Thursday, February 16, 2012

Amazon Trade In Service

What separates Amazon from the crowd and makes it a true bookseller may be its understanding of the lifecycle of books and of consumer needs and desires. It has always excelled at customer service, but it is its ability to breakdown the barriers that separate the various bookselling channels and go where others often fear to tread that we believe really separates them and makes them different..

This week we stumbled upon what we regarded as a new Amazon Trade In service which truly reinforces their ability to look at the market needs and drive change.

We always respected our old friend and consummate bookseller Fred Bass of Strand bookstore in Manhattan. He bought New York’s review copies when the Reviewers had finished with them and sold them often even with the Editor notes still inside. He stood at his counter and bought used books on the spot. Some copies were rare, others not so rare, or even old. He understood that reader’s shelves weren’t virtual and owners often needed to sell some books to make way for new ones. It was the perfect recycling system and another reason to visit The Strand.

We also remember speaking at the IBF conference in South Africa in 2007 and learning from the Russian delegation about a ‘Second Life of a Book’ scheme in Moscow. The scheme enabled books be returned to any bookstore that stocked the title. No receipt required and as long as the book is in mint condition the retailer will hand back 50% of the retail price of the book. They don’t give it refund in cash but in the form of an electronic top up on a book debit card. The book is then returned to the shelf and sold at 10 to 15% discount. The returns can also only be done between the hours of 10 and 10 on a Saturday.

The point is that books can have a second life, they do have a value, they can be recycled and readers only have finite shelf space.

Amazon now has created ‘Amazon Trade In’. It is an online service that enables users to match their products be they books, DVDs, games to the exact version displayed in our Amazon Trade-In Stores. This obviously is a ‘beta’ service and today Amazon strictly ensures that they retain control of what they accept. Against the listed acceptable items will be specific trade in conditions and once accepted the users prints off a delivery label and packing slip, dispatches the items and receives an email confirmation. An Gift Card will be deposited into their account after the goods have been received.

There are various categories with Digital Games for; playstations 2 and 3, Xbox360, Wii, Sony PSP; Physical Books on Business, Finance, Computing, Law, STM, textbooks. The fiction books listing looks very sparse and has many different renditions of the same title and often at very low price points. It is obviously still beta and will be interesting to watch especially on high ticket book genre such as initially listed. Students have always traded their course books and Amazon has always accommodated used books and even owns ABE for trading rare books.

We found the Trade in forum page interesting. The second most discussed topic was on trading in ebooks and asking if Amazon would extend the service to cover this obvious opportunity. Amazon today does not trade in ebooks but there is an obvious market demand for it. If offered, it could not only ‘lock in’ readers further to the Amazon Kindle platform but also help them offer low prices. Imagine, Amazon sells you a ebook, you read it and then trade it in and the best part is that the ebook never really leaves the Amazon warehouse! It continues to question the old ownership model and the current lack of first sale doctrine on ebooks. Why would you buy an ebook that you couldn’t trade in with Amazon in the future and that may be locked into a DRM (digital rights management) service Amazon would not accept? Would other technology companies be able to, or wish to respond? Who knows, there could be a special levy to reward the author on secondary sales. Although many will firmly say ‘no’ and that it will not be permitted, we have to also consider the impact of not addressing an obvious market opportunity.

Business models should reflect market demand and the trick is to make them a ‘win win’ for all.

To read about the 'Second Life of a Book'

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