Monday, April 14, 2008

Amazon to Discontinue POD Titles Not Printed by BookSurge?

Angela Hoy, editor of Writers Weekly newsletter, alerted me this past week of news pertaining to the publishing practices of Amazon, which recently bought BookSurge. I know many of you publish with major houses, some with independent presses, and some with POD outfits. As a ghostwriter, I keep abreast of the POD industry since some of my clients are businessmen or women, such as motivational speakers or business owners, who wish to self-publish or use POD to publish "in-house" because they have their own marketing platforms. I thought the following was interesting and so am passing it along.

Since acquiring BookSurge, Amazon intends to gradually disable the "buy" buttons on its website for all POD books not published through BookSurge. (Why Amazon would want to do this is a bit strange since BookSurge, like Publish America, is erratic in the quality of its product and receives a lot of complaints at Writer Beware and other online watchdog groups ... which is not to say that all of their clients are dissatisfied.)

It's also a strange marketing move on the part of Amazon since, while the average POD title only sells 148 copies, Amazon nevertheless sells tens of thousands of POD titles every year.

The Washington State Office of the Attorney General has received numerous complaints from both POD companies and individuals. The Attorney General's office believes that such a move by Amazon may well constitute "monopolistic practices" and has referred the issue to its anti-trust division. Links to the Writers Weekly article and the response by the Washington State Office of the Attorney General are provided below. The Writers Weekly article has internal links for anyone who wishes to register a complaint with Amazon.

It's true that most POD titles are poorly written and edited, but not all. But that misses the point. People should have an outlet for their work, and let's face it: while there are other online sellers, such as B&N, Borders, Books-a-Million and a hundred others, people gravitate to Amazon for books like shoppers gravitate to Wal-Mart for laundry baskets and kitchen utensils. With traditional publishing being very hard to break into, I also think it's a bit Orwellian to start limiting the ideas that can reach mass circulation.

Writers Weekly article: Writers Weekly: Let BookSurge Print Your Books--or Else

The Attorney General's Response:
Washington State Office of the Attorney General

14 comments:

Geraldine said...

Amazon has been making a number of decisions in the past few months that really leaves me wondering why. I actually thought they 'cheapened' their online presence initially, by branching out from only selling books. Now they are just another website selling anything and everything, including food,exercise equipment,etc,etc. This latest idea is questionable too. They are no longer one of my favorite 'browses' for shopping online and seem to be headed even further in the wrong direction. They may indeed regret this direction....

www.mypoeticpath.wordpress.com

SandyCarlson said...

Geraldine makes an excellent point. You know, at Christmas I shopped online. I thought I had bought things through Amazon, but the items came came from small businesspeople around the country. I should have been a sharper consumer and noticed how Amazon functioned as a stor front for these others, but I didn't.

Amazon is becoming the cyber box store on a par with Costco and BJs. I don't think being oversized is sustainable in the long run. The rest of us will find a way around Amazon. I don't know any writers who are willing to endure silence!

Lisa said...

There are two big reasons for going to Amazon for a lot of my book purchases. One is that addictive one-click button that allows me to impulse shop like a lunatic (damn your black heart Amazon!) and the other is that I've always been able to find nearly any book, whether it's from a small press, out of print, POD, etc. It would be a big mistake to eliminate this feature. If Amazon didn't carry these titles, many of them would be very difficult, if not impossible to find.

Billy said...

Geraldine, you are so right. Amazon is like Starbucks. They got greedy and branched out. Starbucks is now cutting back on its line because consumers rebelled. Hopefully, Amazon will see the light.

Sandy, Amazon is indeed deceptive in many ways. When they say they have "X" number of books in stock, for example, they're usually fibbing, except in the case of books that really move. For POD books, they claim to have several copies in stock when in reality they usually wait for an order before contacting Ingram to procure a copy (or so I've heard).

Lisa, I too am totally addicted to the one-click purchase. Even though B&N has an online presence, Amazon has such name recognition that people limit their shopping to their site. And they've always had a slightly larger inventory.

Britta Coleman said...

I'm an Amazon junkie too. A few years ago I bought into the 2-day Amazon Prime rate...and the idea that I can click and whammo, two days later there's the book on my front porch is beyond addictive. With gas what it is, and the centralization of bigger bookstores, it's likely Amazon will survive a few public relations waves.

The POD topic brings up an interesting debate. If Amazon is out of the picture, the predatory type of POD publishers will have one less selling tool to snag a hopeful author unaware of the dismal sales statistics. And while I'm against limiting mass circulation, I'd like to see less scam artists out there.

writtenwyrdd said...

I've been giving Amazon a couple thou or more a year for the past decade, but when i heard about this POD move of theirs, which reminded me unfavorably of Microsoft, I began to consider going to B&N. But first, I have to stop one-clicking and get the rest of the books I bought with my Amazon Visa.

Ack. I am addicted to convenience and that free shipping!

Charles Gramlich said...

Sounds like they're starting to try and throw their weight around. Another reason to go elswhere I guess. I"m getting unhappy in general with many things on Amazon and have been buying at B & N lately.

Billy said...

Britta, I agree. Ghostwriting firms (I will always remain an independant) have recently morphed into POD companies, with "package deals" for people who think they're gonna become bestsellers. The results are dismal. I give extensive attention to the scammers on my ghostwriting website. The average POD sales pitch is deceptive in the extreme--and predatory as you point out--and takes advantage of people's ignorance of the literary marketplace.

Written, I'm guilty of the one-click, too. But I don't think Amazon has any legal leg to stand on and probably won't succeed.

Charles, B&N is cheaper anyway!!!

Shauna Roberts said...

I keep buying at Amazon because for what I buy, it's cheaper than B&N, even though I have a B&N discount card.

I'm opposed to the new POD policy. There are some legitimate small presses that use POD, particularly those whose main business is e-books. It will be harder for such small presses to grow into medium presses if Amazon makes selling books through them more expensive.

Janice Thomson said...

I'll be passing this along to a few others William. I guess all one can say is that change is inevitable with a big company like Amazon - people will either stick it out with them or go somewhere else. It is a shame though.

Billy said...

Shauna, that's one of my chief concerns. POD technology is used more widely than people think. As you point out, it's used by independent and small presses to save money. Even major New York houses use POD technology for some nonfiction titles (the uneven word spacing on many lines is the "giveaway") to cut costs, although not many people know this. Small presses are really important in today's publishing climate. Thanks for such an insightful comment -:)

Janice, I have friends who have sent me their POD books, which were awful. But I have also seen some really good ones that sold several thousand copies. The average fiction title by a major traditional publisher sells less than ten thousand copies nationwide. As Shauna said above, many small presses use POD technology. But you're right--the times they are a changin'.

TomCat said...

I have no expertise in this field, but the move by Amazon certainly appears anti-competitive to me.

The last time I purchased books, Amazon was my first stop, but I found the same books for far less elsewhere.

Billy said...

TC, I do think it violates anti-trust laws. We'll see what the AG says.

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