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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

January 25, 2007 at 4:09 PM

Seattle bookseller rallying online merchants

Phil Bevis, the Seattle bookseller who fought to keep his customer records private from Patriot Act snooping, has another crusade.

Bevis is challenging new international postal rates that could hit online booksellers especially hard.

Rates are going up 13 percent on average, but Bevis is most upset about a change in shipping categories that will force him to ship large books overseas via costly air mail instead of surface mail.

If you can’t use cheap surface mail to ship the books, the shipping costs become too high for the used book sales, he said.

“Most computer books, even a Tom Clancy hardcover or art books, are too big. You run into this weight-value issue over that format and it makes sense to use surface mail,” he said. “Their proposal — for a buyer of a Tom Clancy hardcover — would take that from being a $7 fulfillment cost to high $20s. You’re taking about a tripling of fulfillment costs.”

Bevis is trying to round up support among online merchants.

To make his case, he provided statistics from Abebooks.com, a Victoria, B.C., online book marketplace that represents 8,500 U.S. bookstores. Last month 51 percent of its international orders from U.S. booksellers specified surface mail.

The rate proposal almost escaped notice, Bevis said, because it was published in the Federal Register during the busiest time of year for booksellers and small online commerce operations.

“Until February we’re all hamsters running on the wheels, you know?” he told me. “They put this thing up in the Federal Register and nobody commented. I don’t know whether it was intentional or not.”

So far Bevis has had a small victory. The Post Office this week told him it would extend the comment period on the rates through Feb. 2, beyond the original Jan. 19 deadline. He said that will give him time to get trade associations and big players like Amazon.com and Powells involved.

Comments | More in | Topics: E-commerce

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