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NEW YORK: E-commerce comes with its own conscience. founder Jeff Bezos poked his head out from a pile of hate e-mails Tuesday to announce that the online bookseller would revise its new "E-merchandising" program after widespread complaints from customers. The program, reported Monday in the New York Times, asked fees of as much as $12,500 from book publishers in exchange for placing their books under sales-boosting headers such as "What We're Reading" and "Destined for Greatness."'s editors, whose reviews have won the love and trust of many an online bibliophile, say they have always vetted books before highlighting them; to the idealistic Web, however, the program sounded a lot like payola.

The practice is common in the traditional book-selling world, and for the same reason isn't abandoning it altogether -- it makes booksellers money, in a business where profit margins are slim and getting slimmer all the time. says that starting March 1, it will inform customers which of its featured books it has been paid to showcase, and in the meantime the company will magnanimously expand its return policy, said Bezos, to any book, "no matter how dog-eared or worn it is." Will the policy flap ruin's good-as-gold reputation with its customers -- the very reputation that analysts credit with the site's continued success against ever-thickening competition? That may depend on whether web shoppers are ready to live in the real world of business.