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Amazon.com Responds to Criticism for Placement Payments

Online book retailer Amazon.com Inc. Tuesday revised its policies after news emerged some publishers were paying to have their books featured on the company's site.

Amazon said beginning March 1, feature placements on its site that have been paid for will be specially marked. The company declined to say how much it received for the placements, but published reports said the payments were as high as $10,000.

"We believe we're the first retailer to list this information for customers and we hope it will start a trend," said Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com's founder and chief executive officer.

Bezos stressed Amazon.com's book recommendations have never been sold. Only books slected by Amazon.com's editors qualify for publisher-supported placement, he said.

"We have the largest staff of book editors online or off and for a book that doesn't meet our standards, there is no amount of money that would cause us to feature it," he said.

Amazon.com had drawn sharp criticism from rivals, consumer advocates and independent booksellers for accepting money for featured treatment of certain books. Termed cooperative payments, the practice is common throughout the retail industry. However, it has sparked fierce debate among book retailers since an increasingly small number of publishers and retailers are controlling a substantial portion of the book market.

Industry analysts say although some bookstores accept payments to feature books in high-traffic locations, customers were upset when Amazon.com echoed the move since it has said its reviewers are editorially independent.

The company also amended its book returns policy. Amazon.com will now allow customers to return any book recommended by its reviewers for a refund. Previously, Amazon.com only accepted books for return if they had not been read.