When 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