Starting about two months ago, Amazon changed their policy on buy button on book listings. The old policy was that Amazon controlled the button and when you clicked it you bought the book Amazon sourced from the publisher.
Under the new policy, Amazon is giving the buy button to whichever seller can offer the best combination of price, customer service, shipping, etc. (The policy was announced last November and took effect in March.)
As a result, consumers may be seeing something like in the following listing where the buy button gets you a book from a low-price third-party seller, and the copy Amazon bought from the publisher is pushed down to the “other sellers” section.
Naturally, publishers are pissed.
Their proxy, The Authors Guild, is so upset/senile that it claimed the policy extended to “hard copy, paper, audio, and Kindle”. (Yes, they apparently believe that we can resell the ebook review copies we get from NetGalley. ?!?)
Brooke Warner, publisher at She Write Press, was inspired by the new policy to pen a piece over on Huffington Post which is full of self-serving half-truths, red herrings, outright fictions, “think of the children” pleas, attempts to creatively reinterpret the English language, redirected anger, and astroturfing.
I have culled a few of her more absurd claims for a fisking:
Amazon, once again, is attempting to drive down the value of books, and therefore intellectual property and creative work in general.
The problem with blaming Amazon (and why this is redirected anger) is that the third-party seller can only price the book that low if the publisher let it go at an even lower price.
If there’s anyone devaluing books, it’s the publisher.
I’ve argued in the past that Amazon price fixes e-books by fostering a system in which authors get better royalties if they price their books between $2.99 and $9.99.
I salute Warner’s attempt to reinvent the English language, but that’s not price fixing.
We saw price fixing first hand when Apple conspired with the five publishers to raise and fix the price of ebooks. Amazon, on the other hand, has not conspired with anyone in setting its pricing policy.
If a book is not showing up as readily available by its publisher on Amazon, the author doesn’t make royalties. Third-party sellers may have obtained the books they sell in any number of ways.
Unless you’re going to claim that the seller conjured the book out of mid-air or stole it, the publisher sold the book. (And if the sale of review copies is depressing your legit sales then you’re giving away too many review copies.) If the book was sold then the publisher got paid.
If the book was sold then the publisher got paid, and the author got their royalty.
And if the book was sold so cheap that there was no royalty then that is, again, the fault of the publisher.
If consumers don’t see the option to buy new, from the publisher, then Amazon is promoting piracy.
Another attempt to creatively reinvent the English language. That’s not piracy.
If this new policy takes hold for the vast majority of backlist books, authors’ and publishers’ revenue will dry up completely, and more and more books will go more quickly out of print. Publishers will not be able to afford to keep books in print that are not for sale on Amazon. So this policy is essentially driving books to an earlier death—and thereby hurting authors.
In the POD era, there is no such thing as “out of print”. (And What About Kindle !?!)
Amazon has a couple POD services, including one aimed at publishers’ backlists. Ingram also does POD, so the only way a book can go out of print in 2017 is if publishers refuse to make use of all of their options.
Even Warner admits to that in this next bit where she tries to confuse the issue:
Amazon suggests that one of the ways you can win the Buy Box is to keep books “in stock.” This poses a major problem for self-published authors and any backlist author whose books are print-on-demand. Print-on-demand automatically means there’s no stock. The books are printed to order. If Amazon is penalizing books that are set up as POD titles and favoring third-party sellers who have stock due to any of the abovementioned means of procurement, authors will again be dinged when their own listing, or publisher listing, doesn’t exist on Amazon.
If the book is POD in the first place then the most likely source of cheap copies is either used sales or review copies. The first possibility means that a royalty was already paid on the used copy, while the problem of excess review copies points to sub-optimal business decisions by the author/publisher.
As consumers and concerned citizens, we should be very bothered by this new policy.
This is a rather pathetic attempt at astroturfing (see Authors United for another example).
Warner thinks consumers should be concerned about being offered the lowest price for a good or service.
That’s just nonsense, and in fact the entire issue is a load of nonsense.
I can sum it up pretty simply:
Curse Amazon for not offering consumers a higher price.
How dare a retailer sell a good at the cheapest price possible.
How dare they.
It is outrageous, and the book publishing industry Does Not Approve.
image by hnnbz