by Steve Weber

#91, 26 March 2007

Booksellers Drowning in
Amazon's Rising Tide of Catalog Pages

Selling on Amazon

Printer Friendly Article

To sell a book on, it used to be fairly simple. You'd simply input the ISBN or title, scan the competition, and name your price. But finding the right real estate on Amazon is more complicated than ever, thanks to a proliferation of duplicate and sometimes bogus catalog pages. Sometimes, technical problems at Amazon are the cause, but all too often our fellow booksellers are the culprits.

Here's an example: Search for "Northwest Passage by Keating." The result is 8 different Amazon product pages, all of them for the same book. The low prices range from $.99 to $82.97. Where should you list your copy? And just as importantly, what impression does this give buyers?

Some sellers argue that Amazon Marketplace is beginning to reflect the worst aspects of eBay. Instead of competing on the same product page under the same terms, sellers are freelancing all over the Marketplace. What's next? Deliberate misspellings of titles and author names? A "report this listing" for sellers to turn in bad catalog pages?

BookTrakker's Andy Gutterman, a provider of inventory management software, says he's alerted Amazon to these problems. "They are intensely aware of it, but I have little confidence they will be able to come up with a solution," Gutterman said. "As I told the VP in charge of Marketplace, 'You will soon have a trillion listings for 100 million books.'"

Rogue Collectibles

Some Amazon sellers believe that conditions are getting rapidly worse and blame fellow sellers for adding to the confusion. The thinking is that unscrupulous sellers have been creating duplicate product pages so that their listings will appear alone on a page and perhaps command a higher price.

In some cases, duplicate catalog entries are created when sellers of pre-ISBN books upload a list of titles using BASIN matching software. In other cases, sellers are using Amazon's "Create a Product Detail Page" feature to list special editions. Sometimes these books should be listed as a "collectible" on the book's regular product page, other times a special listing seems justified. Here are some examples of these seller-created pages:

Another problem cropped up in November 2006, when Amazon began catalogue maintenance to clean up duplicate listings. Amazon merged duplicate ASINs and inadvertently caused many listings to be closed. It seems this resulted in the deletion of many listings for books published in England that appear on Now, when sellers try to create pages for those listings, Amazon's site declares that these books are "ineligible" for listing on In some cases, the books being declared "ineligible" for Amazon's US site aren't actually UK editions but have merely been listed for sale on Amazon's UK site.

Old Editions vs. New Editions

Another challenge of finding books on Amazon irritates booksellers and publishers alike - Amazon's practice of pointing buyers to old editions. Often a search will refer buyers to a previous edition, and Amazon's recommendation system continues promoting the older book. Customer reviews of the previous edition are transferred to the new edition, but the reviews don't indicate which edition is being discussed. Lastly, Amazon doesn't provide a link from old editions to the newer editions.

One theory is that Amazon would rather encourage Marketplace sales of older and out-of-print books because Amazon earns more from Marketplace commissions than its sales of new books. The other side of the coin is that customers buy less when they can't find what they're looking for.

The problem isn't limited to out-of-print books; searches for current books are also giving booksellers and buyers fits. On many previous bestsellers, Amazon adds a "Bargain Price" product page with an ASIN different from the book's ISBN. Amazon sells remainder copies and overstocks on these bargain pages, but when the supply of remainders is exhausted, the page remains on Amazon's site, and the price often climbs back toward retail. The higher price can draw more sellers, all of them listing their copies on the "Bargain Price" page. Meanwhile, careless buyers are drawn to the alternate page because of the "Bargain Price" icon that catches their eye in search results. Often these buyers pay twice the market price for their "bargain." This further depresses prices on the original product page.

Here's one example: On the "Bargain Price" page for Ready or Not, Here Life Comes the price is about $13.50.

But on the book's original Amazon page - where the ASIN matches the ISBN - the price is about $3.50. A much better "bargain," at least for the buyers who manage to find it.

Faulty results from Amazon's search engine are another irritant for booksellers. Sometimes a search on Amazon yields no results, but the same search on a meta search site like or, reveals a dozen or more copies on Marketplace. Obviously, buyers are more likely to purchase a book when they can find it easily and find it in the format they're searching for. "Unknown" bindings tend to sell slowly because many Marketplace buyers simply don't scroll down to the seller's comments for more guidance.

When there's an option to list on more than one product page, some sellers opt to list on the page with the best Amazon Sales Rank. Other sellers gravitate toward the page with less competition. And some sellers list the same book on each available page, then delete the duplicate listings when a sale is made.

What's the solution to all this? Sometimes you can get erroneous catalog information corrected on an Amazon page by clicking the "update product info" link at the bottom of every book page. After signing in, you're allowed to suggest changes to the listing's title, author, binding, publication date, format, and a few other attributes. Often, these corrections are processed within a few days, but sometimes they aren't processed at all.

Want to read more articles by
BookThink's Contributing Editor Steve Weber?
Click here.

 Subscribe in a reader