In this article:
Amazon‘s “textbook apocalypse” email.
- Why I believe the two biggest textbook rumors are false.
- My theories as to what is really happening.
- Why this may be limited to New and Like New books.
- Why this may be limited to only three publishers.
Amazonwon’t ban textbooks.
- Steps you can take right now.
So what’s happening?
Over the last week,
The email was beyond vague, creating understandable panic among booksellers.
In this article, I’m turning over every stone on what we know, what we don’t, and what I think is to come.
Some context to set the stage:
I just passed my 10 year anniversary selling on
And then a few months later, no one even remembers the drama.
That doesn’t mean bad things don’t happen. It means with
In my decade selling on
With the understanding that developments on
What’s the “Textbook Apocalypse” email?
Here it is:
Analyzing the Textbook Apocalypse email: What’s
The key points we can extract from this email are:
- Certain restrictions will be implemented for textbooks.
- These restrictions will apply to “popular” textbooks.
Amazonis requesting receipts and invoices for textbooks in certain seller’s inventories.
What are the theories about what is happening?
Let’s run down the Top Two things
You don’t have to look any further than
(I will give my theory as to what I think that means in a second).
Rumor #2: These are global changes affecting every seller.
Right off the top, evidence is strong this is not a restriction on textbooks for all sellers. I have not (yet?) received the email. And I’ve been in touch with many more who have not received the email (
It’s possibly too early to say, but based on this evidence alone, these potential restrictions are less severe than the DVD restrictions of 3 years ago, which affected all sellers.
It’s hard to say roughly what percentage of sellers are getting this email (or if all sellers will receive it eventually). I’ve corresponded with about 30 sellers about this, and one pattern that stands out is all but one have opened their account in the last two years. So this could be something limited to newer sellers (jump in the comments if your experience differs).
As far as other factors, things like feedback score seem to have nothing to do with it.
Predicting the future hinges on deciphering two words
These are the two imporant words used in the email:
The restrictions center on these two words, and I’m going to spend a lot time discussing them in this article.
But first, digging deeper: Decoding more
Now let’s get beyond
I asked a couple dozen sellers to follow up with
(If you missed it, they can be so lazy they’ve been caught copying and pasting FBA Mastery articles in their responses.)
With that understanding, let’s look at what
Will all textbooks be restricted? A: No.
And what should a seller do if they want restrictions lifted?
“Books which may have hype?” Yes these are actual quotes. Zero clarity. Thanks
How do we interpret these quotes?
- Restrictions will only apply to top selling textbooks.
- If a seller is restricted, they can request for the restriction to be lifted (a la DVDs and many other categories).
Based on their broken-English responses, we’re still quite far from a “textbook ban.”
Let’s go even deeper into what this coded language could really mean and see if we can extract anything optimistic.
What does “popular textbook” mean? Decoding
When asked directly, remember
Don’t believe me? Check out this screenshot:
So I had to do my own research, and I have two strong theories as to what the “restrictions” will mean when all the smoke clears.
Here is my first theory about what’s happening:
- Pearson Leaning
- Mcgraw and Hill
The lawsuits were to force
These publishers also sued other entities in the bookselling business, such as textbook middleman Follett.
“In order to prevent the fake products, the restriction has been implemented.”
This language is very telling.
My suspicion: “popular” is code for:
“Textbooks published by the companies who sued us.”
We’ve seen similar brand-specific restrictions in the past, where the situation was very congruent (
Based on the lawsuit, whatever restrictions come may be publisher-specific. Probably affecting books by Cengage, Pearson Leaning, and Mcgraw & Hill. Nothing certain here, but that’s what the evidence points to.
This isn’t great news, yet hardly devastating: there is no single publisher I could be restricted from that would put more than a dent in my business.
Theory #2: The restrictions might be condition-based
Another theory I’ll float is this will be limited to books in New and Like New condition only.
Here’s some clues:
Last month, many sellers suddenly found they were restricted from listing certain textbooks in New or Like New condition. It seemed to affect only certain textbooks and not others. And when I asked sellers what textbooks were being restricted, 100% of them were published by one of the three publishers who sued
So what we’re seeing now could simply be the “official rollout” of what has already been happening to
The “upcoming restrictions” may be nothing more than what’s already been unofficial practice for the past month already.
If true, all we have to do is keep our listings to Very Good condition, move on, and forget this ever happened.
If so, this is very good news because it simply won’t affect most
And what if Theory #1 and #2 are both true?
Best case (and not implausible) scenario.
If these upcoming restrictions are in fact limited to New or Like New condition and from three publishers only, this week will be looked upon as the most overblown drama in
What is a “textbook”? Decoding
The other operative word from the Textbook Apocalypse email was “textbook.”
Classifying a book as a “textbook” is hopelessly impossible, since “textbook” just means a book used in college. Which is most books at some point.
In the emails I’ve seen from
“Books used for study purposes.”
(Including Harry Potter.)
“Study purposes”? Such vivid clarity. Thanks
This is why
You can’t really ban textbooks, because “textbook” has no definition. “Textbook” is not defined by a book size, or format, or binding, or anything else. It is simply a book used in college classroom. And just about every book finds its way into a college syllabus at some point.
You simply cannot manage what cannot be defined.
So let’s say
Well there actually is a category on
Here is the total number of books
This (large) figure is actually good news, because we can confidently say
For one, that’s just too many books. You can never say never, but the impact would be so seismic, it’s almost unthinkable. Books are
Two, when you look at what
As covered, this is all motivated by pressure from big textbook publishers for
Good news: Generally the only textbooks that are counterfeited are very new, very high-demand textbooks.
This is just the economic reality: Counterfeiters are going to put their efforts towards the bestselling, highest value books.
We’re talking about a very small sliver of the textbook pie. I’ve never heard of a textbook being heavily counterfeited that wasn’t steadily ranked in the top 30,000 (usually it’s 10,000 or better). Yes old counterfeit copies can float around and circulate, but if you’re trying to curb counterfeiting, you’re only going after the most well-ranked books.
Why right now this looks worse than it probably is
- People are panicking without reading
Amazon‘s email. It’s understandable to see the words “provide invoices” and freak out. I don’t blame anyone, but panic can cloud soberly seeing what Amazonis actually saying: “We’re planning on restricting certain popular textbooks.” And the nature of the restrictions has yet to be revealed. It may only be books in New or Like New condition. Or it could go away altogether. Way too early to say.
- Recent changes creates negative momentum and makes everything seem apocalyptic. After new FBA fees hit, we’re all a little shellshocked and extra sensitive.
Amazonrolls back restrictions all the time. Remember the panic about retail arbitrage about a year ago? Amazon(mostly) retreated from that pretty quick. And now no one even talks about it.
- People relying on frenzied commentary in forums. I’ve said it a thousand times: Sourcing your info from Facebook is a fast way to be paranoid and misinformed. It’s not entirely bad, but it must be approached with extreme caution.
How am I responding to the Textbook Apocalypse email?
I haven’t received the email, but in case I do, I’ve done two things:
- I placed a removal order for my New condition and Like New condition textbooks. Fortunately, it wasn’t many books.
- Placed all my textbooks from Cengage, Pearson Leaning, and Mcgraw & Hill (and their imprints) on “inactive” status. I’m not exactly recommending everyone do this, and this is definitely a paranoid, “better safe than sorry” move. I’m trying to stay off
Note I put them on “inactive” status (removed the listings from being live) – that’s not the same as a removal order. The books are still at the
What would I do if I had received the email (i.e. if I were you)?
We saw this with DVDs. When the restrictions went into effect about 3 years ago, some who acted quickly (unlike me) were able to get full access to DVDs.
So if I had received the email (or if I do this week), I would provide the best receipts I have right away.
I would also open a support ticket and formally place a request with
Amazonis not banning textbooks. Amazonmay restrict certain textbooks.
- It may only be books from certain publishers.
- It may only be books in certain conditions.
- It may even be books of certain demand.
- No one knows anything.
Or, you know, I could be wrong about literally everything.
Your to-do list
- Don’t accept fear spread in forums.
- Defer to the evidence.
- Remember that it’s never as bad as it seems in the beginning.
- Consider removing books from the aforementioned publishers from your inventory.
- Consider removing textbooks in New and Like New condition.
Amazonand request clarification on their vague email.
Amazonthe most legit-looking receipts you have.
- If you’re in a position to place an order and get receipts from an actual book wholesaler, do it.
- If you’re in any Facebook groups that might benefit from this article, please share it.
- As promised, Part IV of my article on new FBA fees is coming. I’ll be covering how new fees have dramatically changed what your scanning app shows you.
- Get my free book.
- If you’ve receive any revealing responses from
AmazonSeller Support, please post in the comments below.
- Post your other insights or theories in the comments below.
- 50% off new tool: Speaking of restricted categories, check out my friend Jordan Malik’s new browser extension “CheckPermission,” that tells you instantly which products you’re approved to sell – live, in real time, as you browse
Amazon. Very cool, and only $15 with coupon code “zen50” at this link.
PS: If you’re more of a video person, I made a video of this article. Feel free to share, and subscribe to my You Tube channel (lots more videos coming):