According to Angela Hoy's latest report, the Feds have dropped the ball
and its up to authors and writers to pick it up and start writing letters.
Will you heed the call? Here's the latest from WritersWeekly.com:
(Sorry for the formatting problems...)
April 30, 2008
Was the Washington State Attorney General's Office Bamboozled? It's Time to Submit Your Amazon/Booksurge Complaints to the Feds!
By Angela Hoy
Two weeks ago, I was walking through Washington, DC, and discussing the Amazon/Booksurge situation with my brother-in-law. I just happened to look to my right and realized we were right next to the Department of Justice. For some reason, I felt compelled to take a photo. Weird, huh?
The Washington State Attorney General issued a weak statement about Amazon/Booksurge last week. I will include it in its entirety below, along with my comments.
The Washington Attorney General's Antitrust Division has received many complaints regarding the new "print on demand" or "POD" policy recently implemented by Amazon.com. We want to thank all of those who have brought this matter to our attention and who have provided information and insight into the questions. We appreciate the concerns that have been expressed.
We have reviewed each of these complaints and we have contacted Amazon to explore the concerns that have been raised. Amazon responded to our inquiry by directing us to a publicly posted "Open Letter to Interested Parties" in which they describe their new policy.
The "Open Letter to Interested Parties" is posted on the Internet at http://phx.corporate-ir.net/phoenix.zhtml?c=176060&p=irol-printondemand. Some of the complaints that we have received state that Amazon is refusing to sell books printed by Lightning Source or other POD publishers, and will only sell POD books printed by BookSurge. In its "Open Letter to Interested Parties", Amazon addresses this question:
Do I need to switch completely to having my POD titles printed at Amazon?
No, there is no request for exclusivity. Any publisher can use Amazon's POD service just for those units that ship from Amazon and continue to use a different POD service provider for distribution through other channels.
Alternatively, you can use a different POD service provider for all your units. In that case, we ask that you pre-produce a small number of copies of each title (typically five copies), and send those to us in advance (Amazon Advantage Program-successfully used by thousands of big and small publishers). We will inventory those copies. That small cache of inventory allows us to provide the same rapid fulfillment capability to our customers that we would have if we were printing the titles ourselves on POD printing machines located inside our fulfillment centers. Unlike POD, this alternative is not completely "inventoryless." However, as a practical matter, five copies is a small enough quantity that it is economically close to an inventoryless model.
The complaints that we have received have come from across the country. It appears that the markets involved are national in scope. Thus, it may be more appropriate to refer this matter to one of the federal antitrust agencies for review.
For these reasons, and based on the information that has been provided to us, the Attorney General's office does not plan further action on this matter. However, and as noted before, this is not a conclusive legal opinion and anyone feeling that they have been harmed and wish to pursue a remedy should consider consulting with private counsel.
If you have additional information or have evidence that what Amazon is representing is not true, please feel free to contact us.
Sincerely,Brady JohnsonAssistant Attorney GeneralAntitrust DivisionWashington StateOffice of Attorney General
When I first read the note above, I was stunned! Are they KIDDING!? They let a company use a PUBLIC STATEMENT, which probably took hours to write and tweak in an attempt to sway public opinion, as an acceptable response to a possible investigation by the Washington State Attorney General's Office?!
NO FORMAL INVESTIGATION? NO QUESTIONS ASKED OF THOSE WHO SUBMITTED COMPLAINTS?!
According to the statement above, it doesn't appear the Attorney General (AG)'s office discussed this with Amazon at all (other than to read a canned statement!). Uh, does this strike anyone else as odd? Hundreds of people complain about a company and ask the government to investigate. The government contacts the company, the company says, "Hey, look at our public statement", they do, they don't ask anybody any questions, and then say they're finished?
I was the first one to alert the AG's office to Amazon's actions. I provided detailed information. Other than to initially call to ask for some contact information and to confirm they received my email, they never contacted me again to ask if Amazon's actions or public statement were truthful or if they told the whole story (they didn't!). As far as I'm concerned, reading a company's public statement is NOT an investigation. Heck, it's not even in inquiry!
Did any of those who submitted a complaint to the AG receive any follow-up questions from them at all? If you did, please let me know. If you did not, the AG let us all down and failed miserably in their job (which is to FULLY investigate companies that may be violating the law).
Amazon says they need to get paid to print all POD books so they can marry products together for fewer shipments, blah, blah, blah...
As I wrote previously, Amazon's statement doesn't reveal that the Advantage Program (we've always called it the DISadvantage Program) requires payment to Amazon/Booksurge of $29.95/year, PLUS 55% of the sale of each book, PLUS the shipping costs to get the books to Amazon. And if they need to return the books to you in the future, guess who gets to pay for the shipping for those, too? You do!
Amazon's statement also says they "only" need 5 copies of each book. Uh huh. Here's a huge hole in their argument that nobody seems to be talking about. If they need copies of all books in all their distribution facilities (10 facilities in the U.S. so far?) in order to marry products, why do authors only need to ship 5 books... to 1 of their facilities? Wouldn't they need authors to ship at least 1 copy of each book to all 10 distribution facilities in order for the "marrying products" argument to hold any weight?
Do you think they make the Advantage Program so disadvantageous in an attempt to get more people to use their POD service? If you do, you're definitely not alone!
You can read about more holes in their "statement" in comments posted by one of their former employees HERE.
MAYBE SOME LARGE COMPANIES' TAX DOLLARS ARE TOO VALUABLE TO THEIR STATES TO RISK AN INVESTIGATION WHEN THINGS APPEAR NOT-QUITE-RIGHT?
I can never prove this of course, and it's pure speculation, but I wonder if some AG offices purposely allow some huge companies avoid an in-depth investigation because of all the money they're generating for that particular state?
GOOD NEWS - THEY APPEAR TO BE (PASSIVELY) PASSING THE BUCK TO THE FEDS
I guess the only good news is that they admit the matter might be national in scope (duh). However, they don't tell you how to complain to the feds. That's okay. I'm happy to do that!
SUBMIT YOUR AMAZON/BOOKSURGE COMPLAINT TO THE FEDS TODAY!
According to the DOJ website:
Sherman Antitrust Act
"An unlawful monopoly exists when only one firm controls the market for a product or service, and it has obtained that market power, not because its product or service is superior to others, but by suppressing competition with anticompetitive conduct."
I'm no lawyer but, to me, that sure sounds like what Amazon might be trying to pull!
"Information from the public is vital to the work of the Antitrust Division. Your e-mails, letters, and phone calls could be our first alert to a possible antitrust violation and may provide the initial evidence needed to begin an investigation."
How to File a Complaint
If you have information about a possible antitrust violation or potential anticompetitive activity, please contact us by e-mail, regular mail, or phone. We recommend that you use the following questions as a guideline when describing your complaint:
What are the names of companies, individuals, or organizations that are involved?
How do you believe they have violated the antitrust laws?
Can you give examples of the conduct that you believe violates the antitrust laws? If so, please provide as much detail as possible.
What is the product or service affected by this conduct? Where is the product manufactured or sold, or where is the service provided?
Who are the major competitors that sell the product or provide the service?
What is your role in the situation in question?
Who is harmed by the alleged violations? How are they harmed?
To make it easier for them to sort their emails, consider putting "Amazon/BookSurge" in the subject line of your email.
E-mailantitrust.complaints - at - usdoj.gov
MailCitizen Complaint CenterAntitrust Division950 Pennsylvania Ave., NWRoom 3322Washington, DC 20530
Phone1-888-647-3258 (toll free in the U.S. and Canada) or 202-307-2040
The Washington State Attorney General closed with this: "If you have additional information or have evidence that what Amazon is representing is not true, please feel free to contact us."
I hate to admit that I knew they weren't going to do anything to Amazon when they failed to follow-up and ask me additional questions...or contact me again at all. I knew they'd drop the ball and disappoint us all.
Here's what I think. If they were really doing their jobs and had read all the complaints submitted to them, they'd already have plenty of information regarding the holes in Amazon's public statement. I also believe that even if you or I or a hundred other people contacted them to follow-up on this, it would be a waste of time.
They also appear to pass the buck when they tell you that you should hire your own attorney if you feel you've been harmed.
PLEASE SUBMIT (antitrust.complaints - at - usdoj.gov) YOUR COMPLAINTS REGARDING AMAZON/BOOKSURGE TO THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE TODAY! If you want, send us a copy, too, and we'll publish it on WritersWeekly.com.
You can read more about the Department of Justice complaint process HERE.
We're continuing to post updates regarding the Amazon/Booksurge Ultimatum HERE.
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Thursday, April 24, 2008
Before I let you read the news, however, let me just say that after reading Angela's most recent posting, which came in her newsletter, I began to wonder if some authors who might prefer to self-publsh using POD technology aren't going to reconsider finding and agent and going the traditional publishing route. If they are going to have to wait around for a long time -- and it could be a long time -- for the Amazon/BookSurge fire to be put out (if it is put out and doesn't instead get fanned into a blazing bonfire that consumes all the POD publishers), they might just as well sign a traditional publishing contract and wait that 18 months or so for their book to be published. They'll still have to do the same amount of publicity, but they'll save some money, get the clout that comes with a traditional publishing contract and be sure to have that coveted "buy" button on Amazon. Of course, they'll lose some control over the publishing process and some royalty money as well.
I don't know. I'm still standing with a foot on both sides of the fence. My agent is peddling one of my books to traditional publishers, and I'm about to market another to a small, traditional niche publisher. I've got another book project, however, that will likely go to my little POD (I'm not naming names at this point...) whose "buy" buttons are all still on. And they are still producing my booklets for me as well. I just came up with another short book idea, and I plan to self-publish that one as well.
What's the consensus? Continue self-publishing anyway, hold out or change gears and go traditional?
Here's Angela's latest:
April 23, 2008
Amazon/Booksurge Ultimatum Update By Angela Hoy
Here's what's happened in the last week or so:
* Arriving a bit late to the party, but welcomed nonetheless, the National Writers Union finally issued a statement last week. As expected, like SPAN, the Author's Guild, ASJA, and others, the NWU is publicly condemning Amazon's actions. "The National Writers Union/UAW Local 1981 strongly opposes Amazon's new restriction on the print-on demand market and calls upon Amazon to immediately withdraw this monopolistic intrusion, or face our call for investigations by the Justice Department and Congress."
* Publisher's Weekly reported this week that it appears AuthorHouse/iUniverse is going to tithe to the Amazon/Booksurge God (my analogy, not theirs). WritersWeekly reported the same thing three weeks ago.
* Authors are nervous. One POD author notified us that he decided to stop the publishing process of his new book with his publisher because of the Amazon situation. We, too, have been fielding numerous emails of doubt from authors. Many don't want to use Booksurge but feel they will be forced to do so, in addition to using a printer that has Ingram distribution (considered imperative for bookstore sales). We've also read discussions online that show some authors are holding onto their manuscripts until they know which way this boat is going to turn. Unfortunately, if the government is involved (it is), they might have to wait a long, long, long time. Authors are understandably nervous about using Booksurge because of their reputation. Authors are also upset about paying double setup fees.
* Some authors have threatened to abandon POD publishers who are signing with Amazon/Booksurge because they value their reputations too much to risk having a poorly printed book with their name on it.
* Some authors are saying they will refuse to work with Amazon/Booksurge based strictly on principal. They would rather sell fewer books than be forced to pay more
money for something they think is unfair... and that may even be illegal.
* Xlibris finally responded to WritersWeekly's request for information... by saying really nothing at all. Their lack of information is included in this statement, "We apologize that we are unable to comment on the subject below as we are still standing by for the official communication from the higher management and our partners. As of this writing, it is still business as usual with Amazon.com." Why do you think the statements issued by these on-the-fence publishers look so similar? Gosh (snicker), it almost looks like they were written by the same person. Hmmm...
* One POD publisher who was given the ultimatum reported they thought the program might be on hold while another publisher later reported being heavily pressured to immediately sign the contract.
* WritersWeekly has been contacted by numerous small publishers who have already been contacted by Amazon/Booksurge, or who fear they're next on the list, most of whom want to remain under Amazon's radar for as long as they can.
* Numerous authors, publishers and even book buyers have contacted Amazon/Booksurge to voice their anger directly, but are either ignored or receive a canned statement. OReilly.com reports, "With Amazon's growing power in book sales, it's understandable that publishers may be a bit anxious on learning that in Amazon's 10-k filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company lists among its many competitors not just bookstores but also publishers."
Wish I had good news for you but I don't. So, don't let your guard down. It's not over and it likely won't be over for a long time.
We're posting updates regarding this situation HERE.
Monday, April 21, 2008
Has anyone seen any articles on this topic in the mass media? I'm not a big news buff, so I haven't seen much. My husband, however, reads two news magazines and hasn't mentioned seeing anything published in either of them. I'm surprised that some of the business journals haven't seen the smoke and run to check out what's burning. The New York Times ran a story initially confirming the the fact that Amazon had, indeed, taken this new approach to business, but since then has there been much press? Do readers know that authors and publishers are being given the squeeze by Amazon? Has anyone begun the sharing of information that will lead to public outcry? A good boycott by authors might be just the thing Amazon needs right now...that and the PODs to make good on BookSurge's offer to stock a few printed copies of all their authors' books. I'd like to see them try that!
According to some letters that Angela Hoy has published on her website (http://www.writersweekly.com/), turns out BookSurge hasn't been on the up and up with its authors all along. In some cases, their books aren't being listed on Amazon in Canada and in Europe, even thought BookSurge promised the books would be. Add this to the crooked covers and other mistakes...
A friend of mine who offers POD publishing services through her company and uses BookSurge to provide that service showed up at my house this weekend with a copy of her own self-published book. She had to ask BookSurge to fix a fair number of pages that had a boxed "x" in place of another letter. What letter? It didn't seem to matter. Every once in a while, that boxed "x" just showed up in place of another letter. She had to read the whole book to find all the errors. She said she knew they'd had quality issues in the past but figured by now they would have gotten them handled. I guess she figured wrong.
My agent told me to print with BookSurge. I disagree both ethically and practically. I'll probably use Lightning Source, either directly or through the small POD in my town, which actually uses Lightning Source's printing services. And that POD's "buy" buttons are still all "on." And they told me their authors are doing a great job right now selling on Amazon. Go figure.
I wonder: Do you have to be a big POD to get your "buy" buttons turned off by Amazon? That doesn't seem quite fair.
In any case, here's the latest news -- straight from http://www.writersweekly.com/ and Angela Hoy:
Thursday, April 17, 2008: Xlibris appears to still be hemming and hawing. They finally responded to Angela's email of March 25th, saying, "We apologize that we are unable to comment on the subject below as we are still standing by for the official communication from the higher management and our partners. As of this writing, it is still business as usual with Amazon.com." Is it just us or are all of the big POD publishers' statements starting to sound like broken records?
Wednesday, April 16, 2008 - The National Writers Union is also publicly condemning Amazon's actions. "The National Writers Union/UAW Local 1981 strongly opposes Amazon’s new restriction on the print-on demand market and calls upon Amazon to immediately withdraw this monopolistic intrusion, or face our call for investigations by the Justice Department and Congress."
Thursday, April 10, 2008
With agents trolling around on the web and picking up blogs and turning them into books, blogging has turned into a big deal for authors these days -- especially nonfiction authors. (If you don't know about this, try Googling "Julie and Julia" for a start.) And, as I've said before, they are a fabulous way to help you build a platform.
Be carefully, though, not to get caught up in the pressure of blogging. My husband recently showed me an article about two bloggers who died of heart attacks. The reporter attributed their untimely deaths to the stresses of blogging!
I was excited to see my favorite Jewish blogger, the Velveteen Rabbi (http://www.velveteenrabbi.blogs.com/), in the top 25. That gave me some hope of having my other blog -- the one related to my books (http://www.purespiritcreations.com/blog/index.htm) -- discovered one day!
Monday, April 7, 2008
As for us writers, however, speaking for myself, I'm still waiting to see how it all pans out. My manuscript will remain at home with me until I get a better feel for what the POD marketplace will look like when the fire dies down. I'd be curious to know how many authors who intend to self-publish their books are simply going ahead at this time. Are they voting for the small POD publishers by handing over their manuscripts and their money despite the fact that their books may never appear on Amazon.com with a "buy" button or are they waiting for the smoke to clear before they decide which POD publisher will actually publish their book? (Or have they changed their minds about self-publishing altogether and opted to find an agent and a traditional publishing house?) How much money is this Amazon/BookSurge issue costing POD publishers every day at this point without even considering the future cost of printing through BookSurge or of not selling books through Amazon? And how much time is it costing writers?
Back to the news... Today, Monday, April 7, 2008, the UK's Leading Writers Website, YouWriteOn.com, called for a Boycott of Amazon. I found this posted on WritersWeekly.com:
I manage YouWriteOn.com, the UK's most popular Arts Council funded site for budding writers, with leading publishers such as Random House involved who consider highly charted new writers in our charts, and also free critiques from editors for publishers such as Bloomsbury and Orion. We are calling for a boycott on Amazon here in the UK over the news about Amazon and Print-On-Demand which we consider are attempts to monopolise the POD industry and will lead to considerably less choice, less opportunities, and less royalties for POD writers, and also opens a door for Amazon to consider similar approaches for other mainstream commercial publishers and authors. This YouWriteOn move has been reported in The Bookseller: http://thebookseller.com/news/56180-youwriteoncom-calls-for-amazon-boycott.html
YouWriteOn.com in response is inviting all POD authors everywhere to list their books on our site with a free 'book-buy' link to any bookseller other than Amazon. Effectively we are calling for a proactive boycott of Amazon and are encouraging all writers and readers and other writers' sites to join in this by doing the same in their writers communities, which drive the POD industry, and to also email their discontent to Amazon. It is also a red-flag to the publishing industry in terms of how Amazon may use their influence on books from mainstream commercial publishing houses in the future.
POD may sometimes be viewed as 'vanity publishing' but it can be an important progression step for writers who are locked out from mainstream commercial publishing by the current 'mid-list' book problems that authors suffer in the industry. We have helped writers achieve success with publishers like Random House and Quercus, and for non-mainstream publishing we give, as an example, Bufflehead Sisters by YouWriteOn US member Patricia J. DeLois, which was turned down by agents and publishers here and in the US. We published the novel by POD and it sold 1,200 copies over Christmas 2007 and the author received agent representation and is being considered for a two book deal by a leading publisher as a result. Amazon's move would have seriously impacted on the writer's chance of this opportunity as well as leading to considerably lower royalties for her. POD is driven by writers outside of mainstream publishing, and, in the same way that peer to peer feedback on YouWriteOn has helped writers achieve publishing success, we'd like this boycott to be taken up by all writers communities.
In case you don't subscribe to Publisher's Weekly online, which you should if you want to be kept up to date on what's going on in the publishing industry, here's the latest story. It's good news -- The Authors Guild is examining BookSurge's move for antitrust issues. As I told Angela Hoy when I first heard the news about BookSurge demanding that all POD publishers use their printing facilities, somebody's bound to sue BookSurge or Amazon over this. It just reeks of monopoly in a country built on free trade.
Authors Guild Looking at Antitrust Issue of Amazon’s POD Plan
By Jim Milliot -- Publishers Weekly, 4/6/2008 10:03:00 AM
Saying it is reviewing the antitrust and other legal implications of Amazon’s “bold move,” the Authors Guild sent an e-mail late Friday to its membership questioning the motives—and implications—of the e-tailer’s new position on print-on-demand that makes publishers use its BookSurge division if they want the sell their titles on Amazon in the traditional manner. While Amazon is pitching the move as a consumer-friendly change that will improve the speed of shipping books and other products, the Guild says it suspects the motivation has more to do with profit margin than customer service.
If Amazon is successful in wresting a large chunk of pod business away from current leader Lightning Source (which the Guild says does a good job), they will have taken a huge step in controlling publishing’s supply change and thus control much of the industry’s long tail business, the Guild said. “Once Amazon owns the supply chain, it has effective control of much of the "long tail" of publishing,” the statement reads. “Since Amazon has a firm grip on the retailing of these books (it's uneconomic for physical book stores to stock many of these titles), owning the supply chain would allow it to easily increase its profit margins on these books: it need only insist on buying at a deeper discount -- or it can choose to charge more for its printing of the books -- to increase its profits. Most publishers could do little but grumble and comply.”
If Amazon does impose deeper discounts, the big losers, other than Lightning, will be authors, since many are paid for on-demand sales based on the publisher’s gross revenues, as well as publishers, the Guild says.
The statement closes by inviting anyone who has information that could help the Guild investigate the matter to contact it by phone at 212-563-5904 or through its site, authorsguild.org.
If you haven't been keeping up with the news by going to WritersWeekly.com's clearinghouse (http://www.writersweekly.com/amazon.php), here's the run down since I last posted.
After Amazon began threatening publishers who offer customer-direct discounts on their own web sites, things heated up last week in the publishing industry.
In addition, the American Society for Journalists and Authors released a statement on Friday denouncing the Amazon/BookSurge ultimatum to POD publishers. They also sent a letter to their general membership. You can read both at http://forums.writersweekly.com/viewtopic.php?p=63789. The Author's Guild also published a statement. You can read it here: http://forums.writersweekly.com/viewtopic.php?p=63794. Another POD publisher, AuthorHouse, appears to have fallen into BookSurge's den, and Scott Flora of the Small Publishers Association of North America sent a letter to Jeff Bezos at Amazon. You can read that at http://www.spannet.org/Amazon-POD.htm.
If you haven't already, be sure to sign this petition: Stop the BookSurge Monopoly
And check out these blogs, which are much more up to date than mine:
More in a few days or when some really breaking news happens. (Although I might just pop in to give you some better news about blogging for authors...)
Thursday, April 3, 2008
If you haven't already heard the news, in brief, BookSurge/Amazon.com basically is trying to force all POD (print-on-demand) publishers to use their printing facilities to print their POD books sold on Amazon.com or else those books will have their "buy" buttons turned off on Amazon. com. In other words, if your book has been or will be (or you were considering having it) published by a POD publisher that isn't using BookSurge's printing facilities, Amazon.com customers will no longer be able to purchase it. At least that's what Amazon is trying to accomplish.
I, for one, was outraged when I heard this news. I had just found a small POD publisher right here in Los Gatos (http://www.robertsonpublishing.com/) where I live that could get my book into all the Internet bookstores as well as into Ingram for a very reasonable price. Plus, I could walk right in to their shop and deal with them face to face! How many authors get to do that these days? Plus, they were willing to send editing work my way as well. I was very excited, and I was seriously considering doing some self-publishing beyond my little booklets. Now...well...Suffice it to say, I'm hesitating. My projects are on hold.
For any writers considering self-publishing or who have had their books self-published already by a POD house, you better start reading and get up to speed on the Amazon/BookSurge issue. It's HUGE! It could mean big changes in cost, pricing and quality when it comes to YOUR self-published book -- and mine.
Rather than give you the whole scoop on this news myself, since I'm not the expert on this subject, I'm going to let someone much more knowledgeable do it for me. That person is Angela Hoy of WritersWeekly.com, one of the most popular and widely read, free, writing e-zines published today. (If you don't already subscribe, you should.) Angela and her husband run Booklocker, a POD publishing house. She's had her finger on the pulse of what's been happening for a week now. So, I'm going to put a copy of the article she posted today here for you to read. After that, I suggest you go to http://www.writersweekly.com/ for all the latest info. Angela's set up a page meant to be a clearinghouse of information at http://www.writersweekly.com/amazon.php. Or you can go to http://www.writersweekly.com/the_latest_from_angelahoycom/004610_04022008.html for the latest news on what's going on.
I suggest that you take Angela's advice and begin e-mailing and writing letters and calling the people she suggests. We writers have to take a stand on this development. I, for one, would like to have a choice about who publishes and/or prints my book and what I pay for that service (not to mention the quality of the product I get in return for that fee). I don't want to have to go back to my local POD publisher and say, "Sorry. I'm not going to use you now, because Amazon and BookSurge have me by the...well, I don't have any of those, but they've got my hands tied anyway!" That said, I surely would like my self-published POD book sold in all the Internet bookstores, including Amazon.com. I hate to say it, but Amazon.com is where most people go to buy their books. While other sites offer free shipping on orders over $25, most can't beat Amazon.com's prices.
If you want to read my initial thoughts on the subject, I have left Angela two comments on her blog. My comments, along with everyone else's, and many people's blogs can be found at http://www.writersweekly.com/amazon.php.
Without further ado, here's the original article that appeared in Publishers Weekly, which has a link to Angela's first article on the subject, followed by today's update:
Amazon to Force POD Publishers to Use BookSurge
by Jim Milliot -- Publishers Weekly, 3/28/2008 8:34:00 AM
BookSurge, Amazon’s print-on-demand subsidiary, is making an offer that most publishers would like to refuse, but don’t feel they can. According to talks with several pod houses, BookSurge has told them that unless their titles are printed by BookSurge, the buy buttons on Amazon for their titles will be disabled. A detailed explanation of her how the new program was explained to her is provided by BookLocker.com co-owner Angela Hoy on her writersweekly.com blog.
Over the last year, BookSurge has been trying to cut into the market share of pod leader Lightning Source and is using the selling clout of Amazon to generate more business. “I feel like the flea between two giant elephants,” said the head of one pod publisher about the upcoming battle between Lightning Source and BookSurge/Amazon. He said although the deal with BookSurge will be more expensive, he has no choice but to make the move since most of his authors expect their titles to be for sale on Amazon. He added that his company will also continue to use Lightning Source for printing as well. Amazon's BookSurge mandate extends to traditional publishers as well as to online pod houses.
An Amazon spokesperson explained that the new policy will allow the company to "marry" books with other products that a customer might buy at Amazon, which would be combined in the same package. She said for publishers that don't use BookSurge for pod, they can still use Amazon's Advantage Program (which works on a consignment model) or third party vendors to sell their pod books.
April 02, 2008
IT'S NOT OVER! Amazon Tells Publishers, Pay Us To Print Your Books...Or Else
By Angela Hoy, WritersWeekly.com
Tuesday, April 1st, was the rumored deadline Amazon.com gave to some POD publishers to sign an agreement allowing their printing division, BookSurge, to print each publisher's book to be sold through Amazon, or risk having their "buy" buttons turned off on the Amazon.com website. Publishers, authors, and even book buyers were outraged by this apparent power-grab by Amazon. Attorneys and government officials are still studying the legality of their actions. How could they demand such a thing and what publisher in their right mind would agree to their ridiculous terms? While a band of POD publishers stayed together, refusing to sway to Amazon's demands, some did not.
Monday, March 31, 2008: AuthorHouse/iUniverse (owned by Author Solutions) announced they had reached an agreement with Amazon to allow Booksurge to print their books.
Monday, March 31, 2008: A Lulu representative posted a cryptic announcement that suggests they, too, likely signed the Amazon contract.
We are in possession of the Amazon contract and, while I'm sure AuthorHouse/iUniverse and Lulu negotiated special terms for themselves, I can tell you that the confidentiality clause in that contract is the tightest I've ever seen. Don't expect anybody at those firms to ever talk about what they had to give Amazon to keep their "buy" buttons turned on.
It's been reported that some other publishers signed the contract as well and that others are still considering it, believing they have no choice.
HOW COULD THEY CAVE?
We think we figured out why AuthorHouse/iUniverse and Lulu felt they had to sign an agreement with Amazon/Booksurge. Of course, since nobody's talking (Ken Weiss at AuthorHouse never returned my call on Monday and Bob Young's people gave me a humorous run-around, before finally admitting they didn't want to comment), we can only speculate. But, I think the keys to the cave-ins can be found on the publishers' websites.
You see, I've always felt that having our BookLocker books listed in the online bookstores was a privilege. You can't promise your authors something that involves another company if you don't have a contract with that other company. Our BookLocker contract states, "Sales channels can be added or removed at the Company's discretion and without prior notice. While the Company provides listings to Ingram for print books, online bookstores, such as Amazon.com, are not required to list these titles for sale. Listings offered by online bookstores are at the discretion of each particular store." Furthermore, we don't up-sell authors on marketing services. If an author wants us to add additional content to their Amazon.com page, we do it for free. If an author wants their book in the Search Inside the Book Program, we show them how to submit it (our authors get copies of their files for no extra charge) or we do it for them.
Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, some POD publishers decided to start charging for these services. And, perhaps their greed has now forced them to start using Amazon's printer.
AuthorHouse charges authors an extra $75 to submit their book to the Amazon Search Inside the Book Program. If an author has paid for that service, they would, of course, expect and demand that Amazon have their book available for direct purchase by Amazon customers (have the "buy" button turned on). Since AuthorHouse charged authors for that service, they may have inadvertently put themselves in a bind with the threat of having the "buy" buttons turned off.
Lulu has third party service providers (that pay Lulu commissions) that offer Amazon listing enhancement services for a fee to Lulu authors. One Lulu author surmised on their forum, "Lulu will just have to supply Amazon with books..." So, perhaps they found themselves in the same bind as AuthorHouse.
The deadline given to some publishers was rumored to be April 1st and AuthorHouse/iUniverse and Lulu both announced agreements with Amazon on March 31st. That leads me to believe Amazon may have had them both by the...well, you know.
No word yet from Xlibris. I left a message on John Feldcamp's voicemail on Monday but he hasn't yet returned my call (tap, tap, tap). I've met John and found him witty and charming...yet he absolutely does not appear to be the type of person you can push around, even if your name is Jeff Bezos.
We were already in contact with POD publishers who had received the "buy button threat" before last week's story ran. After we broke the story, several other small publishers contacted us as well. Some didn't mind giving their names but many begged us to not reveal their identities, hoping to stay under Amazon's radar.
WORLD DOMINATION OF THE PUBLISHING AND PRINTING INDUSTRIES?
Tongues have been wagging (okay, fingers have been typing) online for a week now, speculating about Amazon's future plans. Many guffaw the idea that, after taking over POD titles, Amazon might dare to go after traditional publishers, too. What most don't understand is that it's already happening. Booksurge is already printing POD versions of back-list, out-of-print and large-print books for HarperCollins, John Wiley & Sons, McGraw-Hill, Pearson, Springer, Gale, Oxford University Press, and others.
Last week, the University of Pennsylvania Press contacted us, reporting they'd received the Amazon ultimatum, too. She said, "I work at a medium-sized university press, where most of our titles are conventionally printed via offset. However, Amazon called our director about two weeks ago, telling him that soon we would be required to use Booksurge."
If Amazon does ramp up, and can process all those files and print books in every one of its facilities, those huge, expensive, maintenance-monster warehouses may become obsolete. They will, instead, be printing and shipping facilities.
It wouldn't surprise me at all if Amazon's ultimate goal is to print every single book they ship. I bet Walmart's sorry they didn't think of it first!
WHY THIS IS BAD... VERY, VERY BAD
Publishers who sign Amazon's contract must let Booksurge print their books.
These are results that pop up if you Google the words booksurge complaint without any quotes.
"...the binding of the book isn't that great as one of my pages fell out."-Review by Robert Youngsource(This is an Amazon page and they might yank it after this article is published.)
"The majority of books produced were defective: pages falling out, discolored covers, white splotches on the covers, etc. Of the 135 books I purchased, over 100 were defective. It was a huge embarrassment and headache for our organization."source
"Additionally, the book is poorly constructed. The book fell apart (literally, the pages falling out) before I made it to page 24."source(This is another Amazon page that may get yanked after this article is published.)
"Please be patient, and if you do happen to get a book with pages falling out, kindly return it to BookSurge for a replacement."source(This site is tied to the Amazon.com bookstores so it, too, might disappear!)
"April McDonald is suing Amazon for 10.5 million dollars and its vanity press, BookSurge, claiming that the book was full of typos and other errors."source(The article above includes direct quotes from the book's author.)
"Koziol alleges that the trade paperback copies he received were 'riddled with misspellings, jumbled text, mismatched pages and other errors,' according to TimesUnion.com."source
"I POD'd my book in spring of 05 and my first 250 copies had the cover so violently off center as to make me return ALL of them. Booksurge replaced them, but with the back 4 pages missing! Ugh!"source
I purchased a Booksurge book last night and had it shipped overnight. It did indeed arrive this morning. It has a cover that isn't centered (the back is off-center by at least half an inch - very noticeable and very unprofessional) and a glue smudge on the back as well. I won't even get into the interior formatting. It looks like somebody designed this in their garage (my apologies to anyone who actually does write in their garage) and, on the first page of the forward, the drop cap ink is bleeding into one of the sentences. If the author paid Booksurge for editing, he needs to ask for his money back. I won't mention the book's name here because I don't want to embarrass the author. It's not his fault. I will keep it, however, in case Amazon tries to deny my claims. Frankly, there is no denying how crappy this book looks.
IF THE BOOK IS CRAPPY, WHOSE FAULT IS IT? YOURS!
If your customer gets a book with loose pages, or upside pages, or a crooked cover, or a cover that isn't centered, or a glue smudge on it, or bleeding ink, who's going to get the blame? The publisher and author, that's who. The customer isn't going to blame the bookstore (Amazon), even though Amazon printed the book. Readers will very likely have no idea the publisher had to let Amazon print their book.
IT'S ABOUT THE MONEY
Less $ for Publishers + Less $ for Authors + Less $ for Book Buyers = MORE MONEY FOR AMAZON!Amazon's actions may force publishers to increase the price of all books for readers. Being forced to pay printing fees dictated by Amazon (that can increase at anytime), deep discounts dictated by Amazon (that can increase at anytime), and setup fees dictated by Amazon (that can increase at anytime) can mean higher prices for books (less money in the book buyers' pockets), less money for publishers, less money for authors, and, of course, higher profits for Amazon. Trust me. Despite their rosy statement, Amazon didn't do this just for "customer service." They're doing it to MAKE MORE MONEY.
GETTING IT FROM BOTH ENDS
It is our opinion that Amazon is creating an unfair competitive advantage for itself in two ways... possibly more.
1. Production and Printing - They force publishers to use their printer (who has a bad reputation for quality), which they profit from (cha-ching), and force publishers to give them a deeper discount (cha-ching), and force publishers to pay setup fees for new titles (cha-ching). All this is just for books being sold through Amazon directly. Amazon knows the publisher must also pay to have files formatted to different specs in order to get Ingram distribution (considered imperative for bookstore sales). In fact, all this expense and trouble could even make it more difficult and more expensive for Amazon's other competitors (bookstores) to obtain these books for their customers.
2. Amazon also competes directly with these publishers for authors. Authors can pay Amazon/BookSurge an average publishing package fee of over $1,000 to have Amazon publish their book. So, Amazon is competing directly with its publishing customers for authors' books and will, of course, even have access to the publishers' customers' (authors!) contact information. I wonder if their new contract protects publishers from Amazon going over their heads and trying to land contracts with the authors directly?
Remember, Amazon has a contract with Lightning Source (LSI), but has gone over its head and contacted LSI's customers (the POD publishers) directly. That's how all this trouble began!
THEIR OFFICIAL STATEMENT
Amazon did issue an official statement. It didn't say much. In fact, what made it interesting was what they left out. See this article on PaidContent.org.
CAN THEY EVEN DO IT?
There is much speculation that Amazon doesn't even have the man-power or the resources to quickly acquire and process all of these new interior and cover files from POD publishers (tens of thousands from AuthorHouse and Lulu alone) and that they also may not have POD printing machines in all of their distribution facilities. We're still waiting for Amazon to comment about that. One Amazon employee claimed (see link directly above) they had POD machines in three distribution centers. However, they have 10 centers in the U.S. alone. If they don't have POD machines in all their distribution centers, their statement about "marrying" products to save shipping and fuel expenses doesn't hold much weight. If they can't currently handle the influx of new book titles, and if they can't print POD books at all of their distribution facilities yet, why the rush to make POD publishers sign by April 1st?
*IMPORTANT!* POSSIBLE DIRE CONSEQUENCES FOR PUBLISHERS WHO SIGN AMAZON'S CONTRACT
Morris Rosenthal brought this up the other day and we're wondering if the POD publishers who have already or plan to sign the Amazon contract have considered it. According to The Robinson-Patman Act of 1936 (or Anti-Price Discrimination Act), if Amazon forces publishers to offer them a 48% discount, this action may, by default, force publishers to offer all bookstores a 48% discount. Many small publishers simply can't afford to do this. If they sign the Amazon contract and, thus, then have to offer all bookstores a 48% discount, they may go out of business.
Offering Amazon a 48% discount allows Amazon to discount their prices beyond what another bookstore could if they were not given the same discount. The competing store would, of course, be at a competitive disadvantage. Nobody knows for sure, but it sure seems to me (and this is MY OPINION, mind you) that this windfall of benefits to Amazon may have all been carefully orchestrated through Amazon's contract with POD publishers. They just can't lose no matter which way you look at it. What do you think?
THE GOOD NEWS
Despite all of this, the good news is Amazon has not removed anymore "buy" buttons from POD publishers' books pages. Maybe, just maybe, after such a large public outcry, and perhaps after some consultations with their attorneys, they're realizing that this wasn't such a great idea after all. And, as I noted earlier, attorneys and government officials are still studying the legalities of this situation.
We are posting frequent updates to the top of THIS PAGE. Please send your comments regarding this situation to richard - at - booklocker.com, and let us know if you write about it so we can add a link to your site.
UPDATE: YOU'RE NOT GOING TO BELIEVE THIS!
The print on demand (POD) book I purchased from Amazon/BookSurge yesterday is now listed as OUT OF STOCK at Amazon.com! It says: Temporarily out of stock. Order now and we'll deliver when available. We'll e-mail you with an estimated delivery date as soon as we have more information. Your account will only be charged when we ship the item.
Gosh, now what does that mean about their "print and bind a book in less than two hours" statement? Shouldn't their POD books never be out of stock? Hmmm....
We looked around some more and found several BookSurge books that are listed as "out of stock" and "usually ships in 2-4 weeks."
Personal P.S. from Angela: I want to personally thank every single one of you who has written to me, written to Amazon, contacted your state's attorney general and other government entities concerning this situation. When something is terribly wrong, each and every person who is courageous enough to stand up and shout NO truly can make a difference. We and our small POD publishing colleagues are humbled, blessed, and strengthened by your heartfelt words and immediate actions. Thank you!