Amazon’s Local Stake: AbeBooks

AbeBooks is a Victoria e-commerce success that is now owned by Amazon - but not much has changed.

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One of Victoria’s great e-commerce successes has been owned by Amazon since 2008. AbeBooks originally the Advanced Book Exchange started shortly after Amazon. But where Amazon soon spread out to become a marketplace for other merchandise and services, AbeBooks has maintained its focus on antique and collectible books. It is now just starting to branch out into art and paper collectibles, such as postcards and magazines, says Richard Davies, the company’s public relations and content manager.

Innovative Beginning

AbeBooks began after Cathy Waters, who owned Timeless Books in Colwood, became frustrated with having to place ads in trade magazines to track down rare books for her customers. She and her husband, Keith, an information technology specialist with the B.C. government, got together with friends Rick and Vivian Pura to launch an online marketplace to connect booksellers and buyers from all over the world.

The company sold to German firm Hubert Burda Media in 2003. By the time Amazon took over, five years later, the founders had left AbeBooks.

AbeBooks Today

AbeBooks now has about 135 employees, including 100 in Victoria and 35 in Dusseldorf, Germany. That’s not a huge increase from the 100 employees the company had back in 2004, as reported in the Times Colonist.

“We try to grow in other ways, by working smarter, by having better processes, by automating processes so we do less things manually,” Davies says during an interview at
a coffee shop near the AbeBooks office in Victoria West.

At the time Amazon bought AbeBooks, concerns were raised that it would soon be absorbed by the tech giant. But that hasn’t happened. It remains a standalone subsidiary, although it has been required to adopt Amazon’s corporate culture. An example of that culture is how Amazon holds meetings. Before anyone speaks, a document is distributed and everyone is given about 10 minutes to read quietly to themselves.

Amazon’s Scope

AbeBooks is among about three dozen subsidiary firms linked at the bottom of Amazon’s home page. Others include shoe retailer Zappos, the Internet Movie Database and Whole Foods.

AbeBooks is such a small part of Amazon that founder Jeff Bezos has never visited even though Amazon is headquartered in nearby Seattle. Many other senior Amazon executives do visit regularly, though.

“The float plane terminal they get good business from us going back and forth to Seattle,” Davies says.

This article is from the December/January 2019 issue of Douglas.