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The Future of “Popular Textbooks”

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The interwebs are going crazy this week in the bookselling world.  If you’re in at least one Facebook group, you know what I’m talking about.

Last month it was CDs.

Last week it was Nike.

This week, it’s textbooks.

Is the sky falling?  Is it no big deal?  What’s really going on here?

Although no one knows for sure (and conversations with a Seller “Support” rep are useless since they don’t know what’s going on either), this all seems to be a way for Amazon to wrestle back some control of their book marketplace.  With counterfeit textbooks, international editions, and instructor’s copies flooding the marketplace, Amazon has to do something.  In the past, they’ve simply restricted certain textbooks (0890425566, for example).  There are also a dozen titles where they have recently begun requesting invoices in order to sell them (0323087906), presumably because these titles have lots of counterfeits in the market.  Instead of treating these outliers as isolated events, Amazon seems to be creating a new sub category of “popular textbooks” to lump everything together.  This whole move is all about control.  And I, for one, am glad they appear to be creating a sub category to deal with these problematic titles rather than gating the entire books category!

What on earth is going on?  Let’s take a look at the back story…

Many booksellers received this email yesterday from Amazon:

Popular Textbooks EmailMany theories have been circulating as to why this email was sent out, including:

— this email was intended only for sellers with poor metrics

— it was aimed at sellers listing books as New or Like New

— it was only sent out if you’re not approved to sell Collectible Books

— perhaps the email was mistakenly sent out

If you ask Seller Support what’s going on, you’ll receive equally confusing information.  As a general rule, Seller Support is left in the dark when it comes to larger policy changes, so take everything they say with a grain of salt.  If you don’t believe me, try chatting with three different Seller Support agents and ask them the same questions about the new textbook policies – you’ll likely get three different answers!

Does history shed any light on this situation?

Although I can’t say for certain what exactly is going on behind the scenes at Amazon, this is extremely similar to what happened recently within the CD category.  It stands to reason that Amazon is following their own playbook here within the books category.  Let’s examine what happened to CD sellers:

**Since I never received an email about the CD category and am still able to sell “popular CDs”, this information is coming from other sellers who provided screenshots to me from their own accounts.**

Timeline with the Music Category:

May 9 – sellers received an email asking for three invoices for “popular products in the Music category”

May 24 – sellers received a follow-up reminder email, again asking for three invoices

June 20 – sellers received the following message:

“Hello,

We’ve previously reached out to you regarding your popular listings in the Music category.

Since we have not heard back from you, you may no longer sell certain popular products in the Music category and your listings for these products have been removed.

If you have any concerns about this decision, you may seek approval to list popular products in the Music category again by following the approval process in Seller Central.”

Many sellers who didn’t provide invoices had many of their CDs moved into stranded inventory, and when they tried to list some of these popular CDs, they showed up as restricted within their accounts.

The good news in all of this is that sellers can still request approval to sell these popular products in the Music category, even if they missed the cut-off date.  Here’s proof:

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What’s interesting is that only one invoice is required now, not the three that were requested before.  Either way, many listings are still stranded and inactive until invoices are uploaded and (hopefully) approved for this newly-created sub category of Popular Music.

How does this apply to “popular” textbooks?

If Amazon follows their own playbook here, we can expect a similar implementation as Amazon carves out a new sub category of Popular Textbooks.

Many people still haven’t received the email requesting invoices/receipts of popular textbooks, so if you don’t receive that email it’s possible you may be grandfathered completely into the new sub category.  Either that or the email will reach your inbox shortly (I haven’t seen it personally, so I’m still holding my breath!).

If you did receive the dreaded email, here are some potential options:

Option A – Do nothing.  Sit back, grab your nearest lucky rabbit’s foot (or other preferred good luck charm), and hope the restrictions only impact a dozen or so titles across the entire spectrum of textbooks.  If/when the popular textbooks go into stranded inventory, you can see how many of your books are impacted and then track down invoices to provide to Amazon at a later date.  This is assuming that Amazon will allow you to still upload invoices after three weeks have gone by, like they did with CDs.

Option B – Send in whatever current receipts you have.  Even if your receipts are from online arbitrage purchases on Amazon or from local thrift stores, doing SOMETHING is better than doing NOTHING.  If these receipts aren’t accepted, you’ll likely have another opportunity to upload invoices after the three weeks are up (but again, no guarantees here).

Option C – Place orders from textbook publishers to get legitimate invoices/receipts.  Many textbook publishers allow you to buy directly from their websites.  Some examples include Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and Elsevier.  It may be well worth it to make a few purchases of a dozen books or so from three different publishers to receive legitimate purchase receipts from those companies.  You can find textbooks in their catalogs for under $30 – no need to spend $100+ on textbooks!  If you do your homework, you can even find books that can be flipped on Amazon quickly to minimize your out-of-pocket expenses (bonus points if you can find books you can flip for a profit on Amazon).  If these receipts are accepted and you’re approved to sell in this new sub category of Popular Textbooks, it’ll be worth every penny.

It would be extremely helpful for us as sellers if Amazon would provide a list of what they deem to be a “popular textbook” (hint, hint, Amazon), but in the absence of any specific direction from Amazon, we’re left in the dark.  Will this new sub category include 10 titles or 10,000 titles?  No one knows for sure.

With so many tainted listings and bad actors selling on Amazon, the market was due for a spring cleaning.  Some examples include sellers listing PDF versions of textbooks and other sellers intentionally listing international or instructor’s editions under the US student edition pages.  There were also counterfeit textbooks flooding the market over the past 12-18 months, which is why a small number of textbooks – including DSM-5, The Art of Public Speaking, etc. – have been completely banned for most sellers.  On one hand, it’s exciting that the market may finally get the “reset” it desperately needed.  On the other hand, hopefully Amazon’s new policies don’t take down most of the honest sellers in the process.

If you’ve received the “Popular Music” email related to CDs, submitted invoices, and received approval to sell in the new sub category, please comment below and share what type of invoices worked for you.

At the end of the day, it’s Amazon’s sandbox and they can do what they please, so it’s important to adapt to the changes as they happen – or risk getting left behind.  This whole thing may be getting blown out of proportion, but we for sure have at least three weeks to keep selling, track down invoices, and work on developing a Plan B.  In the meantime, take a deep breath, and we’ll keep everyone informed as we learn more.

Shalom.

44 Comments

  1. Option B & C = are they really SOMETHING to do?

    AZ will NOT except option B as valid receipts.

    Option C will not work in 3 weeks, unless you overnight the books to you and ship it really fast, and they may not see the publisher’s website as a wholesale/distributor to be valid as a receipt anyway.

    Option D = for flipper’s start buying based on ebay’s price. Ebay is a good place for selling books. Have good success selling instructor/not for sale copies there. Did well last summer when I found a large haul of such books.

    I am still allowed to sell CD’s/Music per AZ, but they recalled almost all my cd’s. And if I check any CD, it says I am NOT allowed to sell it and they are not taking app’s.

    Not looking good.

    • Option C won’t work as of June 20, the date the email was sent out. They are asking for invoices for products that sellers have sold within the previous 180 days to that email. “These (invoices) should reflect sales volume during that time (within the last 180 days)”.

      • It may not work in the past, but getting them now will allow you to at least have something legitimate (if Amazon accepts them, that is) within a few weeks when the new sub category becomes active.

    • How does selling on Ebay compare? It seems prices are lower, but shipping fees are lower as well it looks like. What about condition guidelines and taking photos? I contend that there is always going to be a market for used books, especially textbooks, it is just a matter if where that will be. If it’s ebay then is the market going to become flooded with previous FBA seller dumping there product there? A capitalist market would create a new opportunity it seems if Amazon shuts out the majority of textbook seller. Caleb, want to rise to the challenge and create a used book marketplace to compete with Amazon FBA? 🙂

      • I’m game – just need a few investors and some developers willing to program in exchange for great-tasting coffee 😀 But you’re absolutely right that there will be other markets. Except for Half.com getting shut down, so now we have one less option…

    • Something is better than nothing – from looking at currently restricted books, it appears to be around 95 titles. 22 or so are restricted for everyone, 9 require approval (need valid invoices, or it’s auto-approving people with great seller metrics), 63 can be sold as used but not as new, and 1 can be sold new but not as used. The majority of these books have had issues with counterfeit copies from India and China. We’ll learn more about which books are deemed “popular textbooks” in three weeks, I suppose. But until then, working hard to get legitimate invoices is better than sitting on the sidelines.

      • I found it interesting that you listed The Art of Public Speaking in your list of restricted for everybody. I have sold this title regularly in the past and just looked at my inventory and that title isn’t restricted for me. Maybe the restriction is on a specific ISBN.

        • Maybe I’ll send you all of my future copies of this book that I discover! I can’t sell them, even though I never received the dreaded textbook email. Just to clarify – you’re referring to the copy with a black cover?

      • Hi Caleb — Would it be possible to share the list of currently restricted books? I’ve been searching for that info and can’t find it… THANKS!

  2. I have heard that the issue is with three publishers ..Cengage Learning, Pearson Education, McGraw Hill. The “up to 3 receipts/invoices” we need are from ‘Authorised Publisher Resellers’ of those publishers and if you have their books in your inventory you need those kind of invoices. (not Amazon invoices)
    I do not know if the people I bought my text books from were authorised. Does anyone know who the authorised publisher resellers are of those 3 publishers?

    • Many college textbook stores may qualify, or you may want to track down the main textbook wholesalers (Nebraska Book Company, Follett, and MBS) to see if you can get an approved wholesale account with them.

    • I would imagine any bookstore that sells them as new would have to purchase them from the publisher as resellers. So buy their wording that should work. Even if they sell it used as well if they sell it new they would be authorized.

  3. Caleb, Good post !! thanks for the heads up and the options info.

    I have about 100 listed FBA and 900 MF. all bought at thrifts stores

    or yard/estate sales. I list everything as USED/LIKE NEW or VERY GOOD,

    GOOD, ACCEPTABLE. Is this new rule only applies to NEW listings ?

    ( forgot to say of the above numbers I have only approx 150 textbooks )

    I would have a hell of a time documenting anything with receipts

    almost all thrift store receipts just list dollar amounts opposite the term book.

    Am I just screwed ? or what ? Any helpful feedback will be much appreciated!

    PS Hurry up with your new scanner would be very helpful !! Thanks, Jack

    • ScoutIQ is coming soon, don’t worry!

      It’s doubtful thrift store receipts would count for anything, but if it’s all you have you may want to at least provide those and explain your business model.

  4. Hi Caleb,

    I sell about 3000 textbooks a year on Amazon; 95% of them listed as used. I received no such email from Amazon. We do have some books which are unable to be listed (i.e. DSM-5). Over 90% of our sales are FBA.

    I’m wondering if the scrutiny is over MF sales? I wouldn’t dare send an instructor’s edition text into Amazon’s warehouse, but it would more than likely be unnoticed via MF. In fact, most students have no idea why there is tape on the texts.

    I did a fair amount of OA this Spring and about 8% of the texts received were instructor’s or annotated editions, some of them from reputable sellers like HPB. This was despite filtering through listings which were ‘suspect’ and not buying them.

    I like others would have a difficult time producing receipts of my purchases, but do maintain a current database of each purchase.

    Hoping that listings will get cleaned up, but also hoping that Amazon doesn’t end up putting us through the wringer…

    • Yeah, it’s a tough balance to clean house and keep legitimate sellers around.

      It doesn’t seem to be a new vs. used issue.
      Age of your account doesn’t seem to play much of a role in who got the email and who didn’t.
      Seller metrics don’t seem to factor in much.
      I don’t believe it’s MF vs. FBA either.

      I’m sure Amazon has some rationale or algorithm in play here, but they’re keeping everyone (including seller support) in the dark.

  5. (JACK WALLACE) I believe the new rules about textbooks applies to NEW or LIKE NEW
    conditions. I have had some beautiful textbooks to list recently. What I will have to do is list them as VERY GOOD and then use my listing software’s condition notes to
    explain to potential buyers what the book actually looks like. I plan on charging close to the same price as if I had been able to list the books as NEW or LIKE NEW. As we
    all have found out recently, if you list a book as NEW, you cannot include any condition notes.

  6. Thanks for this posting. Wondering if an alternate to option C would be opening an account with a book wholesaler like Ingram, Baker & Taylor, Follett, etc – placing a small amount of orders. Surely these receipts/invoices would be deemed “legitimate” by Amazon if prompted, since Amazon themselves use these wholesalers to sell brand new books.

  7. Caleb,

    I haven’t received the email and have been selling textbooks for a while. However, I haven’t been listing very many recently. My guess is that this problem has really come front and center when AZ threw open the new book buybox to third party sellers. I am sure everyone sees the huge number of listings where a new book is listed at a bargain basement price. I have little confidence that those books are indeed new. That is bad for the consumer and bad for those of us who list books accurately. Anyway, I am working on building a physical bookstore in a college town and, thereby, making an end run around the entire issue. This is just another example of the inherent risks involved with having a big piece of one’s business dependent on Amazon’s policies.

    I am looking forward to seeing ScoutIQ.

    Regards,
    Stephen Woodfin

    • Great call on working on ways to reach into a brick and mortar location. The B&M challenge is different than Amazon, but at least your eggs aren’t all in one basket. Many of the restrictions we’re seeing is New books being restricted from listing them, but Used books are still fine to list. Hopefully that’s the majority of what we see, but counterfeit sellers will just start listing their books as VG and LN to compensate. Darn efficient market theory!

      Can’t wait to get ScoutIQ out the door either!

  8. Thanks for the rational viewpoint on this situation. I have not received the email (yet) and am a new seller as of 6 months ago. I have 31 five star reviews and my 1200 book inventory consists of about 300 textbooks. I just thought I would throw that info out there to help figure out if Amazon has some rationale or algorithm in play.

    ***Side point…this is not stopping me. I bought another 23 textbooks today, all at a Goodwill that apparently no one has scanned at in a while. I have actually found a ton of relevant textbooks at GW/Savers in the last couple weeks. I hope I won’t have to sell them on Ebay but certainly will if I need to.

  9. Thanks for your hard work brother. It is much appreciated. I still did not get it as far as I see.

    • Glad to – I think you’ll be just fine. Many larger sellers or with older accounts never got the textbook email. Looks like this was Amazon’s attempt to clean up dishonest sellers.

  10. How can i check easily to see if i have one of the titles in my inventory without looking for each one individually? Also there was a post on FB last night about how to get auto approval, can someone go over that again as I now can’t find that blurb.
    Thanks!

    • To get auto approval (if you’re able), try to list one of those titles in Seller Central, and when you see the page with restrictions if there’s a request approval button, click it and see if it goes through automatically! No need to look at each ISBN individually – if Amazon finds one in your inventory, they’ll move it to stranded. Simply look for your stranded books and go from there!

  11. Great article bro. Thanks for the information and update that helps us guys who do not take the time to read more about this. I appreciate your insight and recommendations .

  12. Thanks for the article. I’m just starting out selling books and like your inventory spreadsheet and thinking i’m going to get it. Just curious does it also allow you to track you other inventory you sell on eBay to help keep track of your entire sales and inventory? Since Amazon seems to be pushing back and i’m selling on both it would be nice to have a system that could at least tell me what is were. thanks much

  13. Lost Buy Box eligibility for Used Books on Independence Day.

    With 7,000 SKUs sales are now down to 0-3 a day!

    I am not sure what to do. So many roadblocks in the past few years: lost images, lost book descriptions, product detail pages destroyed by sloppy feeds, Amazon fee hikes, LTSF exceptions ending, increased warehouse losses, bigger hassles for reimbursements, more wrong ASIN changes, CD gating, textbook gating, but now this … losing the Buy Box eligibility for ALL our used books … this is the killer.

    Anyone else affected? Not sure what to do. “Ride it out” isn’t really a solution. So frustrating.

    • I had similar experience with similar volume of SKU’s. Spent quite a bit of time with SS being lectured about how to win BB when issue was not being BB eligible. Issue went away.

    • Is your Buy Box Eligibility back up? Most people (except one unfortunate soul) that I’ve talked to have their BB back up and running now.

  14. many affected but no resolution or even definitive acknowledgment from amazon in sight – see below

    https://sellercentral.amazon.com/forums/thread.jspa?threadID=356651&start=0&tstart=0&sortBy=date

  15. randi, what can be done about it?

    are we the only two on here who have this problem?

    it’s unbelievable. i’m making 0 sales a day!

  16. It’s amazing that out of all of the textbooks on Amazon, and the few I’ve titles I’ve purchased to test so far, I happened to order The Art of Public Speaking. A week later, it was restricted when I went to list. Good thing I only wasted money on two copies, but it’s getting harder and harder for a microscopic single-person business to get off the ground.

    • The Art of Public Speaking has been restricted for quite some time now for most sellers – it’s a commonly counterfeited title. There are about 50-100 restricted titles, but the rest of the restrictions seem to impact only New and Like New books.

  17. I received the email about being “gated” from selling certain textbooks. I had over 100 books show up in stranded inventory over night. I buy MANY textbooks from sellers on Amazon. They wanted receipts from your “suppliers”. My suppliers are individual sellers on Amazon. I bought the books as new/like new. All of them. I sent 14 receipts (for mostly individual books) to Amazon. This past Sunday, they told me I was now able to sell textbooks without being gated. So, at least I know they do accept Amazon receipts (from third party buyers) as proof for where you buy your books.
    The bad thing is, I have paid to have over 100 textbooks sent back to me so I can ship them back to Amazon (in the same listing condition as before). My advise is to not jump the gun and ask to have the books sent back to you until you have heard back from Amazon. Especially NOW with textbook “season” fast approacjing. If you get ungated on these special texbooks and have inventory in your stranded page, call Amazon and they will get each one re-listed without having to send them back and forth. I just had another 7 books show up in stranded. I called and while I was still on the phone, they got he books re-listed.

    • I’m glad you got ungated in that category – for the majority of sellers, selling in Very Good or worse condition means you can list most books without issues.

  18. Hi Caleb,
    Will your new ScoutIQ work with the german amazon marketplace?
    I live in Munich.
    Thanks, Carl

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