I thought I'd rant a little bit about Amazon.com. I don't know why I'm picking on Amazon, because I have the same problem with BN.com, but Amazon in my mind is the main villain, because the other major on-line booksellers have had to imitate their practices for competitive reasons.
First off, I should say, there's a lot I like about Amazon. While I try to buy the vast majority of my books at local independents, I have bought books at Amazon before and their service has always been reliable, their shipping fast, and there's no beating the convenience. For writers, it's nice to have backlist books stocked at Amazon when they are hard to find elsewhere.
But I have two major gripes with Amazon (and BN), which I'm sure many of you share:
1) Selling used books alongside new books.
2) Displaying reviews alongside books.
First, regarding the selling of used books...I should be clear that I have absolutely nothing against Amazon, or any other store, selling used books on-line. Abebooks.com is one of my favorite sites on the Web and I'm not sure how I ever found out-of-print books without it...My problem with Amazon (and BN) is that the used books are sold right alongside new books. Every writer and publisher despises this. When someone goes to Amazon with the intention of paying full price for a book they should pay full price--end of story. The way it works now is akin to standing on line to purchase a book at your local brick and mortar bookstore and having the salesperson say to you at checkout, "Are you sure you wouldn't rather pay 1 dollar for that 24 dollar book?"... Of course at Amazon, when someone changes their mind and decides to purchase a book used, neither the author nor the publisher profits from the transaction. Naturally, Amazon makes a commission, which is the source of the problem--Amazon doesn't care whether they make their money off the sale of used books or new books--it's all the same to them...In fact (I don't know if anyone has heard this) but Amazon takes into account the sale of used books into their rankings! So you can see your Amazon ranking increasing because of the sale of used books, making the ranking an even more unreliable indicator of a book's overall sales.
As Amazon takes a larger and large share of the book buying market, I think this is becoming more and more of an issue. A simple solution would be for Amazon to continue to sell used books on-line, but NOT on the pages where they sell new books. They should have a separate used bookstore.
OK, now issue 2--the reviews.
I think Amazon should do the right thing and stop displaying any reviews--magazine and newspaper reviews AND readers' reviews--alongside the pages where books are sold. Publishers should have some ability to control how a book is presented to the public and authors shouldn't have to have their books stained for eternity by a bad, or inaccurate review, or--perhaps even worse--a review that gives away the major plot points of their books. Authors have enough obstacles to building a career--they don't need to overcome a final hurdle at the checkout counter...Again, I think it should be the way it works at a physical bookstore. A customer should be able to browse the book and make their own decision about whether they want to buy it. When you're ready to buy a book at your local store, the salesperson doesn't say, "You sure you want to buy that book? It got a bad review in the Library Journal."....Publishers and authors should be allowed to supply the reviews they want readers to see plastered on their books' pages. Amazon should still supply reviews--and allow customers to review--but the reviews should be available on a link to another page--they shouldn't be right there to dissuade a customer who was otherwise interested in making the purchase.
Naturally, Amazon doesn't have to change anything they do. Perhaps they don't care about pissing off writers and publishers, and they probably have hard numbers to back up the effectiveness of their current practices...But if publishers really want to change things I believe they can. In Germany, a major German publisher--a publisher with consistent top-ten bestsellers--recently took the bold step of removing all of their lists' books from the Amazon.de web-site. They were unhappy with Amazon's practices and saw no other way to deal with it. Talks have been taking place between the publisher and Amazon and it is yet to be determined whether the ploy will work. Still, it's an example of how if the major U.S. conglomerates really wanted to do something about the way books are packaged and sold on-line, they could. Major authors, such as Grisham and Patterson, could also make some waves if they wanted to...But it's doubtful this will ever happen...I think too many people are making too much money with the status quo to risk making waves....