issued a "withdrawn without stamp" sheet so that the value could be preserved).

As I unpacked the boxes I couldn't but help wonder just how many working people would have improved their lives by previously having access to such books ; but in 2000 they were to be available no longer, computers needed purchasing these books must pay the price. The Educational Workers Association but a distant memory.

A few months later, in a Midlands library, the books were consigned straight to skips and unceremoniously dumped. It caused an outrage in the antiquarian trade at the time ; in the past 12 years this country has seen many fine reference libraries and their store stock totally destroyed - to be replaced by computers.

There are some libraries which have managed to retain both their books and refurbish to meet current demands ; pity that there were not more.

I will not snobbishly overlook either pod or digital, but a poor pod (and many pod's are atrocious in their scanning and printing) is no substitute for a hard print copy available "free access" in a county library.

In terms of illustrated non-fiction reference titles, many will not now reprint ; in some instances there will be a digital copy, but not always. These copyright titles are not going to be available to many users ; publishers are not going to print for a trade which wants to order "just in time" and is not prepared to stockhold.

As a nation we are the poorer morally, and culturally, for the manner in which we have dumbed down our services ; this latest move - linkage to Amazon from The British Library integrated catalogue - is just another nail in the coffin. In my opinion this is not a matter which can be remedied by Amazon paying a license fee - for, no commercial business, or trade association, should be linked from the BL catalogue it is sacrosanct just like the Library of Congress catalogue.

As an independent bookseller I want no special privileges to any other trade on the high street - these are hard times, but "we" will survive.

Very sad that the BL sends people to Amazon for information. Amazon is a poor and unreliable source of information about authorship of a title, editions, publication dates, even who published a book -- our books are quite often described as being published by our US distributor. So much of the Amazon website(s) seem to be run by computer algorithms, and they can give crazy results. It would be much better if the BL linked to the page on a publisher's website. The publisher is, after all, the body that knows all about a book (or, we hope so).

"Amazon is a poor and unreliable source of information about authorship of a title, editions, publication dates, even who published a book"

I would dispute this. I have never had a problem using Amazon as a source of information etc (esp for added value) and if I have ever found anything wrong, then usually I contact Amazon and amendments have been made. This has also been the case with publishers too! Furthermore, Amazon's look inside facility is fantastic as is the ability to read free samples etc.

Of course, one can contest that Amazon has monopolised the market but perhaps no one is blameless here (for example, publishers are always promoting amazon on twitter to help generate sales of books etc). It seems to me that this is becoming an ethical issue? For example, should I stop patronising my local library service if they offer a link to Amazon on their webpages?

As to why the BL might be doing this, well I remember going on a tour there a few years ago, very impressive it was too. A lot of the talk seemed to be emphasising the notion of "commercial enterprise". Perhaps therein lies the answer.

The Amazon search facility is a joke and is well known by those who have constant recourse to it as perenially flakey, inaccurate and downright misleading.
It has been corrupted by megalisters who have uploaded their databases of hundreds of thousands of books with duff information so that we may, on occasion, be faced with pages and pages of let's say, a Penguin title, that should have just the one listing. One Australian outfit had mistakenly put in "Enid Blyton" to ALL their author field database (don't ask me how) so their upload added some 70,000 new Enid Blyton titles. They are still there. Another uploader put in "Littlehampton Book Services" as publisher instead of Orion, Weidenfeld, Cassell etc etc - those publishers DISTRIBUTED by LBS. They are still there so that if you search a book title/author/publisher the answer that comes back will be "nul point".

Amazon admits that their search facilities are geared to providing information on the titles IN ORDER OF RANKING irrespective of whatever search information one has entered. Thus it may be that the book you are looking for - if it be somewhat rarely requested - will be buried deep in the back pages. So many possible customers just give up.

This is a disgraceful move from the British Library. As a public service they should not be favouring anyone, least of all the behemoth that is Amazon. This makes me truly angry.

Comatose as usual - you don't expect support, do you?

The British Library's excuse seems to be that they are like those computer illiterates who accept the defaults set by the manufacturer of their computers, and didn't consider changing the "pre-built generic links that come out of the box." Why have they ceded such an important decision as the destination of their links to their software supplier? This "Primo software supplied by ex-Libris" appears to comes from a company in Israel. So that will be many thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money heading out of the country, and skills in the crucial area of search engine development not being developed here in the UK. Great forward thinking.

Am spitting feathers! How is a public service allowed to channel people to one business over another? I shall be writing to the council...

The offending Amazon link has yet to be reinstated, perhaps the British Library Board are having second/third/fourth thoughts.

Yes, when I looked today, the BL catalogue has reverted to its previous state. A couple of days ago it was there in a new (beta?) form, with links to www.amazon.co.uk, as well as to other sources. I'm glad that others more knowledgeable (Baxian, above) have said how poor and unreliable Amazon is as a source of information.
One could add that the Amazon selling-machine website presents a very cluttered and overgrown interface. It's not the place for a quiet retrieval of information. So why is the BL doing this? Alexis, above, mentions the new spirit of commercial enterprise at the BL. That's right -- the Library loves the whiff of business -- in a Peter-Mandelson-like way (happy to shake hands with the super-rich). Even if, in this case, the BL has chosen not to receive the payments that Amazon would normally make to people who link to the goods that have been sold.

The British Library should only put a link to Amazon if Amazon is paying for the advertising.
Because that's what it is - advertising.

I wouldn't expect the British Library to put a link to my bookshop and noone else's unless I were paying for it.

The link *has* been reinstated, though not via all routes. If you go to the British Library homepage, click on 'main catalogue' and search for a title, the option 'This item on Amazon.co.uk' is given to you.

With immediate effect I will no longer be ordering any further British Library titles (my business has numerous BL stockholdings).

These are sad times where "old school" values are being eroded, it would not be such an unmitigated disaster were it not for the fact that the Amazon antiquarian catalogue is built on flawed data.

Many of this country's central libraries were coerced into disposing of their store stock at the end of the last century - Blair had this infamous "enterprise economy" , computer terminals would replace books in libraries, the dumbing down of society could begin. The British Library integrated catalogue, as with Library of Congress, should be sacrosanct : it is a culturally poor society which meddles with such records.

And if the link is there then the library should be charging Amazon for it being there.
plus a commision for every book sold from that link.

I would prefer it not to be there, but if it must as Taxpayer i want some money from the link being there.

Speechless!

Can we mobilise against this in some way ? What is BA position ?

Comatose as usual - you don't expect support, do you?

And libraries want booksellers and publishers to support them? What a joke. So many other partners they could have chosen instead of or as well as Amazon. Just a lack of thought and understanding. We give the British Library free books for copyright reasons and all we get is inconsiderate behaviour like this. Cake and eat it springs to mind.

One is able to link to Amazon and receive a percentage of the sale in return. I hope that this is what the BL is doing in choosing this seller, at least...

This is what some public libraries' websites are doing at the moment.

I do not agree with the British Library's policy of sponsoring Amazon in this way. Most graduate students would not be able to afford to purchase rare and out-of-print books, so it seems rather pointless. And with so much rare material now being transferred to digital formats and being freely accessible, it seems rather pointless. Contrary to the snobbish attitude that having computers and digital books more freely available in schools is evidence of 'dumbing down', digitized books in fact benefit the British Library and Bodleian. There will be less sweaty hands that are not handling these precious objects with care.

I would be interested to know what the British Library is doing to help small independent bookshops and retailers.

In 2000/2001 I made substantial (in quantity) purchases from the store stock of a northern town's library services ; this once major industrial area probably had one of the finest public libraries. The store stock went to auction - the more general stock was sold in the north, the rarer items went to London. The realised prices were very realistic, for these fine books had obviously been donated over approx 120 years and had been well cared for (the head librarian issued a "withdrawn without stamp" sheet so that the value could be preserved).

As I unpacked the boxes I couldn't but help wonder just how many working people would have improved their lives by previously having access to such books ; but in 2000 they were to be available no longer, computers needed purchasing these books must pay the price. The Educational Workers Association but a distant memory.

A few months later, in a Midlands library, the books were consigned straight to skips and unceremoniously dumped. It caused an outrage in the antiquarian trade at the time ; in the past 12 years this country has seen many fine reference libraries and their store stock totally destroyed - to be replaced by computers.

There are some libraries which have managed to retain both their books and refurbish to meet current demands ; pity that there were not more.

I will not snobbishly overlook either pod or digital, but a poor pod (and many pod's are atrocious in their scanning and printing) is no substitute for a hard print copy available "free access" in a county library.

In terms of illustrated non-fiction reference titles, many will not now reprint ; in some instances there will be a digital copy, but not always. These copyright titles are not going to be available to many users ; publishers are not going to print for a trade which wants to order "just in time" and is not prepared to stockhold.

As a nation we are the poorer morally, and culturally, for the manner in which we have dumbed down our services ; this latest move - linkage to Amazon from The British Library integrated catalogue - is just another nail in the coffin. In my opinion this is not a matter which can be remedied by Amazon paying a license fee - for, no commercial business, or trade association, should be linked from the BL catalogue it is sacrosanct just like the Library of Congress catalogue.

As an independent bookseller I want no special privileges to any other trade on the high street - these are hard times, but "we" will survive.

Very sad that the BL sends people to Amazon for information. Amazon is a poor and unreliable source of information about authorship of a title, editions, publication dates, even who published a book -- our books are quite often described as being published by our US distributor. So much of the Amazon website(s) seem to be run by computer algorithms, and they can give crazy results. It would be much better if the BL linked to the page on a publisher's website. The publisher is, after all, the body that knows all about a book (or, we hope so).

"Amazon is a poor and unreliable source of information about authorship of a title, editions, publication dates, even who published a book"

I would dispute this. I have never had a problem using Amazon as a source of information etc (esp for added value) and if I have ever found anything wrong, then usually I contact Amazon and amendments have been made. This has also been the case with publishers too! Furthermore, Amazon's look inside facility is fantastic as is the ability to read free samples etc.

Of course, one can contest that Amazon has monopolised the market but perhaps no one is blameless here (for example, publishers are always promoting amazon on twitter to help generate sales of books etc). It seems to me that this is becoming an ethical issue? For example, should I stop patronising my local library service if they offer a link to Amazon on their webpages?

As to why the BL might be doing this, well I remember going on a tour there a few years ago, very impressive it was too. A lot of the talk seemed to be emphasising the notion of "commercial enterprise". Perhaps therein lies the answer.

The Amazon search facility is a joke and is well known by those who have constant recourse to it as perenially flakey, inaccurate and downright misleading.
It has been corrupted by megalisters who have uploaded their databases of hundreds of thousands of books with duff information so that we may, on occasion, be faced with pages and pages of let's say, a Penguin title, that should have just the one listing. One Australian outfit had mistakenly put in "Enid Blyton" to ALL their author field database (don't ask me how) so their upload added some 70,000 new Enid Blyton titles. They are still there. Another uploader put in "Littlehampton Book Services" as publisher instead of Orion, Weidenfeld, Cassell etc etc - those publishers DISTRIBUTED by LBS. They are still there so that if you search a book title/author/publisher the answer that comes back will be "nul point".

Amazon admits that their search facilities are geared to providing information on the titles IN ORDER OF RANKING irrespective of whatever search information one has entered. Thus it may be that the book you are looking for - if it be somewhat rarely requested - will be buried deep in the back pages. So many possible customers just give up.

This is a disgraceful move from the British Library. As a public service they should not be favouring anyone, least of all the behemoth that is Amazon. This makes me truly angry.

The British Library's excuse seems to be that they are like those computer illiterates who accept the defaults set by the manufacturer of their computers, and didn't consider changing the "pre-built generic links that come out of the box." Why have they ceded such an important decision as the destination of their links to their software supplier? This "Primo software supplied by ex-Libris" appears to comes from a company in Israel. So that will be many thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money heading out of the country, and skills in the crucial area of search engine development not being developed here in the UK. Great forward thinking.

Am spitting feathers! How is a public service allowed to channel people to one business over another? I shall be writing to the council...

The offending Amazon link has yet to be reinstated, perhaps the British Library Board are having second/third/fourth thoughts.

Yes, when I looked today, the BL catalogue has reverted to its previous state. A couple of days ago it was there in a new (beta?) form, with links to www.amazon.co.uk, as well as to other sources. I'm glad that others more knowledgeable (Baxian, above) have said how poor and unreliable Amazon is as a source of information.
One could add that the Amazon selling-machine website presents a very cluttered and overgrown interface. It's not the place for a quiet retrieval of information. So why is the BL doing this? Alexis, above, mentions the new spirit of commercial enterprise at the BL. That's right -- the Library loves the whiff of business -- in a Peter-Mandelson-like way (happy to shake hands with the super-rich). Even if, in this case, the BL has chosen not to receive the payments that Amazon would normally make to people who link to the goods that have been sold.

The British Library should only put a link to Amazon if Amazon is paying for the advertising.
Because that's what it is - advertising.

I wouldn't expect the British Library to put a link to my bookshop and noone else's unless I were paying for it.

The link *has* been reinstated, though not via all routes. If you go to the British Library homepage, click on 'main catalogue' and search for a title, the option 'This item on Amazon.co.uk' is given to you.

The link *has* been reinstated, though not via all routes. If you go to the British Library homepage, click on 'main catalogue' and search for a title, the option 'View item in Amazon.co.uk' is given to you.

So who is the affiliate searourcata-21 who is getting the commission from this link?

Benedicte Page is investigating.

From the Briish Library:

"The affiliate name "searourcata-21" is the British Library.

The revenue generated through this link has not been significant because very few searches convert into sales - which indicates that BL users clicking through to the Amazon site are doing so more for the information available there than with a view to making a purchase.

As mentioned in the previous statement, it's that additional info (cover images, tables of contents, indexes, user reviews) that Amazon can provide, which are of particular use to our Readers.
 
Yours Sincerely
 
Electronic Services"

A small bookseller myself I have read these pages with increasing astonishment. Are the powers that be at the British Library all these: ignorant, insane, AND lacking in civic responsibility? The idea of linking to a commercial enterprise never mind a monopolistic behemoth such as Amazon seems not only unprincipled but likely to be illegal - what conditions govern the BL's existence and its right to collect copies of all published works? Is it not a publicly owned entity? With responsibilities and constraints enshrined in its charter or whatever it has.
Secondly, the comments about the nightmare that is Amazon's search engine are exact. And its foul website. Further, their archive of so-called "information" is only what is entered by sundry sellers around the world, and I for one am constantly correcting these illiterate entries; if I didn't, my item appears as if I am responsible for the errors. A source of reliable information it isn't. To claim it is “useful for seeking information” is specious. And false.
How can it be that the BL executives are ignorant of this?
As to their business practices, the near-monopoly that Amazon has achieved, and I speak only of the bookselling arena, in the marketplace has had the consequence that all second-hand and collectible bookdealers (and a good proportion of new) are forced into virtually total dependence on them for internet selling (bear in mind the amazon takeover of abebooks, these are the 2 giants of bookdatabases). Regarding new books, their undercutting of high street and book publisher prices are driving/have driven both shops and publishers to the wall. I agree that the BL has no place in promoting any commercial enterprise, but this one least of all, in spades. It is undeniably advertising, and if it was a revenue earner there might be some excuse, but trying to justify giving it away is just cringeworthy.
So, BL is ignorant in the first place, of the quality of Amazon’s information, and secondly, of its business practices.

As to civic responsibility, there is its own role as public repositary/public service, and additionally to this, its appearing to accord no consideration to the wider social and economic issues of encouraging / implicitly promoting such an organisation: the consequences for small, indeed not solely small, but other, businesses, of its monopolistic trading, its questionable reputation as an employer, both here and in the US, and its disregard of law (attempts to avoid or flout the law include the VAT disputes in various US states, and the occasion when it unilaterally voided a purchased e-book on customers’ equipment). (Amazon has a truly terrible reputation in the wider world, I mean outside of just being an individual buyer and bargain hunter.)
And as for accepting the defaults on their software, (a great comment that one!)….I should have added “stupid”.
As for insane, I rest my case, as one might say; and I must add, that the responses here to their action say a lot.