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AMAZON.COM Trying To Force Out POD publishers.

I've already posted this in the Self Publishers group, but feel that it's of wider interest because it could affect anybody who is published with small presses that rely on lightningsource's POD technology to create books and place them on amazon.

One of the main allures of POD publishing has been the "amazon connection" and it's become almost the definition of what "published" means or what a "real book" is.

Now amazon is starting to jerk the "BUY" button from POD books (meaning those published by lightningsource, the only major POD printer) and only allow direct sales of books published on their BookSurge subsidiary.

I've been in the amazon offices and met execs and middle-management there. I've been screwed out of promised money by them...the kind of deal where you could win in court but it wouldn't be worth a couple of hundred bucks.
They are an arrogant company with very little conscience. Hopefully this idiocy will be reversed, but it's certainly a chilling wind for self-publishers.
One of several articles HERE

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I saw this on The Bookseller website yesterday and it left me more than a little concerned also I have to say. At least American writers have a chance to find other avenues to sell their books within their own country, but for overseas authors like me, that choice is much more limited, as we operate to a different time zone and making endless calls to various US book stores etc is just too expensive. Mind you, as a friend of mine once said, if they close the front door there is always the back door, the windows and the roof ...
Good attitude June

Nevertheless, writers shouldn't have to scramble to the fire-escape. Hopefully better heads will prevail on this.
I think Amazon is making a huge mistake that will come back to bite them. I've blogged on this here:

http://principledprofit.com/good-business-blog/amazons-stupid-anti-...

Permission granted to reproduce in whole or in part in any newsletter, blog, or website, as long as the following attribution is included, and the excerpts are not taken out of context:

By Shel Horowitz, author of Grassroots Marketing for Authors and Publishers, http://www.grassrootsmarketingforauthors.com . Originally published in Principled Profit: The Good Business Blog
I doubted that competitors like B&N would exploit this dumbass move, and sure enough, everybody is closing ranks on it. Weird, since they don't have subsidiary publishers like amazon does.
I doubt that lightningsource will fight it. Hard to fight your retailer.

HOWEVER
I have come up with an idea for what writers can do to combat this, increase profits on books, save readers money, and have some solidarity.

I'm posting a copy here of the letter I sent to Angela Hoy...at the end is a nice solution to this:

Hello, Ms. Hoy


Your WW column was my first inkling of what I guess I'll call the Amazon Outrage. I have some comments on that which you might find interesting. I have no desire to blog or write them up, but think there might be a solution in here somewhere. You are welcome to use anything I write to your here.

I've been familiar with amazon.com from their early days when I was a journalist in Seattle. I even applied to write consumer stuff for them at one time. And I've been a customer. All three experiences reinforced my impression that they have a very deeply rooted corporate culture of arrogance, self-conviction, and what it's hip to call "evil". They stiffed me for a hundred bucks and dared me to take it to court. They respond to any accusation of wrong-doing with the bland assurance that "we're amazon, our managers wear nose rings and ripped jeans, we can do no wrong, who the hell are you".

Which I mention mostly to indicate that I consider them not only unboycottable (like sanctions ever accomplished anything and writers could ever organize) but also immune to bad publicity. They just don't care.

If you don't mind a digression before presenting my "how to bell the cat" solution for writers, I think it's important to realize how much amazon's listings have been in driving the explosion of small presses and individual expression in recent years. Sure, everybody knows about toner-based "printing" providing the technology, but the automatic link to amazon has been very powerful, if only as a dream convincing people they can pay a few hundred bucks and be out there on the world market.

And they are. Presence on amazon has become a new definition of what "published" means. What a "real book" is. Quibble as you will, if I'm on amazon I'm a real author in the world's face and that's that. I sure this is not a new idea to you, but it underscores why I think this is a really important issue to keep from withering the "thousand flowers bloom" we've been seeing in publishing.

So what can writers do? You've gathered that I don't think picket lines, publicized outrage or calls to boycott are going to help much. I also think it's very doubtful that competitive outfits like B&N will exploit this to compete with amazon: much more likely they'll roll over. In fact, it could have been something already agreed on by all parties.

I think there is a powerful tool that could be used, though, and am interested in spreading it as a "viral" concept that might help writers and just MIGHT be a threat that amazon would recognize.

The chink in the armor is "third party selling". What I suggest is the formation of large co-operative selling groups of writers with the intent to sell their books as "New or used". The BUY botton may evaporate, but the "third party" links are still there and I think even amazon would think twice about removing that activity.

It costs money to be a third party vendor. Not a problem for 20 writers from a coffee house clach. Or 100 joined by some organizer from a website. Or a "big small" POD publisher like Bewrite or Whiskey Creek. And they could easily acheive enough sales volume to save money by becoming the amazon equivalent of a Power Seller. And could easily post prices for new books well under amazon's list, making the link look attractive. It might actually be a better way to sell your book than letting amazon take a cut.

Of course, there's a good chance some beancounter jerk up in Seattle would end up seeing this as detrimental to fiscal performance against leveraged expectations of increase in the decrease of BookSurge projected revenues and get rid of THAT, though.

But I think it's the only effective tool writers can use against this. At best, the threat of it might cause a reversal of this policy. At best, it might provide more profit for writers, some exercise in solidarity, and cheaper books for the public.

Thanks for your attention

Linton Robinson
I also contacted Angela, as I wanted to try and find out what impact this might have on overseas authors. after all, it seems a bit unfair to penalise us in the same way, I mean it's not as if Booksurge has UK offices, and it would make no sense for overseas authors to use a US printer either, by the time shipping costs, currency conversion charges etc are taken into account. It would end up costing more, even with the weak dollar at the moment !

Here then is what I wrote and her reply, which I understand will be published soon:

"Thanks so much, June!

Richard will post your comment today.

I agree what they're doing defies logic. From what I've read, you might
be lucky to be in the UK. It seems your anti-trust laws might be a bit
more stringent than ours.

What's interesting is this...even if WE are in the U.S., our books do
appear on U.K. website. I wonder how that might muck up their plans, too?

Big hugs!!!
Ang

"Dear Angela

As a UK based print on demand author I am following the amazon and Booksurge debacle with some interest. As I am sure you are aware, Lightning Source also have a printing plant in Milton Keynes in the UK. I wonder if this situation then also extends to UK operations and whether amazon will try and pull this stunt with UK authors and publishers. I cannot help but feel that if they try this will backfire for them spectacularly. Print on demand is now big business in our country being no longer confined to self publishers as even large publishers are now embracing it to bring their back list titles back into circulation.

What amazon are doing defies all logic and goes against all business sense and protocol. The number of titles published here in the UK last year reached a record high and this has largely been attributed to POD - not because of Booksurge, but because of Lightning Source, who are far and away the biggest POD printer. Are they really going to risk losing this level of sales - if so this is indeed commercial suicide. They need to understand that they are not the only internet retailer out there selling books, and someone else can easily take their place. Authors are resourceful people (they have to be) and we will find new ways to market our books that do not involve them. They will be the ones to lose and not us.

Regards
June"

It seems then that we may be lucky here and they cannot touch us. Even so, this is the worst example of restrictive business practise I have encountered, and I think that amazon will find that they have bitten of more than they can chew. This does not just affect self pubished authors, but also the large presses, as increasingly they use print on demand to maintain back list titles. I don't suppose Lightning Source are too happy about it either ...
Pretty horrid stuff. I posted something on Gather and on my blog about it.

I was talking to an author friend of mine who didn't quite get why this is so hurtful. I tried to explain that an author has a greater chance of winning the lottery than getting published by Random House. So authors that believe in their work often turn to respected independent presses who publish trade paperbacks on a print on demand basis. Many of these publishers have worked very hard to find printers whose books look decent and like any other high quality trade paperback that's out on the market.

I sat in on a printing discussion given to a marketing group recently. Several printers passed around trade paperbacks and asked if we could tell which one was printed on demand using digital technology. None of us could tell the differences. The POD books looked great.

I have not heard the same about books produced by Book Surge. I've heard from various publishers and others authors that Book Surge books "look awful"..."are the worst."

Now this is a huge concern. If the books don't look good it's going to be hard to convince readers to keep on reading the books. It's bad PR for the authors and the indie book publishers. But it's inadvertently good PR for the big publishers who are not using Print on Demand technology. Imagine that? So this is a case again of hurting the little guy. It forces them to choose a potentially inferior printer. It also denies them their inalienable right of Freedom of Choice. Most horrendous of all...it forces a monopolistic situation instead of letting the market remain open.
You'll find my article on MURDER BY 4 and the comments I've received to it. I've also posted on several other forums, responded to articles in Authors Den, etc., and e-mail everyone on my mailing list.

June, I'm in the opposite situation. I'm in the States with a UK independent publisher who uses Ingrams and Lightning Source. What really angers me is that Amazon made their millions + from the sale of books published by POD publishers. They've taken a huge chunk of the pie, which means smaller royalties for us authors – and now this. Hopefully Amazon will get as far as Microsoft did with their attempt to monopolize a business.
I plan to do the same thing Marta. Have not written about it on my blog yet, as there is lots to wade through and consider, and this morning it seemed more important to write about my own 'stuff'. I will sit down later on tonight though and compose something suitable, and then put the link on every writers site I a member of as well as Digg, Facebook etc, naming and shaming these people for what they are. In the end, as always it will be public opinion that changes things.

I do though have the strong feeling that there is more to this than meets the eye - could it be that is all designed as part of the higher plan to raise awareness of the issues that we authors have to face so that industry is forced to change. There is nothing like the light of public scrutinty to force a change in behaviour. Try not to think of this then as too much of a negative, for we all know that ultimately the power does rest with us, and we can find other ways to market our books. It will be amazon's loss and not ours - focus on that and remember who do not know what is really going on behind the scenes.
Some say that we’re the small fish in this pond; I disagree. In a democracy, numbers DO count and although the bottom line affect of a boycott may yet to be seen, the message will be loud and clear and wouldn’t that be music in everyone’s ears?

I’m TOTALLY incensed. Amazon may be is the largest online shop, but they aren't the only ones (my book is on several including B&N, BAMM, and numerous other smaller online shops). I have it from an excellent source that: “... LightningSource represents one heck of a whack of the business (they have 60,000 PublishAmerica titles alone) and are streets ahead of BookSurge. They pull some weight as being owned by Ingrams -- the biggest distributor in the world. But Amazon's greed knows no bounds. On an average novel, the new deal would mean they pick up a total of around 78% of cover price, plus other profit-spinning benefits. This could well spell the end for many, if not most, small independents who traditionally work with LS and rely heavily on the Amazon marketplace.”

Seems to me we (readers, authors, publishers) put Amazon in the forefront; we can certainly bring them down and put someone else in their place. If there was ever an opportunity for the number 2 online bookshop to have guts and step forward, it's now.

But Amazon isn’t the only entity pushing POD to one side. Two major author organizations (those of you who are members know who I’m talking about), recently took similar measures to disqualify members whose books are with POD small presses from promotional perks.

Actions like these have already affected hundreds, if not thousands of authors and the end doesn’t seem to be in sight. Every author who is with a small press and every small press who uses LightningSource and Ingrams will be touched by Amazon’s move.

If Amazon isn't stopped (i.e.: like Microsoft and AOL were), it will only be a matter of time before our right to choose in other matters will be eliminated too.

Anyone who doesn't see the ramifications of this action needs to wake up and shake off the dust and the cobwebs. When I think of the money I've spent on Amazon over the years and the number of readers that I’ve referred to them, I want to spit.
"But Amazon isn’t the only entity pushing POD to one side. Two major author organizations (those of you who are members know who I’m talking about), recently took similar measures to disqualify members whose books are with POD small presses from promotional perks."

I don't tend to follow the US writing press as much as the UK, so am not aware of what or who you are talking about here - can you please enlighten me.
I've blogged on this twice at http://www.principledprofit.com/good-business-blog/

Tomorrow's my weekly blog at Fast Company and I'll draw attention to it as well.

I think it's difficult, but not impossible to organize writers, and the subsidy houses are actually in a very good position to do this. Then the writers will have to organize our readers.

The foreign-authors issue is a new wrinkle, worth looking at.
This is really not good news. Hopefully Amazon will rethink their "strategy". So far I have not seen it on any of my Lighting Source books and from what I can tell they are still claiming "business as usual." I just uploaded a title for full distribution last night and will let everyone know how it goes.

I do like Lin's idea about third party sellers. So far there are hundreds of third party sellers using Amazon's Advantage program that we can run titles through - most you won't even have to do anything with as they just pull from Amazon's or Books-in-Print's database (and their links are still live). However, things may calm down and resolve themselves - hopefully - fairly soon. This is all over the net.

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