The decision of Amazon-owned website AbeBooks.com to withdraw from Hungary, the Czech Republic, South Korea and Russia has reportedly sparked an international protest of antiquarian booksellers.
The “flash strike” against the business sees hundreds of secondhand booksellers joining in protest around the world, the Guardian said. AbeBooks had announced it would be unable to support sellers in Czech Republic, South Korea and Russia as its third-party payment service provider is closing at the end of the year.
Booksellers are concerned AbeBooks’ withdrawal will significantly reduce local business. Booksellers Jan and Ondrej Schick, of Antikvariát Valentinská in Prague, told the Guardian it was a “complete shock” and means they expect to dismiss at least five employees with around 20,000 books that aren’t in Czech, which are harder to sell in store.
The Schicks notified the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB), which mobilised its members – including British bookseller Simon Beattie, who proposed a mass demonstration of solidarity with those affected by AbeBooks’s withdrawal, by taking what he described as a “vacation” from using the website.
Now it is believed that 2.6m books from more than 460 booksellers in 26 countries are now listed as “temporarily unavailable” on the website of AbeBooks, which was bought by Amazon in 2008.
British organisation Antiquarian Booksellers Association (ABA) was apparently in the middle of negotiations with AbeBooks about sponsorship for their annual summer fair, but said it would not renew the sponsorship deal for 2019 after hearing about the marketplace’s move.
“AbeBooks are entitled to do business where they like, as are all other businesses,” said the ABA in a statement to the Guardian. “It is not the decision itself that has led to this unprecedented uprising of dealers across the world, but the high-handed manner in which they dismissed these few rare booksellers from Poland, Czech, Hungary, Russia and South Korea, destroying their livelihoods in just a couple of impersonal sentences. This is against the spirit and ethos of independent rare booksellers around the world, it is right that it has been noticed and the protest has shown that this is the general feeling of the rare book trade as a whole.”
A spokesperson for AbeBooks said that it had told “some sellers” that it would be unable to support them after 30th November “because our third-party payment service provider is closing at the end of the year”, according to the Guardian.
“Buyers will be able to continue to make purchases through AbeBooks regardless of their location, but unfortunately a small number of sellers will be impacted as we migrate to a new payment service provider,” the spokesperson told the newspaper. “We regret that we cannot continue to serve all sellers. We remain committed to helping those affected by this change and are actively contacting them to help them explore other options. We are deeply appreciative of our community of buyers and sellers, and our goal remains to serve all book lovers, both buyers and sellers, in as many countries as possible.”
Meanwhile a spokesperson for the company told the Antiques Trade Gazette that it "is no longer viable for us to operate in these countries due to increasing costs and complexities".
“We continue to support sellers in all other 18 of the 22 countries with national associations that are members of ILAB,” the spokesperson said.
Angus O’Neill, president of the ABA, said that booksellers are dissatisfied with the reasons given. “The latest we’ve heard is that they are cutting off colleagues in four countries because they are ‘migrating to a new payment service provider’. But their parent company, Amazon, still seems to manage somehow,” he told the Guardian.
The Bookseller contacted AbeBooks, ABA and ILAB for a comment.