Thursday, September 17th, 2009

The Amazon policy change, and how we’re responding.

“Amazon Cardboard Boxes” by Flickr member Akira Ohgaki (Attribution 2.0 Generic)

Summary: Amazon is requiring us remove links to other booksellers on work pages. We’re creating a new “Get it Now” page, with links to other booksellers, especially local bookstores and libraries, and a host of new features. Talk about it here.

The challenge. We’re days away from releasing a series of changes to our book pages, both forced and intentional. Amazon is requiring all websites, as a condition of getting any data from them, to have the primary page link to Amazon alone. Links to other booksellers are prohibited. Secondary pages—pages you go to from the primary page—can have non-Amazon links.

Everyone at LibraryThing disagrees with this decision. LibraryThing is not a social cataloging and social networking site for Amazon customers but for book lovers. Most of us are Amazon customers on Tuesday, and buy from a local bookstore or get from a library on Wednesday and Thursday! We recognize Amazon’s value, but we certainly value options.

Importanly, the decision is probably not even good for Amazon. Together with a new request-monitoring system, banning iPhone applications that use Amazon data, and much of their work on the Kindle, Amazon is retreating from its historic commitment to simplicity, flexibility and openness. They won through openness. Their data is all over the web, and with it millions of links to Amazon. They won’t benefit from a retreat here.

But agree or not, we have to follow their terms. We thought long and hard about giving up Amazon data entirely, converting to library data only, in concert with a commercial provider, like Bowker or Ingram, and with help from publishers and members. Unlike our competitors, who are exclusively based on Amazon and who don’t “catalog” so much as keep track of which Amazon items you have, that option is available to us. But we’d lose a lot, particularly book covers. Ultimately, we’ve decided the disadvantages outweigh the benefits.

The Response. Most of all, we think we’ve found a way to give Amazon what they require, and continue to provide members with options: We’re going cut back our primary-page links to Amazon alone, and give people the best, most diverse secondary pages we can make. We are allowed to link to other booksellers, like IndieBound and Barnes and Noble on secondary pages, and we’re going to do it far better than we ever have. We’re going to take something away, but also make something better—something that goes way past what we did before, in features and in diversity of options.

The upcoming “Get it Now” page will go far beyond our current “Buy, borrow, swap” links, with a live new and used price-comparison engine, as well as sections for ebooks, audiobooks and swap sites. The page will be edition-aware, and draw on feeds or live data (so the links work). Many members have wanted live pricing data for the books they already own and these features can be used for that purpose too. We’ll also be doing some stuff with libraries nobody else has, or can, do.

Key to the upcoming Get it Now page is a “Local” module, drawing on LibraryThing Local, showing all the libraries and bookstores near you. Where possible, this list will incorporate holdings data and links to buy—the sort of information you never get from a Google search on a book. If not, we’ll give you their telephone numbers and show you where they are on a map. We’ll make the page customizable, and let members add sources to it.

We think the new page will make a lot of members happy. For one thing, LibraryThing has never been about buying books, so having all these links on a separate page won’t be a great loss. And if the new format doesn’t make members happy, we’ll listen, and together we can plan to take LibraryThing on a truly independent course.

Post your comment here, or come talk about this on Site Talk.

Labels: amazon, apis, google, open data


  1. fontgoddess says:

    This is one reason to love you more.

    While Amazon is the big kid on the block, it is certainly not the only kid and these sorts of policy changes will lead to resources like LibraryThing becoming independent from their data quite swiftly. While creating a library of cover scans and descriptions is a huge task, it's one that is more than possible and, if Amazon insists on moves like this, will be started, crowdsourced, and more than sufficiently executed before Amazon can say "irrelevant."

  2. lorax says:

    So are you removing links to libraries from work/book pages as well? That would make me extremely unhappy; I use the library data all the time. I don't mind an extra click to get to Powell's or Better World Books, but an extra click to get to the LoC just to placate the 800-pound gorilla seems unnecessary as well as unfair.

  3. Richard says:

    What a crock, and what a good solution. Thanks for thinking this through from a user perspective, though certainly that's not a surprise.

    Amazon's hamfisted boo-boos this year will rear up and bite 'em in the sitzfleisch.

  4. Ferdinand_ says:

    Thanks for the info on Amazon's really harmful decision for other book dealers as well as for consumers.

    I am new to social book networks and actually besides LT I tried the two other bigger online (social) websites for books. I am glad that I finally decided for LibraryThing (and I just paid for a lifetime account).

    My biggest concern with LT competitors was, that both competitors are mainly or even completely dependent on Amazon.

    This is bad! Firstly this reduces the number of books available – especially in regard to my collection – and secondly Amazon's data are all too frequently incomplete or even erroneous.

    I am looking forward to the new design!

  5. majkia says:

    I'd love to see links to ebook sellers. currently you don't have any (well, other than amazon but well…)

  6. Anonymous says:

    Amazon = lame, LibraryThing = awesome. The end.

  7. Island Dave says:

    Excellent response to a difficult situation. Very proud of you all.

  8. deusexlibrus says:

    After all the BS I've seen from Amazon I've started searching out other online dealers. Book Depository is quite good. They offer free international shipping on ALL orders (no minimum purchase), and are commonly cheaper than amazon.


  9. urania1 says:

    I think LT members can do more. Do we have an address (e-mail and/or snail mail) to which we can send Amazon letters or e-mails of complaint? Each of us could set up threads on our forums asking people to write in letters criticizing Amazon's new closed door policy.

  10. Dystopos says:

    You guys are pretty awesome.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Why don't you use the APIs provided by Google Books? They aggregate and provide for free all this same data. They also provide book thumbnails. Plus you could add preview pages.

  12. Owen says:

    Which section of the agreement is at issue here?

  13. mand says:

    How infuriating! I know they want to monopolise the world, but still can't believe Amazon's cheek. Certainly it's bad for them too; it has decided me once and for all never to link to them again – and if that's my response, it will be the response of other far more high-profile reviewers, too.

    Your answer is exactly what my first thought was, but the anonymous Google Books suggestion is brilliant. I don't know Google Books so not sure how comprehensive their 'collection' is, but if it's as wide as i imagine, it would be fine.

    Already i had been feeling that the selection of sources wasn't huge, compared with (say) the one use in Book Collector.

  14. DrBubbles says:

    This seems like a sensible solution.

    I am a worrier, though, so I wonder what might happen if another entity whose data LT uses imposes a similar condition. Is Amazon requiring not just that no other bookseller links appear on the primary page, but also that a link to Amazon appear on the primary page?

  15. papalazarou says:

    I think it's about time to ditch Amazon – their bullying behaviour is antithetical to the spirit of LT – surely anybody can find where to buy books w/o them and as for covers why don't we use member uploaded data?

  16. MAB says:

    BookMooch is struggling with this as well. They were about to release an iPhone app which has had to be shelved.

    I think your solution is good considering the circumstances.

  17. Sara says:

    I wrote a letter to Amazon saying that I never directly surf to Amazon and look for books. Instead I usually follow through on a link from Librarything or Bookmooch… thus is LT or BM can't use Amazon data, I would never end up on Amazon's site at all.

    To write your own letter, look for the HELP page on Amazon, then click on the "Contact Us" link to the right.

  18. Tedcgo says:

    Library Thing is the best! Nice proactive moves. I was never impressed with Amazon's search capabilities when looking to buy a book. Their search results are often irrelevant. I use which also has new books. One should never antagonize one's customers. Elephants have long memories.

  19. Tedcgo says:

    PS searches 100 million books from many sellers in just a few seconds.

  20. maedb says:

    Good for you. I applaud the way you are handling this. And I have yet another reason to boycott Amazon (would much rather help out the local stores, anyway).

    Thanks for thinking this through and responding as you have.

  21. mand says:

    Thanx Tedcgo for that Used Books link, i hadn't heard of them. Love it – you can search all shops *except* Amazon!

  22. Gary McGath says:

    Amazon put me on its spam list without my consent and has been caught deleting negative reviews. It's no great loss.

  23. Tina says:

    Thanks for an intelligent, customer centered approach to a problem with no really good solution. You guys are awesome!

  24. MikoNoNyte says:

    I have for a while 3 or 4 different online places to check for "new" books. Amazon invariably loses to a better deal. Additionally I prefer used, recycled books – spread the love!

    Now while Amazon's DB is enormous, yes there are people enough to pop up and give what is needed for book information and covers.

    I am pleased to wait and see what LT comes up with to handle the encroaching vine that is

  25. pir-anha says:

    i think we should get started on replacing amazon, because who knows when they'll be unsatisfied with this as well.

    your solution is wise and clever, but
    i am not in favour of giving in to bullies permanently. LT has so many members that we should be able to crowdsource the information.

    and i am tired of writing protest letters to amazon. i will just stop using them for good now.

  26. azurelunatic says:

    This move of Amazon's is seriously upsetting, and I hope they either see the light, or that some other place steps up to fill the gap.

  27. carport says:

    I am busy scanning covers for my books, to eliminate the need to use amazon for any of my book covers.

    I just sent them a letter telling them that I will never order from them again because of their new policies. I also cancelled a pending order worth $270.

    I am a fairly high volume customer, because I live in a remote place, so I really appreciate the links others have posted to new sources.

  28. Carol says:

    I would love to be able to say I will never use Amazon again because this new policy disgusts me. As a librarian who uses their site all the time, I just don't know if I can…there is no good substitute for their info. Yes, I use LoC, yes, I use Powell's, and BookMooch, and LT and anyone else I can find. Here is another reason to dislike them–if you buy from their authorized used sellers, they require them to charge 3.95 shipping for each book. So if you buy 5 books from the same seller, shipping is 19.75. Sorry for the rant. I will try to cut down on my orders from them, and just use them for info… LT is the best!

  29. OneMorePage says:

    You guys rock. Amazon does not.

  30. MyopicBookworm says:

    I shall be scanning more covers myself from now on: I hope the scanner doesn't melt.

    Apart from Amazon, if I want to buy a book I go to ABEBOOKS

  31. Vridar says:

    Hurray for LibraryThing!!!!

  32. Vridar says:

    Hurray for LibraryThing!!!!

  33. Anonymous says:

    Isn't Amazon a part owner of LibraryThing through the Abebooks purchase? Just wondering. It's a stange world.

  34. Tim says:

    Yes, they are are minority shareholder. (We talked a bit about this on the Talk post.) Weirder, they are the FULL owner of our competitors, Shelfari.

    Basically, they aren't giving us any special breaks; they never do. I'd glad of that, actually. If we got special treatment, it would be unfair to others. Needless to say, however, Shelfari doesn't link to any competitors, or indeed to libraries.

  35. Anonymous says:

    The Google APIs require you to show their advertising (much higher margin than Amazon's book sales, btw), so they aren't exactly "free" or "better." Why exactly is it so evil for Amazon to ask for a link just to them on the first page where their information (which cost a lot of money to create and assemble) is the primary information source?

  36. Anonymous says:

    MyopicBookworm –

    I hate to tell you this but Amazon owns Abebooks also.

    And Brilliance Audio, Mobipocket, shoe stores and others. No reason for them to complain about Google.

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