The motto of the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers, “Amor librorum nos unit” or “love of books unites us”, has been adopted as a battle cry this week by an army of hundreds of secondhand booksellers around the world. From Australia to Mexico, they have united in a flash strike against Amazon, after its secondhand books marketplace AbeBooks announced it will withdraw from markets including South Korea and Russia, which booksellers fear will devastate local businesses.
Booksellers in Hungary, the Czech Republic, South Korea and Russia were told by AbeBooks that from 30 November, it would “no longer support sellers located in certain countries”. “We apologise for this inconvenience,” added the marketplace, which was founded in 1995 and acquired by Amazon in 2008.
The move was, said booksellers Jan and Ondrej Schick of Antikvariát Valentinská in Prague, a “complete shock” and means they will “almost certainly have to dismiss at least five employees. It also leaves them no outlet to sell around 20,000 books that aren’t in Czech, which are harder to sell in store.
The Schicks contacted the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB), which mobilised its members – including British bookseller Simon Beattie, who proposed a mass demonstration of solidarity with those affected by AbeBooks’s withdrawal, by taking what he described as a “vacation” from using the website. Now, around 2.6m books from more than 460 booksellers in 26 countries are now listed as “temporarily unavailable”.
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British organisation Antiquarian Booksellers Association (ABA) was in the middle of negotiations with AbeBooks about sponsorship for their annual summer fair, but decided not to renew its sponsorship agreement for 2019 after hearing about the marketplace’s move.
“AbeBooks are entitled to do business where they like, as are all other businesses,” said the ABA in a statement. “It is not the decision itself that has led to this unprecedented uprising of dealers across the world, but the high-handed manner in which they dismissed these few rare booksellers from Poland, Czech, Hungary, Russia and South Korea, destroying their livelihoods in just a couple of impersonal sentences. This is against the spirit and ethos of independent rare booksellers around the world, it is right that it has been noticed and the protest has shown that this is the general feeling of the rare book trade as a whole.”
A spokesperson for AbeBooks said that it had notified “some sellers” that it would be unable to support them after 30 November “because our third-party payment service provider is closing at the end of the year”.
“Buyers will be able to continue to make purchases through AbeBooks regardless of their location, but unfortunately a small number of sellers will be impacted as we migrate to a new payment service provider,” said the spokesperson. “We regret that we cannot continue to serve all sellers. We remain committed to helping those affected by this change and are actively contacting them to help them explore other options. We are deeply appreciative of our community of buyers and sellers, and our goal remains to serve all book lovers, both buyers and sellers, in as many countries as possible.”