Amazon’s Not-So-Best Practices
by Linda Austin, Moonbridge Publications, author of Cherry Blossoms in Twilight, www.moonbridgebooks.com
Amazon, friend of the self-published and delight of book readers wanting bargains and convenience, has been in the news recently for its latest strategies to conquer the publishing world. Business is business, but is Amazon taking the “nothing personal” to extremes? The purchasing public, mostly unaware or uncaring of Amazon’s new tactics, and many indie authors who feel they are unaffected still extol the virtues of Amazon, but all authors need to understand the repercussions of what Amazon is doing.
Amazon’s publishing services arm, CreateSpace, has been a godsend for self-publishers. For lower cost and with less negative stigma than other publishing services companies (e.g., LuLu, AuthorHouse), ease of use, and decent financial returns to authors, CreateSpace became the smart way to self-pub. Sales are only via Amazon, but for many authors that’s good enough. They can pay extra for the Expanded Distribution package, which gets their books into other systems such as Ingram and B&T (major wholesalers to bookstores and libraries), but Amazon won’t reveal its terms with Ingram and B&T, and it appears they are less than what booksellers and librarians are used to getting in order to stay in business. In other words, they won’t buy Amazon Expanded Distribution books unless customers order them, so think twice before coughing up the extra money. Authors can, however, purchase their own CreateSpace books at discount and approach local bookstores to carry them on consignment (bring along a marketing plan and be really gracious).
Enter Amazon’s bullying tactics. Last summer, Amazon began listing new books printed through Lightning Source stating delivery times of 1–4 weeks or more, even though books ordered were shipped immediately. Is the purpose to push Lightning Source (LSI) authors to also use CreateSpace for instant Amazon access? LSI books via Barnes & Noble show normal short delivery times. Authors printing new books via LSI will now need to check the stated delivery time on Amazon and be prepared to purchase or have friends purchase their books on Amazon until the delivery shows “in stock.” A few years ago, Amazon tried to force LuLu and other pub-services companies to use CreateSpace to print (instead of LSI), but a lawsuit caused them to back down.
Recently, Amazon began promoting its Kindle e-books lending library to Amazon Prime customers (one loan a month), and offered those e-books free to all customers during a five-day period if the author promised to sell their e-book exclusively through Amazon. This Kindle Select program was called a promotion to help authors gain publicity (and Amazon would gain customers for its Kindle undefined the Fire had just come out). Fortunately, due to the uproar, authors were then offered a percentage, based on how many of their free e-books were downloaded, of a pot of money Amazon set aside for them. Some authors have seen an increase in downloads of their free e-books and increased purchases of their regularly priced e-books. Of course, author marketing helps as does having multiple books or a series. Results are mixed from single e-book authors.
In late January Amazon attacked Goodreads, the top online reader community and review site, demanding that within one week Goodreads link only to it for sales. Goodreads refused, scrambling to arrange a deal with Ingram for its database. Amazon no longer allows Goodreads to pull book information from the Amazon database. Amazon Advantage authors and those using CreateSpace with Amazon ISBNs must enter their own book information into the Goodreads system so that readers can post reviews. A friend using Goodreads can also do this if provided with book information. Goodreads has kept their Amazon Buy links, but they are now buried under Options.
In another development, Midwest Book Reviews, long an important reviewer of self-published books, is no longer allowed to post its reviews to Amazon. Authors themselves must post their Midwest Book review to their book’s profile page.
Amazon has entered the publishing field in a big way via its own imprints to handle almost all genres (e.g., Montlake Romance). It acts as any other publisher vetting, buying rights, and producing books. Amazon has also struck deals with traditional publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) to have it produce Amazon-purchased manuscripts via new HMH imprints Mariner (in 2011) and New Harvest (in 2012). As of the New Harvest deal, B&N, Books-a-Million, and most surveyed bookstores have announced they will not be carrying any Amazon-pubbed books. “Hell no,” was apparently a common answer of indie bookstore owners. It remains to be seen whether Amazon will allow Ingram and B&T to offer their usual wholesale discount and returns to bookstores and libraries, a necessity for them to remain alive. The latest news is that Amazon will open a small storefront in Seattle to showcase its Kindles and its own books that no other bookstores want to sell.
Amazon is skating on thin legal ground with its demands for exclusivity and its willingness to sell books (and Kindles) at a loss to lure readers to purchase other (profitable) Amazon products. With Amazon throwing its massive weight around and the threat of neighborhood bookstores closing, taking author events and consignment sales with them, authors must keep up-to-date about choices that will determine the future of their book sales. Think carefully before letting Amazon (or any other company) own your ISBNs.
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