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Amazon's Catalog Cleanup
Has Created a Mess

Selling on Amazon

by Steve Weber

#114, 18 February 2008

When I started selling books on Amazon eight years ago, I couldn't list about one-third of my books. The reason? They were out of print, had no ISBN, and hadn't been added to Amazon's catalog.

A few years later, Amazon began allow Pro-Merchants to create catalog detail pages. Suddenly, those old books were fair game. Sellers began creating new detail pages like crazy. This was great for buyers, who could now shop for many more niche books on Amazon. It was a good deal for Amazon, too. Sellers donated their time creating catalog pages, in many cases strengthening the accuracy and depth of Amazon's catalog.

But like any powerful tool, the catalog-creation privilege was misused, too. Many bogus listings were created, sometimes by accident and other times by sellers hoping to catch a sale at an above-market price. So like many good things, the freedom to create detail pages eventually got out of hand. Some sellers created their own listings for books that were already in Amazon's catalog in a bid to fetch a higher price from a buyer who happened to land on the wrong page. In other cases, duplicate catalog pages resulted when sellers bulk-uploaded lists of titles using BASIN matching software.

As a result, a single edition of a book might have had 15 different detail pages on Amazon. Buyers didn't know what to think. Some sellers were compelled to list their books on each of the catalog pages to ensure every possible sale.

In November 2006 Amazon began fiddling with some catalog maintenance to clean up duplicate listings. Amazon merged some duplicate ASINs and inadvertently caused many listings to be closed. This project resulted in the deletion of many listings for books published in England that appeared on Now, when U.S. sellers tried to create pages for those listings, Amazon's site declared that these books are "ineligible" for listing on In some cases, the books being declared ineligible for Amazon's US site weren't actually UK editions but had merely been listed for sale on Amazon's UK site. And recently this problem has expanded to Amazon's other international sites. For example, the other day an American seller was unable to list a U.S.-published book on because someone in Canada had already listed the same book for sale at

More recently, in November 2007 Amazon really cracked down and began "merging" ASINs when duplicates were detected by Amazon's software. Amazon's intention was to merge book ASINs when it detected duplicate listings for the same title, contributors, binding, publisher, publication date, edition and volume. The result was that all merchant product data, images, and listings for the deleted ASIN were transferred over to the "retained" ASIN. Amazon's strategy was to retain ASINs that had the highest Amazon Sales Rank and more merchants using it.

Here's how all this affects bulk uploads: If a listing in your upload file contains an ASIN that Amazon has merged to a new ASIN, Amazon assigns the listing to the new "retained" ASIN. A warning is reported in the upload's processing report, with the new ASIN identified. Thank goodness, Amazon left intact the sellers' SKUs and Listing IDs for the merged ASINs. Sellers are supposed to verify that the new ASIN correctly identifies the book they're offering.

As might be expected with such an automated system, Amazon has merged many ASINs incorrectly. Sellers who have had their listings moved to a page with incorrect product details have tried switching them to a page with correct details, only to receive an error message that the page no longer exists. In this case, sellers are expected to contact Seller Support with an explanation including the original ASIN and the new one. And sellers have tried submitted corrections via Amazon's "catalog update" link from the detail page.

If you've been affected by these changes and want to make some suggestions about it, there's a dedicated e-mail address at Amazon just for this purpose:

Some sellers have noticed the new, incorrect listings while viewing their "current inventory" on their Seller Account page. Scanned cover images have turned up missing for the closed ASINs. Here's a way to search to see if one of your listings may have been moved: View your closed listings here.

While scrolling through your closed listings, look for items that still have a quantity of "1." You should be able to find these same titles on your "Open Listings" page, and on a new (possibly incorrect) detail page.

Another problem: On some seller-created detail pages, author names have been deleted in the past month. Whether this is related to ASIN merge or is some other malfunction isn't clear. At this point, some sellers believe the solution is worse than the problem had been. Sellers who've complained to Amazon have received this canned response:

"I apologize for any inconvenience you may have experienced as a result of this matter. Per our Community Rules for listing Amazon Marketplace items, sellers may not deviate from the product format represented on an item's retail page, also known as the product detail page. As we state, "When listing your item, you must do so on the page with the same item, in the same format. Previous models or editions cannot be listed on a similar ASIN."

"Sometimes it appears that, although an ISBN is intended as a unique identifier of a title, there are some instances where a publisher might have reused or 'recycled' an ISBN for another edition (or, in even rarer cases, an entirely different book). In this case, our system will match against the ISBN and will not accept a duplicate for the title."

As a result of all these changes, sellers have had some sales where the buyer was expecting something completely different - a paperback instead of a hardcover, a second edition instead of a fourth edition. Amazon hasn't said whether it would immunize sellers hit with "materially different" claims from angry buyers who received the wrong book thanks to Amazon's incorrect ASIN merge. Nor is there any word whether sellers who must cancel and refund sales for the same reason will be penalized.

Stay tuned.

Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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