The Biggest Reason Why I Hate Amazon

by Jeph Johnson's policies spell the end of rare and sentimental media.  And once again the rich get richer and the little guy is ignored.


Traditional twentieth century media is an endangered species, soon to be extinct due to's shortsighted greed, editing laziness and inability to accurately determine who their most important sellers are.


Whereas Amazon used to be a haven for every type of book, record album, compact disc and cassette to flourish in, they are now leading the charge to expedite its extinction.


I am not against Kindle or music streaming services like Spotify, in fact I believe those mediums show great advances in the technology of spreading ideas and information. But these new mediums should not eradicate all books and CDs. Especially not until they are soundly archived via those methodologies. Many writings and recordings will disappear forever if something is not done about Amazon's policies.


In 2006 I started my online CD store by selling popular sound recordings I found at thrift stores and estate sales. Pretty much anything sold, providing it was somewhat popular and priced competitively.


As people dumped CDs and tapes and began embracing downloads and streaming services, the supply of CDs went up and the demand went down...way down. But streaming music services couldn't house everything. That's right, rare items were still covetable to those who wanted them! Rare albums, compact discs and even cassette tapes could fetch me a high premium. I would find country music that was never released on CD on cassettes from the 1970s at the Goodwill bins. I'd pick most tapes up for twenty cents and resell them for $20!


Amazon is a seller based website. Millions of sellers compete with each other to provide the customer with the item. Customers get to decide who to buy from. They determine who has the best conditioned item at the best price and will provide them with the best customer service and fastest shipping speed. But the prices are determined by each seller.


So if only one seller has an item, it can be listed and theoretically sold at a ridiculously high price!


On the other hand, eBay is an auction site that uses a buyer based template where a minimum bid is set by the seller and individual buyer's bids make the price elevate.


So if only one person wants an item it usually sells at a ridiculously low price (if it sells at all)!


The problem with selling rare items on auction sites is unless it is a rare item from a popular artist or group it will get overlooked. A "butcher block" Beatles LP is rare and will likely find many people bidding on it, but an even rarer record recorded by the Wilsonville Junior High marching band in 1975, will never sell in an auction because no one will be there to bid on it! In fact there may be only two people in the entire world who want the recording! The odds of them both being on an auction site looking for it at the same time are astronomical!


The Wilsonville Junior High Marching Band as well as the other outcasts and musical misfits appealing to a very select group of people are the types of items I enjoy selling in my store.  Let it be known, these rare, sentimental, unique and hard to find items were not "stuff nobody wanted" but were instead "stuff somebody wanted...really bad!"


Amazon gave the World Wide Web a great arena for finding these sorts of items and there was no reason not to search for it because you really might actually find it!


Examples might be the aforementioned Junior High Marching Band record; that CD the guy at your church recorded the year you were baptized; music from the now demolished Organ Grinder Pizza Parlor pipe organ; spoken word poetry from your college professor; Nazi war marches collectors of authentic World War II memorabilia covet; or the U.S. Navy yearbook your grandpa posed in when he served in the Korean War.


Understand that books and music are a virtual museum of our sentimental history and these items are being lost not only each time a thrift store dumps their inventory after rotating through new items each week, but also when I am unable to list it for sale to the people who desire it!


I enjoyed sorting through piles of media items in order to list them on Amazon. I'd then sit back and wait. Often they would sit for years on my shelf waiting to turn up in a search result. But when they did, people were tremendously grateful and overjoyed!


Allow me to explain how doing this on Amazon is now impossible and how these items are becoming endangered: To sell an item on Amazon the seller first searches for the item they want to sell by typing in the UPC barcode. If the item comes up, they simply hit a few buttons to indicate the condition, set the price they're selling it for, indicate if they're willing to ship internationally and/or offer expedited shipping. Voila! It is now for sale in Amazon's huge marketplace and available for someone to buy.


Once listed, a seller could let a product sit for several weeks, and if it didn't sell, simply relist it. It didn't cost a dime to do this and the listing fee was only charged when the item sold -- if the item sold! There was no risk in listing an item (unlike eBay) because the fees were assessed only if the item sold.


Now some barcodes didn't register in the Amazon system. When this happened it meant one of two things: the barcode was entered incorrectly and the item needed to be found doing a traditional artist / title search -or- the item had yet to be introduced for sale on Amazon. These as yet listed items were the types of products I wanted to find when I was out scouting, because when you are the first person to list a unique item you have no competition and can set your price without being concerned what other vendors are selling it for. As mentioned earlier these rare items have very little interest from the general public, but are extremely valuable to a select unique audience, therefore I would routinely set my starting price at $40. Mind you, these were CDs I would find for between fifteen cents and two dollars, so despite the markup being dramatic, you had to take into account that only about one in ten would ever sell. Most wouldn't sell even if I dropped the price to a penny! So it becomes vitally important that those items are easy to find in a forum where millions of people search each day. The only site like that that wasn't auction based was


Amazon has now eliminated this selling option completely despite me signing on as a Pro Merchant and paying them a $40 a month subscription fee every month since 2006. This used to allow you to add the unique products to Amazon's inventory whose barcodes had yet to be added, as well as products produced that did not contain barcodes. Being a Pro Merchant also waives the $1 per item transaction fee that Amazon assess and allows your listings to stay listed without having to relist them every two weeks.  The transaction fee they waived was a fee that was in addition to the percentage of the sale they also profit from. But with over 5,000 items I haven't the time to painstakingly relist items daily so they still get my pro merchant subscription fee from me.


So it made sense to be a Pro Merchant for any seller selling 40 or more items per month. When I first started my business in 2006 I sold between 5 and 15 items per day, so the Pro Merchant subscription was essential and cost effective, and allowed me to add unique and previously unlisted items.


Then as streaming services (including Amazon itself) started taking over the marketplace and everyone and his brother begin downloading their CDs and selling them off, my sales (as well as the price I had to sell them at) dwindled. This was no surprise, and something I had prepared for. My strategy involved stocking more and more of these rare items. I had to be much more selective in which CDs to carry. Whereas most CDs I was selling in 2006 were of well known bands and sold from between $8 to $20, now I had to reduce 2/3 of my CDs price to $5. Even then many were undercut by the competition selling them at a penny!


Throughout this inevitable market crash, I discovered a lot of those CDs that were rare and (at least on Amazon), one of a kind, I could still price and sell for $40 a pop! This was the only saving grace and enabled me to keep my store afloat, albeit with drastically reduced profits. At the height of my business in 2008 I would bring in as much as $1,000 a month! Now I make less than $100 a month.


Now if I try to list an item above the price Amazon deems "too high" my listing is deactivated. I'm simply told it's a potential pricing error. But even after they do that they still won't tell you what the highest price I can list it at!  It's quite maddening.


So as indicated before the Pro Merchant subscription is necessary if I am to add unique products that are not in Amazon's inventory. Until recently a Pro Merchant could add an item that did not contain a barcode. But due to people migrating in from eBay who did not understand how Amazon works and merchants just being idiots, abuse and error ran rampant.


Pro Merchant vendors began listing items that had barcodes as if they didn't have barcodes and multiple listings for the same item began popping up everywhere. This is most noticeable on the book and vinyl LP listings where it has become a cluttered mess (please note I don't stock many books or vinyl records, so I am unable to alert Amazon of these errors as frequently).


I don't blame Amazon for taking action and attempting to get control of this, but the method they chose to use was akin to making everyone stay after school because the one kid who put a thumbtack on the teacher's chair didn't fess up: They eliminated the ability to list new items not containing barcodes for EVERYONE! This action has had a devastating effect to my sales model and basically destroyed the idea of Amazon being a museum of rare and sentiment artifacts for music and book collectors to browse. Yes, now the very items I spoke of at the beginning of this rant - the church CD, the Junior High band, your school yearbook, the indie film festival DVD - all will no longer be found on Amazon...unless a big distributor picks it up and slaps a barcode on it. I don't think that is going to happen with those types of items, do you?


All Amazon needed to do was remove the errant listings and penalize the merchants who were listing the items incorrectly (perhaps suspending their Pro Merchant status?). Instead they penalized people like me who used to meticulously correct and notify them of these errors.  I added photos and other information to incomplete listings and made Amazon, which essentially was my store and one I was proud of, an attractive and user-friendly place for buyers!


It is a real shame that Amazon has become a black hole so big that it has begun to eat itself from within. Big box retailers (read: vendors with money) are now listing their items alongside your neighbor who gets pushed aside even if he has a better price! Amazon is intentionally not user friendly enough, so the seller with the money is the one that shows up on your "add to cart" screen. In order to find the other items selling for less one must click on a separate link where other vendors are also selling it.


Unless I can find another website that allows a seller to set the prices and sit back and wait, rather than selling through auctions, I will be forced to liquidate most of my inventory. This means a handful of my stuff will get sold at drastically reduced prices and the rest will be dumped in the garbage and lost forever.


Future generations whose dads played in bands in the 1980s, or whose moms were poets who made chapbooks in the 1990s will never be able to find their already endangered nostalgic items. They will become only memories, and completely extinct.

Author's Notes/Comments: 

2015, 2020

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