Amazon getting too big for their boots

I have some bad news that’s been circulating for a while and it’s not getting any better.

Firstly, an explanation. Hundreds of small press and independent authors like myself use Print On Demand (POD) technology to get quality work out to the public without the massive overheads of huge print runs. The cover price, sadly, reflects this and makes sales difficult. However, it’s the way of the future and the more the technology is used, the better deals we’ll all get and the wider choice everyone will have.

It’s like the indie music business. There was a time when bands and musicians said, “Fuck the labels!” and started producing and distributing their own material. At first it was laughed off, but now indie music is often considered to be the stuff with the most integrity, innovation and talent. The big labels mainly cover the manufactured pop stars these days. (That’s a massive and not entirely correct generalisation, but you get my point). So it will be with indie publishers before too long.

However, Amazon, under the guise of supporting the POD revolution, are actually wrangling a way to make even greater profits and hold even greater control over online booksales. The “other half” of POD publishing is online bookstores. The brick and mortar stores will rarely carry POD titles. Independent stores often will if you visit them individually, but there’s only so much of this that one indie press can manage. So, we rely on online sales and Amazon is by far the primary shop that people go to for their books.

So, now the bad news – Amazon have recently announced a deal with Booksurge to greatly enhance the profile of POD titles on Amazon. This seems initially like great news. But it’s not. Booksurge is a POD printer wholly owned by Amazon and Amazon are insisting that all publishers use Booksurge for all POD titles. They are even going so far as to suggest that they will switch off the buy buttons of POD books not produced by Booksurge and eventually even refuse to carry them.

As if we’re not struggling enough!

Check out this slashdot post and this Publishers Weekly article. Especially note the bullshit where Amazon states it “is not requiring that pod titles be printed exclusively through BookSurge” even though they make using any other POD printer a financial and logistical nightmare for publishers like us.

I’ll stop ranting now, but please get on board with this. The more we all discuss, debate and blog about this the more likely Amazon are to take notice. No one believes for a second that it’s all about a better service for their customers, as they are trying to claim. It’s all about a better profit margin for them. Support independent press, support indie writing and flip Amazon the bird in any way that you can so they hear the voice of the people they’re screwing.

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2 thoughts on “Amazon getting too big for their boots

  1. I think it makes sense for Amazon. If it truly is “print on demand”, then why on earth would they wait for days to procure a title from a POD publisher to then have customers wait further for delivery when Amazon themselves have better resources to be able to fulfil orders sooner by publishing said titles themselves. If increased sales are anything to go by, then maybe they are giving their customers better service.

    If you want to “flip Amazon the bird” then simply don’t try to sell through them. If you think of them as a label, like Sony, and yourself as an indie publisher then you shouldn’t really give a hoot what they do.

    But with increased exposure for POD titles and reported sales increases, I don’t see how this is all that bad for POD publishers?

  2. I get what you’re saying, Hank, but it’s not quite right. Amazon aren’t like the labels – that would be people like Harper Collins, Penguin and all the other big publishing houses. Amazon are the reseller or distributor. Independent creatives rely on good distribution options.

    The beauty of POD is having control and avoiding the big publishers. The power of POD is online sales. The biggest and most (customer) trusted online seller is Amazon. If Amazon now say, “We’ll continue to list your POD work, but only if you let us print it”, they corner a market and take the independence factor down a notch.

    There are numerous POD operations out there that use different printers and different methods. All will deliver product to Amazon. But now Amazon won’t take it.

    To belabour the indie music analogy, it’s like the biggest record store saying, “Sure, we’ll sell your independently produced music, but only if you pay us to press the CDs.”

    Not good.

    But sure, all publicity is good publicity, so it’s not all bad news.

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