Alibris Eliminates Its $1 Per Book Sold Program
Alibris is eliminating its $1 per item sold fee schedule.
By Michael Stillman
Alibris announced a step last week to eliminate some of its smallest merchants, or "hobby sellers." Interestingly, it was a reversal of a recent step designed to encourage this group of very small dealers. Not surprisingly, the news was greeted negatively by the hobby sellers, but positively by many of those for whom bookselling is a more significant business.
The program Alibris eliminated was its recently instituted $1 per item sold fee for dealers listing under 500 books. This schedule had been implemented to spare monthly listing fees for the very small dealers who sell few, or maybe no books in any given month. This per item sold fee (in addition to standard commissions) was in lieu of monthly listing fees. It made it possible for these smallest of dealers to sell via Alibris without incurring losses in months where few if any books were sold. Dealers with more than 500 listings were subject to standard listing fees, but presumably these larger sellers were less likely to experience monthly "shut outs" which would cause them to lose money. Essentially, this program could be seen as an attempt to reach out to the hobby dealer, the individual selling books from a personal collection or a few items picked up at garage and library sales. But if the earlier decision to implement this program could be interpreted as a conscious attempt to reach out to these sellers, the change must be seen as a decision to eliminate this type of micro-seller from the site.
The $1 per item sold fee has been replaced with the standard $9.95 per month fee. A little quick math reveals that this is a benefit for those dealers selling ten or more books per month, a minus for those selling under ten. But, how many dealers with fewer than 500 titles listed sell more than ten in a month? That comes to 2% per month (presuming a full 500 items are posted), or 24% per year. We all should be so lucky! This is not happening. Even more importantly, not only would it reduce profits (small as they must be) for such sellers, but would convert a profit to a loss for the dealer who sells only one or two low priced items in a month. When you get down to the smallest levels, $10 may well be the difference between a profit and a loss. Of course, one might argue that such a dealer is not really operating a serious book business, but with listings spread among numerous book sites, it's possible this could also affect those a step above the "hobby" category, such as a part-time bookseller.
In their announcement, Alibris started with the rather strange explanation that this action
"reduces the confusion surrounding the '$1 per retail item sold' program." Confusion? Is $1 per item sold confusing? Heck, even I can understand that! They then proceeded to give a much more rational explanation. The program "was difficult to manage and resulted in a substantial group of sellers who abandoned accounts and were less than professional in their fulfillment operations." This I can understand. With no minimum financial commitments required to list, any fly-by-night was free to post books, including those who "abandoned" their listings, or were unprofessional in their conduct. After all, the $1 program was risk-free. If one looks at this change as a method of assuring a more professional caliber of dealer listing on the site, it makes far more sense.
Alibris Eliminates Its $1 Per Book Sold Program
Finally, Alibris noted, "The new fee schedule provides a low-cost solution for sellers with distinctive inventory to participate and prosper on Alibris." This point becomes easier to understand if you translate "distinctive" to "expensive." If you sell one $5 book per month, you cannot afford a $10 listing fee. If you sell one $500 book per month, you can. Alibris evidently is pointing out that small volume sellers offering more valuable books can still make a go of Alibris under the new formula. If you are dispersing Grandpa's Civil War collection, you can take in enough to justify Alibris' minimum charges; if selling your daughter's Harry Potter books, probably not. Of course, this assumes that you have enough titles to sell something every month. If you have only a couple of books to sell, it is probably time to move on. Alternatives where a private individual can still sell risk free, since there are no charges unless a book is sold, include Amazon, Half.com, and Biblio.
What will be the impact of this about face by Alibris? We suspect very little. Essentially, it means Alibris joins Abebooks in making it difficult for small time sellers and private collectors to post on their site profitably. Not as difficult as Abe where the minimum monthly fee is $25, but still hard. We aren't sure how many sellers Alibris might lose, but the percentage of their 50 million posted books is likely to be negligible. No one will miss the small seller who posts ordinary material available from dozens of other booksellers anyway. The only real loss may be a few interesting books posted by private collectors. On the other hand, buyers will be spared dealing with a few sellers who might be "less than professional." It is an interesting turn, since Alibris attempted to make it easier for these people a few months ago, but for anyone besides these small sellers, the response is likely to be "ho hum."
The $1 per book sold program will be eliminated as of January 1, 2006.