Monday, April 13, 2009

Amazon does it again

Amazon has been in several controversial marketing ploys and apparently they aren't going to change any time soon. Previously, Amazon had decided to quit carrying POD (print on demand) books on their site. After sorting through all the reasons behind the decision, one remained clear, they wanted to create a market for their own CreateSpace POD publishing sector. They figured that they would be cutting into their own POD sales by selling competing POD books. They loosely categorized many publishers into the POD category, even if they weren't strictly POD books. This raised an uproar in the publishing community. Now that time has passed, Amazon has started allowing select books, which they previously restricted, back into their warehouse. I'm not sure if they are using sales rank as an indicator or not.
This brings us to their new decision. They have decided to remove the sales rankings from all books which contain homosexual or adult content. The result of this decision would mean that these books would not come up on their search engine, since it uses sales ranks as part of its process. The literary community has been in an uproar over this latest decision by Amazon. It also seems that romance books are being selectively included in this removal. If a book has adult content, then label it as such, but don't remove it. Amazon's filtering is also removing books without adult content.
Now they are responding that this was a glitch.
Of course, they won't fix this overnight but at least there is progress. Never doubt what a large group of individuals can do when banded together for a common cause.


Don said...

What will they do next, remove books printed with ink that they didn't produce? Like Walmart, Amazon is getting too big for their britches.

Elizabeth K. Burton said...

I keep hoping that if I repeat this often enough it will eventually drown out the misinformation that gained a foothold.

Amazon is not trying to corner the market on POD. It would be an exercise in futility at this point, and Amazon isn't stupid. Well, not about business. About communicating, they suck.

Amazon wanted to stop stocking POD books in their warehouses, as they do with books printed by other methods. Instead, they installed printing equipment in said warehouses so they could print on-demand titles...well, on-demand.

In order to do that, however, they had to have some kind of legal agreement with the publishers of said titles. The simplest way to achieve that for all concerned was to have them contract with Booksurge.

There are actually several up sides to this arrangement if the publisher was using a different printer and giving full discounts--i.e., 55% so that bookstores received the standard 40%. For them, signing with Booksurge would mean a higher return. It also meant giving Amazon a bigger share of the proceeds, which was the real basis of much of the outcry.

A fair number of those affected by Amazon's policy had been short-discounting. They only gave 30%. Or 20%. In some case, as low as 10%. At the same time, they were getting free all the marketing tools Amazon uses and free shipping. And Amazon was not only not making money on those sales but in the case of the really short discounts actually subsidizing them.

In other words, if Amazon sold a POD book with a 10% discount, and the buyer either made the minimum for free shipping or was a Prime member, Amazon was losing money on every sale. On hundreds if not thousands of sales.

And the free shipping and Prime programs were already loss-leaders for them. It got to the point where it threatened to damage their stock rating, which is disastrous for a publicly traded company.

The requirement that POD books be printed through Booksurge was not an evil plot to monopolize POD. It was a business decision based on the need to end the accumulated losses arising from the expense of storing, marketing and shipping books that were short-discounted.

Not one publisher who refused to sign with Booksurge was denied access to Amazon. They can continue to sell via Advantage and Marketplace. If you want a real-world analogy, what Amazon did is no different than Barnes & Noble charging publishers big fees for preferred placement. Which they do.

pmrussell said...

Actually, I've dealt first hand with Amazon. They told me in a letter that they would only carry POD books if they printed them with Book Surge. This is due to my personal inquiry to them. I know of several good authors whose books are not carried through Amazon. Carrying them second hand does not look good to the eyes of the consumer. However, Amazon has since begun to selectively carry certain books they previously refused. There is no denying that Amazon has a big voice in the industry. Lets hope they use in responsibly in the future.

Elizabeth K. Burton said...


I know it sounds like nitpicking, but I think it's important it remain clear that Amazon isn't actually printing with Booksurge in the same way Ingram prints with Lightning Source. The issue is they need to have that connection in order to print the books in the warehouse, which is what they do.

Nor are Advantage and Marketplace "second hand." Advantage is how the bulk of the merchandise available on Amazon comes to be there.

As an adjunct to what I said previously, it's a fact that it takes longer to ship POD books from the printer than it does books already printed, since they have to be manufactured. And if Amazon ran out of a title, they had to wait till the publisher/author sent a new shipment. As a result, books produced in that manner tended to be listed as out of stock more often than their offset-printed counterparts.

When Amazon can print the books themselves, they're never out of stock. The books ship immediately. That can actually translate to more sales than if the buyer finds that "currently out of stock" message.

The one thing to keep in mind about Amazon is this: it's always about the customer.