The Future of “Popular Textbooks”

The interwebs are going crazy this week in the bookselling world.  If you’re in at least one Facebook group, you know what I’m talking about.

Last month it was CDs.
Last week it was Nike.
This week, it’s textbooks.

Is the sky falling?  Is it no big deal?  What’s really going on here?

Although no one knows for sure (and conversations with a Seller “Support” rep are useless since they don’t know what’s going on either), this all seems to be a way for Amazon to wrestle back some control of their book marketplace.  With counterfeit textbooks, international editions, and instructor’s copies flooding the marketplace, Amazon has to do something.  In the past, they’ve simply restricted certain textbooks (0890425566, for example).  There are also a dozen titles where they have recently begun requesting invoices in order to sell them (0323087906), presumably because these titles have lots of counterfeits in the market.  Instead of treating these outliers as isolated events, Amazon seems to be creating a new sub category of “popular textbooks” to lump everything together.  This whole move is all about control.  And I, for one, am glad they appear to be creating a sub category to deal with these problematic titles rather than gating the entire books category!

What on earth is going on?  Let’s take a look at the back story…

Many booksellers received this email yesterday from Amazon:

Popular Textbooks Email

Many theories have been circulating as to why this email was sent out, including:

— this email was intended only for sellers with poor metrics

— it was aimed at sellers listing books as New or Like New

— it was only sent out if you’re not approved to sell Collectible Books

— perhaps the email was mistakenly sent out

If you ask Seller Support what’s going on, you’ll receive equally confusing information.  As a general rule, Seller Support is left in the dark when it comes to larger policy changes, so take everything they say with a grain of salt.  If you don’t believe me, try chatting with three different Seller Support agents and ask them the same questions about the new textbook policies – you’ll likely get three different answers!

Does history shed any light on this situation?

Although I can’t say for certain what exactly is going on behind the scenes at Amazon, this is extremely similar to what happened recently within the CD category.  It stands to reason that Amazon is following their own playbook here within the books category.  Let’s examine what happened to CD sellers:

**Since I never received an email about the CD category and am still able to sell “popular CDs”, this information is coming from other sellers who provided screenshots to me from their own accounts.**

Timeline with the Music Category:

May 9 – sellers received an email asking for three invoices for “popular products in the Music category”

May 24 – sellers received a follow-up reminder email, again asking for three invoices

June 20 – sellers received the following message:


We’ve previously reached out to you regarding your popular listings in the Music category.

Since we have not heard back from you, you may no longer sell certain popular products in the Music category and your listings for these products have been removed.

If you have any concerns about this decision, you may seek approval to list popular products in the Music category again by following the approval process in Seller Central.”

Many sellers who didn’t provide invoices had many of their CDs moved into stranded inventory, and when they tried to list some of these popular CDs, they showed up as restricted within their accounts.

The good news in all of this is that sellers can still request approval to sell these popular products in the Music category, even if they missed the cut-off date.  Here’s proof:


What’s interesting is that only one invoice is required now, not the three that were requested before.  Either way, many listings are still stranded and inactive until invoices are uploaded and (hopefully) approved for this newly-created sub category of Popular Music.

How does this apply to “popular” textbooks?

If Amazon follows their own playbook here, we can expect a similar implementation as Amazon carves out a new sub category of Popular Textbooks.

Many people still haven’t received the email requesting invoices/receipts of popular textbooks, so if you don’t receive that email it’s possible you may be grandfathered completely into the new sub category.  Either that or the email will reach your inbox shortly (I haven’t seen it personally, so I’m still holding my breath!).

If you did receive the dreaded email, here are some potential options:

Option A – Do nothing.  Sit back, grab your nearest lucky rabbit’s foot (or other preferred good luck charm), and hope the restrictions only impact a dozen or so titles across the entire spectrum of textbooks.  If/when the popular textbooks go into stranded inventory, you can see how many of your books are impacted and then track down invoices to provide to Amazon at a later date.  This is assuming that Amazon will allow you to still upload invoices after three weeks have gone by, like they did with CDs.

Option B – Send in whatever current receipts you have.  Even if your receipts are from online arbitrage purchases on Amazon or from local thrift stores, doing SOMETHING is better than doing NOTHING.  If these receipts aren’t accepted, you’ll likely have another opportunity to upload invoices after the three weeks are up (but again, no guarantees here).

Option C – Place orders from textbook publishers to get legitimate invoices/receipts.  Many textbook publishers allow you to buy directly from their websites.  Some examples include Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and Elsevier.  It may be well worth it to make a few purchases of a dozen books or so from three different publishers to receive legitimate purchase receipts from those companies.  You can find textbooks in their catalogs for under $30 – no need to spend $100+ on textbooks!  If you do your homework, you can even find books that can be flipped on Amazon quickly to minimize your out-of-pocket expenses (bonus points if you can find books you can flip for a profit on Amazon).  If these receipts are accepted and you’re approved to sell in this new sub category of Popular Textbooks, it’ll be worth every penny.

It would be extremely helpful for us as sellers if Amazon would provide a list of what they deem to be a “popular textbook” (hint, hint, Amazon), but in the absence of any specific direction from Amazon, we’re left in the dark.  Will this new sub category include 10 titles or 10,000 titles?  No one knows for sure.

With so many tainted listings and bad actors selling on Amazon, the market was due for a spring cleaning.  Some examples include sellers listing PDF versions of textbooks and other sellers intentionally listing international or instructor’s editions under the US student edition pages.  There were also counterfeit textbooks flooding the market over the past 12-18 months, which is why a small number of textbooks – including DSM-5, The Art of Public Speaking, etc. – have been completely banned for most sellers.  On one hand, it’s exciting that the market may finally get the “reset” it desperately needed.  On the other hand, hopefully Amazon’s new policies don’t take down most of the honest sellers in the process.

If you’ve received the “Popular Music” email related to CDs, submitted invoices, and received approval to sell in the new sub category, please comment below and share what type of invoices worked for you.

At the end of the day, it’s Amazon’s sandbox and they can do what they please, so it’s important to adapt to the changes as they happen – or risk getting left behind.  This whole thing may be getting blown out of proportion, but we for sure have at least three weeks to keep selling, track down invoices, and work on developing a Plan B.  In the meantime, take a deep breath, and we’ll keep everyone informed as we learn more.


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