Friday, March 28, 2008

500 pound gorilla

Once upon a time there was a river in Brazil. It was the largest river in the world. Then the Internet came along and a young man decided that he wanted to sell books on it. He named his company after that river. Today, it has become the 500 pound gorilla in the bookselling trade.

A few years ago, this company began to expand by buying other companies. One of the companies purchased was a small print-on-demand (POD) company. No one thought much about it at the time, since the company was small and didn't seem to have a good customer service record. Fast forward to this month...

It appears that people who try to sell POD on said river's site now need to use only that company, or lose their coveted "Buy now" button, and free shipping with it.

Why am I talking in ciphers? I guess I don't want to give any glory to them, but enough of that; let's talk straight:

Amazon's POD subsidiary BookSurge is telling people that if they don't switch their POD to them, the "Buy Now" button will be turned off. So what, you say? Well, let's allow someone else to tell you who is an expert:

Amazon/BookSurge would make money two ways on sales - first the fee for printing the books, and then 48% of the list price of each sale through Lightning Source allows its customers to set their own discount rate for Amazon and other retail sales, and does not force POD publishers or authors to pay "48%."

Furthermore, it could take the larger POD publishers months to submit their book files to Amazon/BookSurge, at a considerable cost and number of man-hours. This makes the deal even less attractive. Finally, while the initial list of books submitted by POD publishers could be submitted to Amazon/BookSurge for free, the contract states future books would cost $50 each to process. The cost for individual authors to publish through BookSurge is considerably more, with an average publishing package cost of more than $1,000.

Since Amazon/BookSurge does not offer Ingram distribution (Ingram distribution is considered imperative in the industry for bookstore sales), any company that accepts the Amazon/BookSurge deal, who desires to keep offering Ingram distribution, may need to maintain two copies of the book files. Since the Amazon/BookSurge current specs don't match the Lightning Source specs, future book files, both interior and cover, may need to be formatted separately. So, they would have to pay double the setup fees and might have to do double the formatting work as well...or pay designers to do double the formatting work.

Likewise, self-published authors who believe they must have Ingram Distribution AND an active "buy" button on Amazon to be successful may need to pay double the setup fees (to a POD publisher AND Amazon/BookSurge), and also may need to create two separate sets of formatted files.

<idle musing>
Hmmm, can you say anti-trust?

While I am no big fan of self-published books—I believe in peer review and not because I work for a publisher!—I also believe it has its place for books that have a print run of 30-50 for families or community organizations, churches, etc. This move by amazon has some serious repercussions for the POD world, and also for the book world, whether you are an author or reader.

Do take the time to read the whole article and feel free to comment here. I don't censor comments except for profanity. You can disagree with me and sing the praise of amazon if you want, but remember that every penny you spend there is an endorsement of this new policy.

Support your independent bookseller (of course that includes Eisenbrauns)
</idle musing>


Anonymous said...

One more reason, I'm beginning to prefer abebooks, Windows Booksellers and Eisenbrauns for all by used book needs.

Jon Stock said...

Thanks for posting this. In a much nicer fashion, Ingram has been pressuring us to place our slower books with LSI. It may be time for some sort of "union" of publishers to band together, form a co-operative "direct to publisher" sales portal and find some leverage to keep these two 'gorillas' from dictating all the terms of how business is done. Someday we may all be working for Amazon or WallMart :-).

Anonymous said...

A good case can be made that what Amazon is attempting to do violates anti-trust laws. Waiting for federal anti-trust action would take many years--years to get the Justice Department to act, years of trials, years of fussing over what the court decision means. Notice how long it took to deal with Microsoft's tactics, despite the fact that the corporations they were bullying were large and powerful. None of us can afford that long a wait.

Action at the state level, however, could move much faster, particularly if it involves off-the-record contact and a somber warning from those who can make trouble for Amazon. Amazon is headquartered in Seattle about a ten minute drive from the office of the Antitrust division of the Washington state attorney general. Here's the contact information:

Office of the Attorney General

Antitrust Division

800 Fifth Avenue, Suite 2000

Seattle, WA 98104-3188

Telephone: 206-587-5510

Fax: 206-464-6338

Note the remark on that web page that "The Antitrust Division only processes complaints that involve either Washington State residents or businesses located in Washington State." Amazon is in Washington state, so it matters not where you are. You might also want to raise the issue with your state attorney general's antitrust office, asking them to get in touch with their colleagues in Seattle. If you're a publisher, encourage your authors to write. If you're an author, encourage other writers to contact them.

It might be best to call followed up by a letter or fax.