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What Is Amazon Up To?

The Big Bully on the Playground

If you’re a self-published author, especially if you’re using print-on-demand (POD), you’re probably aware of the story circulating the Internet alleging that is using bullying tactics. Those are the nice reports. Other reports and comments allegedly accuse Amazon of trying to create a monopoly, which violates anti-trust laws.

How is supposed to be doing this? Well, Amazon has decided, allegedly, that authors and publishers using POD (especially those who print through Lightning Source, purported to be the largest printer of POD books around) should begin using BookSurge to print their books. BookSurge is Amazon’s POD arm.

If you do not port your titles to BookSure and/or sign up to have all your future books printed via BookSurge, Amazon has announced, allegedly, that it will remove the “buy” button from your book’s Amazon page. To date, a number of publishers have already had this happen.

I received news of this through Twitter. A good friend posted a link to Angela Hoy’s detailed note about this issue, and I hopped over to read it. Angela said, “Some Print on Demand (POD) publishers are privately screaming “Monopoly!” while others are seething with rage over startling phone conversations they’re having with Amazon/BookSurge representatives.” She claims we’re all afraid. But that doesn’t seem to me to be the case, as over 80 blogs have been taking Amazon to task over this and continue to draw comments from loyal readers and followers.

Over at Publishing For Profit, the idea is that Amazon is doing this for “. . . a whole bunch of possible reasons, including the recent trend toward non-trade discounts on some types of books sold through LSI/Ingram, a grab for vertical integration and larger market share in an evolving marketplace, or a misguided bit of executive hubris.”

That’s a mouthful, if you ask me.

I wrote about this on our publishing blog, and it just seems to me that Amazon knows it’s the 800-pound gorilla in the room and that it can run the POD world if it chooses to do so. It seems that they don’t really care about the little guy. What they seem to care most about is making profits and, if they can lean on small press publishers and self-published authors, they will.

Over at Anita Campbell’s Small Business Trends blog, she writes, “Amazon May be on Receiving End of Internet Justice” and goes on to say, “The news hit the Web a few days ago. Authors and smaller publishers that rely on print-on-demand technology as part of their business models, are not amused. In fact, they’re outraged, and the Internet is abuzz with the issue. Isn’t it ironic that a company that owes its growth and market power to the Internet may see the other end of Internet justice, as word-of-mouth spread by the Internet turns against Amazon?”

Anita links to Pearlsong Press, which writes, “Bully on the Block?” They say, “Some in the industry are referring to it as an ‘offer you can’t refuse.’ Terms like ‘strongarm tactics’ and ‘bullying’ are also being used.” The Pearlson Press article then goes on to explain how POD changes the dynamics of publishing, especially at the money end. According to them, “More than 50 percent of all academic presses utilize print-on-demand printing,” citing The Wall Street Journal. And they say that, “Even the big commercial publishing houses use print-on-demand technology to print ‘backlist’ titles.”

Overall, many writers and bloggers agree that Ingram has a hand in this, somehow. It’s the largest wholesale book distributor I know of, and it carries Lightning Source books for many POD publishers. Ingram and LS are definitely joined at the hip. Certainly Lulu, one of the biggest POD firms in the country, uses Lightning Source, as does Angela Hoy’s POD company, Booklocker. And yet, Lulu CEO Bob Young has not chimed in on this issue. I went to the Lulu forums and read notes from authors begging him to join the fight, but so far I have only found a WSJ quote saying something about publishers needing to comply if they still want to sell via Amazon. Say what, Bob? Even the Lulu blog is silent on the issue.

Let’s end with some quotes from this blog, Self Publishing, where the post is very articulate and pointed: “A New Amazon Mandate? Say it ain’t so, Jeff.” (Angela Hoy is keeping a list of sites that post on this. Today, March 31st, she says April 1st is the cut-off for many POD publishers. Either they comply, or their books lose the “buy” button.) Morris Rosenthal at Foner Books (the underlying company for this Self Publishing blog) says, “What’s troubling about this and other stories I’ve heard of from Lightning Source publishers is that BookSurge reps have had the gall to hide behind the claim of better serving Amazon customers.” And then, “By allegedly attempting to strong-arm publishers into using Booksurge, which is a losing financial proposition for many publishers compared to staying with their current printer, Amazon may well make a few more books available for Prime shipping…But Amazon is a huge corporation with plenty of room for mistakes, and I’d like to believe that some rogue operators in their publishing division have been overstepping their responsibilities.”

One can only hope.

To join in the conversation and to support small presses that use POD, hop over and check out this petition to put a stop to this ridiculous policy: “Stop the BookSurge Monopoly”

Tags: amazon, beneath the cover, booksurge, p.o.d., POD, print on demand book publisher, print on demand publishers, print on demand publishing

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  • Yvonne DiVita

    Latest updates on this issue – a letter on Amazon's website discussing why they are doing this: Once again, they cite 'customer service'…but they're just being unfair to POD publishers.

    And, from Lightning Source, the POD printer owned by Ingrams, which most POD publishers use, had this to say: (in an email to Angela Hoy)

    From visiting Angela's site, where she is trying to keep everyone updated, it seems that Lulu has given in and signed the new deal with Amazon.

  • chris

    we have posted a form that easily allows anyone affected by this to personally contact the washington state attorney general's office

    Thanks for your support!

  • Author

    You say: "Overall, many writers and bloggers agree that Ingram has a hand in this, somehow. It’s the largest wholesale book distributor I know of, and it carries Lightning Source books for many POD publishers. Ingram and LS are definitely joined at the hip."

    It'd be more accurate to say that Ingram is almost certain to be privately very unhappy about this. They dominate the pod market because through Lightning Source they provide quality printing and excellent service at a good price. If Amazon is successful they and their affiliate Lightning Source will loose a lot of business to Amazon/BookSurge. They'll be totally out of the printing and distribution loop, something that's no doubt high on Amazon's agenda. Amazon wants to increase their profit by squeezing everyone else, using its market share to get special treatment and using those cheaper prices to get more market share. The end result with put book publishing into a death spiral.

    And other moves by Amazon here and in the UK, suggest that Amazon will soon be trying to pressure publishers that aren't using pod to sign up for BookSurge to stay on Amazon.

    It's Microsoft all over again. There seems to be something about the business climate in Seattle that turns executives into bullies, some hold-over from the Victorian era of Robber Barons when Seattle was founded.

    Publishers, large and small and authors who don't want the industry distorted by one rogue business, need to develop ways to reduce Amazon's marketshare and power.

  • Yvonne DiVita

    Author, I wish I knew who you are, but you are totally correct. My continued reading and following this story shows how right you are. But, Amazon has not won yet…read this week's report and what folks are doing (which you likely know, already)

  • http://?none sadie penzato

    i self-published my book, GROWING UP SICILAN & FEMALE IN '91–4000 copies, have only 500 left. when first published i got orders from Amazon, after a while, a year or two, i got none. when i looked up my book on amazon it said, 6-8 MONTHS for delivery-changed from the 4-5 Weeks i had incicated. i contacted them and they said i had to keep my books stored with them and allow them a 53% cut on sales. i told them to shove it. i am past promoting my book, but still get orders, FULL PRICE, 17 years after first (and only) publication.