Amazon Lowers the Boom on Discount eBook Sites

767292466_fa40c5888e_oWhen Amazon-owned Goodreads launched its discount ebook service last month, I wondered whether Amazon would find reasons to prune back its competition.

The first to lose its affiliate status with Amazon was Fussy Librarian, which went under the axe the week before Goodreads announced. At the time it looked like that was an isolated incident, but now it has been followed by two more sites, Pixel of Ink and eReaderIQ.

Fussy Librarian continues to operate, but the fate of the other sites is less certain.

Pixel of Ink announced today that they have shut down. They didn't give a specific reason, but did say that "due to changes in the eBook world and in our life, it is time for us to move on, and Pixel of Ink must now end".

I'm still following up with PoI, so I can't tell you the specific reason for its closure, but I do know that it wasn't the only casualty. eReaderIQ has made a similar, albeit more detailed announcement today. They've posted a notice on their homepage to the effect that:

As of June 10, 2016, eReaderIQ is no longer eligible to participate in the Amazon.com affiliate program. What this means is that we are no longer able to monetize this site simply by having users click on our links.

Because of this, we will need to rely on our users' support to keep the site running. Our short term goal is to generate enough user support to cover the costs of operating the site.

The notice goes on to ask for donations, and say that the site may relaunch as a subscription-based service in the future.

I spoke to eReaderIQ founder Christian Hupfeld on the phone this evening, and he told me that Amazon terminated the site's affiliate account for various violations of Amazon's ToS.

Like Fussy Librarian, eReaderIQ offered an email service where users could be notified of deals in the Kindle Store, and it also had a Chrome extension. Both are violations of Amazon's ToS, but rather than give the eReaderIQ a chance to correct the violations Amazon has instead cut the site off.

And that's not all.

Hupfeld told me that Amazon didn't just disable eReaderIQ's affiliate account; they also terminated all of his other unrelated affiliate accounts with Amazon sites in other countries (Italy, Germany, etc) even though they had nothing to do with eReaderIQ.

He has effectively been blacklisted by Amazon.

And he's not the only one, nor will he be the last. Hupfeld told me that another ebook site had also been blacklisted, even after it cleaned up its act and tried to use other affiliate accounts, and as the weeks go by we will surely hear of additional sites shutting down.

Amazon's affiliate system is one of the retailer's great strengths. It's easy to use, and gives websites a financial incentive to send their visitors to Amazon.

This system, and the bevy of ebook sites that grew up around it, helped make the Kindle the biggest ebook platform by giving it lots of cheap advertising.

But now that Goodreads has its own discount ebook service (and now that Amazon has no ebook competitors left), apparently the retailer has decided that it no longer needs the help of the ebook sites.

And so after turning a blind eye to rules violations for many years, it has now decided to crack down.

That is certainly Amazon's right, but let's not pretend that Amazon is motivated by anything other than a desire to squash their competitors.

Amazon has demonstrated in the past that they can take a milder approach if they so choose. Remember, in 2013 Amazon took steps to discourage these same ebook sites from promoting the download of free ebooks.

eReaderIQ, for example, was generating one hundred free ebook downloads for each ebook purchased, and then was profiting off the affiliate fees generated when a free ebook downloader went on to buy other items. This cost Amazon money without generating any real sales for Amazon, which is why Amazon took action.

Even though these sites were violating Amazon's ToS at the time, Amazon didn't ban any of the sites, but they did hit the sites in the pocketbook and force them to start promoting more paid ebooks deals and fewer free ebooks.

But that was back when Amazon still needed the ebook sites to keep the Kindle on top. Now that Amazon has no real competition in the ebook market, the sites are superfluous.

And they have been given the boot.

image by Akira Ohgaki

About Nate Hoffelder (11585 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader:"I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

46 Comments on Amazon Lowers the Boom on Discount eBook Sites

  1. And unfortunately the other players, Nook, iBooks, and Kobo, are too small for a site to survive on.

    So far I haven’t been impressed with the good reads daily deals. Most of it seems total crap and I’m not sure how its deciding what to give me, but book bub does it way better.

  2. Yes, this was pretty much inevitable but the key nugget will always be the direct link between the supplier (author) and consumer (readers). While Amazon retains control of this, it’ll always control the flow of money. The discount ebook sites provided a workable and relatively cheap alternative so it was only a matter of time before they had to go (with the exception of Bookbub and maybe one or two others who probably earns enough from their high fees to survive independently).
    Interestingly, over the last two years an increasing number of independent authors have also been advertising directly through Facebook etc. If this gets to sufficient volumes, I suspect that will be the next direct challenge for Amazon.

  3. Does this mean that Bookbub also violates Amazon’s ToS since they too email daily promos?

  4. This is getting so ridiculous. Amazon is making some really terrible decisions of late. They have cut the Kindle off from the cloud, again. Now any personal documents you send to kindle are not “yours” – if someone sends you a Kindle document to your account you can ONLY see it on another Kindle or device. You can NOT download it to your computer or retrieve the actual copy. This was a huge change for those of us that side load non DRM books and kept the copies on Kindle. Now this. It’s almost like no one cares at Amazon anymore. Where are the screaming politicians about the way Amazon has slowly thrown away all their competitors. The replacement that Goodreads offered is terrible. I never read anything other than nonfiction. I don’t use my “want to read” list on Goodreads to keep up with books I haven’t purchased. I don’t want to pay 25.00 for a Hatchett Ebook and just want to watch their various books – and only those I am interested in. I can’t afford another subscription service. No doubt ereaderiq will no longer be able to hold the model even as a subscription service. I’m sorry to say this but I can’t imagine paying to watch a book to drop for a few dollars. It defeats the purpose. EreaderIQ should approach the publishers about getting them to offer ads. Sadly, anything that remotely competes with Amazon will go the way of Scribd and die a slow and painful death.

    • “if someone sends you a Kindle document to your account you can ONLY see it on another Kindle or device.”

      Not so. If you have a Kindle then you can do a “download via computer” and so see it on your computer.

      Or downloaded to Kindle, plug in the USB cable and copy it to your computer.

      • Have you looked lately? I could not believe it, but when you go to the section on Amazon.Com/myk (shortcut), log in and chose “Docs” as a type, you see the sent files, but on the “…” Button there are now only two offers: “deliver” and “delete”.
        If you chose “books”, you get more options, among them “Download & transfer via USB”.
        This may be a recent change.

  5. Still receiving a daily mail from Fussy Librarian, there are still Amazon-Links, which are working as they link to the book, only not always with the price offered in the mail and sometimes resulting in a message instead of the price “this book is not available”, but, as I am not on US-soil, having sometimes an IP from Germany (my real one) or from Swiss (VPN) and being registered with a German address at all the Amazons (bought from de, co.uk, es, fr, co.jp, and of course .com), they know I am German and at .co.uk they do not sell me any ebooks, at .com certain ebooks are not sold to me, but most are.

    Sometimes they have low price from the mail or are even free, sometimes not, also depending on how long the offer stands and when I see and click the link (sometimes late).
    This is the same for both Fussy Librarian and Bookbub (have not subscribed to other services).

  6. How might eReaderIQ get away with a paid subscription model? Wouldn’t Amazon not like that either?

  7. Wow Amazon. I’ve just self published my ebook and after much (and I mean A LOT!) of reading and research about ebooks and self publishing, I just can’t bring myself to put my book up on Amazon. They might be the big guys but they sure don’t appear to be the nice guys. I’m more comfortable selling my book directly from my site for now.

    • By all means.
      You already have thousands of dedicated fans visiting your website and aware of your books and eager to buy them, right? Enough to ensure you a solid, steady income stream, right?
      Then you don’t need to go with Amazon as a distribution channel.

      On the other hand, BAEN has their own dedicated ebookstore tons of goodwill among ebook readers, lots of bestselling authors, and lots of ebook sales…
      …and they still had to revamp their ebook operations to accomodate Apple, Nook, Kobo, and yes, Amazon.

      It is possible to survive in Indie publishing without Amazon. I can name a couple of examples. But it takes a lot of dedicated fans, upfront.

    • My guess is that they hope to make up in subscription fees the money they’ve lost as an Amazon Affiliate. They would simply just be passing along info on freebie/discount books without getting money from Amazon to do it.

  8. It could simply be a tipping point kind of thing, you know: a certain amount of rule-breaking gets tolerated but once the damage gets noticeable they act.
    Like with the various scams on KU and with reviews.
    Or earlier, with people selling crappy PD ebooks.

    This isn’t the first house cleaning they’ve conducted and it won’t be the last.

    As for BookBub, they make their money charging the publisher not from affiliate fees. Different business model. Charging subscribers to receive the emails is also a different business. And neither model takes money out of Amazon coffers via affiliate fees.

    All businesses deal with, and quietly absorb, a certain amount of “pilferage” but once it shows up on the bottom line they will act.
    Nobody enjoys getting scammed.

    • BookBub links sent via email still have affiliate codes. The same is true for FKBT and ENT. Perhaps Zon started squashing the smaller players and are moving up. Bub may be big enough to buy an exception to the rule as they do generate a ton of sales for Zon.

      • Having afilliate codes in the email is no guarantee Amazon will pay out on that click. If they are actively enforcing the rules they can simply quietly ignore them and wait for Bookbub to whine.

  9. Ereaader and other sites may very well be able to stay around without subscription. They’ve been taking ads from authors for years. Fussy Librarian was always ad based. This just means their income comes only from authors and there is no Amazon associate bonus.

    I don’t think this is a good move by Amazon because the ads at some of these places worked–and it sent traffic to Amazon. Of course, they know the numbers and obviously decided that some of these sites (because they are ad-based) would still send them traffic and Amazon doesn’t have to pay the associate fee!!!! In the case of Pixel though, they just shut the site down (Pixel had offloaded the whole sign-up-for-an-ad/authors to a third party in the last year, but it didn’t work too well. Ereaderiq offloaded that as well–the result was that authors were generally less happy with the ad offerings and the ads were more expensive). But some of these sites will still be able to make it on ads, just as Bookbub makes a lot of their money on ads–so long as the ads continue to sell books!

    IMO Facebook ads don’t sell as many books as some of these sites. Ereader ads two years ago could sell a hundred books a day, whilst facebook for a much lower cost could move one or two. These book sites were and are much more targeted and are opt-in. Facebook ads can be targeted, but it’s still a very random thing and it isn’t email based or opt-in (and the reader can, in fact, opt out of a particular ad.) It is already in the TOS that you aren’t supposed to use affiliate links on a social site like FB–so AMazon will merely stop paying on such referrals. I have a fb page were I listed bargains (not just for Amazon) but I’ve already been letting it slack because I don’t expect Amazon to pay referrals in the near future.

    The industry is changing again!

  10. Ereaderiq has saved me a TON of money over the years. I sent them a donation this morning in gratitude for what I have received from them and hope others do the same. As to a subscription, depending on what it may cost, that would work, too. I’ve received no value whatsoever from Goodreads. For the most part, I already know what I want to read, and appreciate a service where I can be notified of price drops for the boos listed.

  11. The only way for the other sales channels to be able to make it is for us to use them instead of Amazon when we market our books.
    There are plenty of other places that a book can be sold other than Amazon. By all means, send traffic to buy directly from your websites. But, if we all join together and use those smaller places, such as Kobo, the little places may have a fighting chance.

    • It’s also up to the other retailers to be as easy to use and inexpensive with great customer service–Amazon has consistently beat them over the years although there is some improvement. I’ve been a kobo associate for a few years, but I can tell you they do not drive the kind of traffic that Amazon drives. How can they? They specialize in one area. Ive sold books direct through my site for years too, but I can’t offer one-click and instant download to a device (partly because Amazon won’t allow such).

      Amazon is not going to go away and they will continue to make things difficult for the little guy. That’s just the way of things.

  12. The Fussy Librarian is NOT closing. We are open for business and our emails are going out as I type this.

    We’ll be here for years to come. Promise.

    • Oh good, given that I have an ad scheduled with you, guys (Fussy).

      On the rest of it – the more things change… Yes, it would be glorious if enough indies and self-pubbers banded together and put all their work everywhere but on Amazon, but, and it’s a huge but – we’d all have to be independently wealthy to do so. I am not in a position to ignore the one place my books are getting any traction. I wish I were though.

  13. I liked eReaderIQ. Too bad. So I guess Bookbub is next.

  14. There were two sites that were good for me to find bargains– sfsite and ereaderiq. A month ago sfsite shut down because they wanted to. Now ereaderiq won’t make any money so it’s only a matter of time before they shut down.

    I don’t like the goodreads daily deal emails, it’s mostly junk. The only thing I have left is Kobo top 50. Anything worth reading that it is severely discounted will make it to their top 50 fairly quickly.

    • I hadn’t heard about the other site, but that was probably one of the first sites Amazon took out.

      I bet it’s the site that Hupfeld referred to but did not name.

    • These sites can make it on the ad-based model and probably can make more than in affiliate fees. But that does assume their ads work for authors and it is getting much harder to be noticed so ads are less effective (through no fault of the various ad-based sites.)

      The sites may not make as much money before, but that doesn’t mean they will all go away. Even Bookbub now sends traffic to other retailers (not just Amazon). Some of the bargain sites can take ads for Kobo sales, for example (the way Kobo sales are done, they are coupon oriented, therefor there is no price matching. But there are few sites that sell ads when a coupon/sale is running.) So there is room out there. THings are just changing.

      • Hmm…When was Bookbub Amazon only? I’ve gotten emails from them for a few years, and there was always the option to get notified of deals from at least Kobo and Nook–not sure about iBooks or Google, since I never buy books from either of those stores.

        Shari

  15. BookBub charges authors up front for advertising so I don’t know how much or if they ever relied on affiliate links to authors books. I can’t see them closing, but I bet the prices are going to go up.

  16. Smashwords affiliate program expressly ALLOWS affiliate links in emails. And worldwide DRM-free downloads.

    These kinds of sites played a significant role in helping Amazon build its dominance in ebooks. Now would be a good time for them to work together to show that they aren’t going to be cut off at the knees without a fight.

  17. Amazon is a beast We all know it so why does everybody keep using it? The point is we give them the power,

    • Because the alternatives are worse.
      Amazon isn’t a public utility.
      Amazon doesn’t exist for the benefit of authors, publishers, or hangers-on.
      Amazon doesn’t even exist for the benefit of consumers, though they cater to their needs, so long as it doesn’t conflict with Amazon’s interests.

      Amazon exists to ensure:

      1- Amazon’s continued survival
      2- Amazon’s continued growth (because that growth drives up the stock price, which is the compensation stockholders receive) so long as that growth doesn’t imperil Amazon’s survival
      3- Amazon customer satisfaction so long as it doesn’t conflict with the first two imperatives.

      Think of it as the Three Laws of Amazon.
      (With no apologies to Asimov.)

  18. I’m a super stickler for disclosure and following policies and FTC stuff. So honestly? These sites shouldn’t have been doing what they were doing. It’s not about whether Amazon had normally cracked down before this. People should follow the rules. Yes, sure there was a reason they are cracking down now, but if we are all on the up and up to begin with, we aren’t going to have to worry about getting shut down. Let’s be above reproach with our business practices!

  19. Easy answer for a buyer: since Sony closed the ebook shop, Amazon has been the easiest shop around. When a book is expensive or for some reason not on Amazon, then I start to look elsewhere. Kobo got my bought ebooks moved from some closed shops (Sony, Waterstone and/or WHSMith), but I simply get totally frustrated when I try to buy a new book there, and always give up and look elsewhere.
    Barnes&Noble is sometimes ok, but as a German I have to jump through hoops to buy there (VPN etc.). And it is only a matter of time till they close their ebook shop, imho.
    Tried a few indies, and in Germany we have ebook.de and Thalia, which are often expensive for english language books, and I do not read a lot of German. The problem with indies is the limited offer, and another registration is needed most of the time, which needs also to be linked to Adobe. Although in Germany more publishers drop DRM, but it is not reliable yet, if you try to buy a new book wether it will have DRM or not.

    Ease of use is one of the main points for buying from Amazon, so I will not see myself dropping Amazon soon, at least given the same price for a book. As a former helpdesk slave I can deal with problems, but why should I deal with problems (Kobo) or make an effort to buy a buy a book (Barnes&Nobles), which I do not have when buying from Amazon?

  20. We launched a new service (Forewordz.com) back in April that is very indie, author, and small pub friendly. Since we operate from Maine, we cannot participate in any Amazon affiliate programs. Our long-term strategy is to give readers an exceptional selection of books that expands beyond trending titles, while understanding the needs of authors (we’re also authors and own a small publishing company) and providing services and programs that support their success. It’s sad to see our competitors shutting down, as we strongly believe in ad/promo stacking for optimal success. A single ad on a website or via an email service is usually not enough to have any strong impact on discoverability or sales. Timing a series of ads or promos over a period of time (a day, three days, a week) produces much better results. So we encourage authors to submit their deals to BookBub, Fussy Librarian, our site, and others, and time these deals around the same date. It’s like physics. An object in motion… Working together we can achieve more. We have a long road ahead of us, but we’re up for the challenge.

    • That seemed to work a while back, but these day many of the same readers are signed up to all the various discount places. I’ve found it more effective to do an ad with two places during the same week (not the same day) and leave it at that. Stacking just seems to reach the same readers. The only benefit is that if the reader ignores one or two emails, yet reads the third, they still might see the book.

      • Stacking doesn’t have to be the same type of advertising/promos. It can be a BookBub ad and a press release on day one; a featured article and Forewordz ad on day two; and so on. Keeping the momentum going and building, as opposed to an isolated ad on Facebook that gives a momentary bump (if at all). I’ve used this strategy countless times and it works. But it does take some planning and time.

  21. Hasn’t it always been against Amazon’s affiliate TOS to use affiliate links in emails? I’ve had to show that section to many authors before. It stinks as many authors would benefit from being able to include affiliate links in their emails to readers but rules are rules, right? I’m surprised by how many sites seem to be surprised Amazon is cutting them off when they have violated the terms. It stinks that those are the terms but it isn’t new.

    • Yes, links in email or print (e.g., QR codes or bookmarks) have been against their ToS for as long as I remember, but “Redirecting Links” are permitted as long as they’re not embedded in search results.

      Redirects such as BookBub’s current system are permitted.

      • Yes but I believe the sites that are being banned from Amazon’s affiliate program are those that do not use redirects. Hence why I find it weird people seem surprised by this news when it has been a longstanding rule.

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