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ARGABRIGHT: Let The Buyer Beware

INDIANAPOLIS — I’m trying hard to put a good spin on the situation, but so far I’ve had no luck.

I was looking on Amazon the other day for an electronics device, an obscure piece that’s difficult to find. As I finished my search I casually plugged “Argabright, Dave” into the Amazon search field.

It was surprising to see most of my racing books pop up for sale on Amazon.

Several times through the years we’ve researched the idea of selling on Amazon, but for a variety of reasons never pursued it. Life isn’t easy for sellers on Amazon, because the giant takes a big — some would say prohibitive — chunk of the revenue in the process. In our little corner of the world, it’s always made more sense to sell directly to race fans through our website, as well as through devoted motorsports booksellers such as Coastal 181 and the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame gift shop.

It has never bothered me to see used copies of my books show up on various reselling platforms. Lots of folks sell books they’ve already read, and that’s to be expected.

But the new wrinkle I recently discovered is, in a word, disturbing.

Our book with Earl Baltes, “EARL!” is listed on Amazon as new for $175. Yet we sell that exact book through our website, brand new, for $29.95. It was a reality check that anybody can buy a product at retail and then list it on Amazon as “rare” at a massively inflated price.

Yeah, I know: All’s fair in love and business.

But the most pressing question is this: Why would somebody pay $175 for a book that can easily be purchased directly from the publisher for $29.95?

Maybe it’s because people have slowly become sheep, living through tech giants like Amazon. If it’s not for sale on Amazon, it doesn’t exist, right? Just buy everything through Amazon because it’s … easy.

It’s also not difficult to see how this works: List an item at a massive markup, and then sit tight. Sooner or later, somebody wanders in after falling off the turnip truck, and … bingo! Sold.

A legitimate markup for providing a service has driven capitalism since the beginning of time. But marking up an item almost 600 percent for the convenience of free shipping seems, well, kinda steep.

Let me be very clear: You are welcome to buy “EARL!” on Amazon for $175. That’s your privilege, of course. But my late friend Mr. Baltes would probably chuckle at the situation and recall something P.T. Barnum pointed out about a sucker being born every minute.

There are tens of thousands of legitimate sellers on Amazon, each of them hoping to reach 150 million-plus Amazon Prime shoppers. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is now worth somewhere north of $200 billion, the wealthiest human being on the planet. Amazon has done such a phenomenal job with shipping and delivery that the expectations of millions of consumers have been completely reshaped. Amazon is kinda big, you might say, and they aren’t going away anytime soon.

But my recent experience has been something of a wake-up call; and it will definitely influence where I purchase things. Who is the seller? Can I get a better deal elsewhere? And should I care enough about the big picture to try and support merchants directly, instead of through Amazon?

The technology of buying and selling might be different today, but that old Latin phrase still applies: Caveat emptor. Let the buyer beware.

Dave Argabright’s books are available from DaveArgabright.com.

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