Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Amazon's Strong Arm

Amazon recently announced to its small press clients that they must start to use Amazon's POD (print-on-demand) publisher Booksurge to print the books they want to sell using Amazon's retail arm. Publishers like Lulu (which allows authors to self-publish) immediately caved. (And let me say here that, as a consumer, I love Amazon. I have spent a LOT of money there.)

But here's the thing. Whatever kind of "discounts" Amazon demands, whatever fees Booksurge charges, will hurt only one group of people. The authors. Just about all the writers I know aren't in this as a hobby--and I know I sure as hell am not. This is a career for me as it is most of my writer friends.

Amazon is pitching the move as a consumer-friendly change that will improve the speed of shipping books and other products (because Booksurge is on-site and can print and ship books within 24 hours of the order being placed. However, Lightening Source, the current POD printer, can also do--and historically has done--the same thing...)

The Author's Guild spoke up in a recent Publisher's Weekly article. In part, they question Amazon's motivation, saying the move 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.”

Maya Reynolds has had some good posts about this (she's much more articulate about this than I am) here, here and here.

If you're a writer, this could very well affect you--if not today, then down the road if Amazon is allowed to continue this. And even if it doesn't ever affect you, what about your fellow authors? Give your support by signing the iPetition here.

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