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Amazon is Facing Boycotts, Cries of Blackmail from Japanese Publishers

8493641623_5efb926d54_b[1]Never one to fight a single battle at a time, Amazon is in conflict with publishers in multiple countries, including Bonnier in Germany, Hachette Book Group in the US, and (reportedly) unnamed publishers in the UK.

And now we can add Japan to that list.

The Asahi Shimbun is reporting that Amazon has launched a new ranking system which has Japanese publishers up in arms. 

Amazon Japan is the nation’s largest book retailer for paper and electronic media. Its new system gives higher rankings to publishers that pay higher fees to Amazon Japan and to publishers with larger eBook catalogs.

Additionally, eBooks from publishers ranked higher are given more prominence on the website.

Many publishers, including high-profile publishing houses, have protested the move, calling it a form of "blackmail" that exploits the company’s considerable dominance in the book retailing industry.

"Wouldn’t antitrust authorities start to wonder if Amazon Japan is taking advantage of its monopolistic position in the market?" said Bungeishunju Ltd. when it protested to Amazon Japan in June.

After checking several Japanese news sites (both English-language and Japanese) I have yet to uncover a corroborating story, so I would suggest that we take the above quote with a large grain of salt.

Update: The story, including general details on the rating system, has been confirmed/reported by the AFP.

Second Update: The comment section over at The Passive Voice blog has pointed out that the accusations quoted above sound like co-op, a common business practice in the US.

But while I was looking I did find an unrelated story from July.

It seems that a number ofJapanese publishers do not appreciate Amazon’s sales practices, and according to the Manichi Shimbun they responded by removing their titles from

In a dispute which reportedly started in May (but only came across my desk today), 5 publishers suspended sales via Amazon with the demand that the retail giant end student discounts. The publishers object to Amazon skirting Japan’s fixed book price laws via Amazon Student membership service, which launched in Japan in 2012.

The retailer awards 10 percent of a book’s price as "points" to registered student purchasers. They can use these points to purchase books at discount prices. The retail price of books, however, is controlled through resale price maintenance, in which retailers are required to sell books at the price set by publishers. Through its service, Amazon is in effect giving students a 10 percent discount on books.

Five publishers joined a boycott of Amazon in May, and 3 were continuing the boycott when my source story was published in early July. About 2,700 titles were affected by the boycott.

I can’t confirm that the boycott continues to this day, but I would not be surprised. I can add, however, that other publishers have expressed dissatisfaction with Amazon’s discount practices but don’t feel they can afford to join the boycott. For example, Kodansha is described as saying that "its business with the online retailer is extensive, including e-book services, and it cannot easily resort to suspending Amazon sales."

It’s not clear how or when that boycott will be resolved, but as one American publisher has shown it is possible to avoid doing business with Amazon.  EDC was recently profiled in Business Insider in relation to its cutting ties with Amazon in 2012:

With no real choice, White took the leap in 2012, becoming one of the only publishers in the country to spurn the “everything store.” Distributors who resell books to Amazon, including Ingram and Baker & Taylor, also soon found their supplies of books like “The Gas We Pass” and “Sticker Dolly Dressing Dream Jobs” cut off. For good measure, EDC also ditched other big-box discount stores, including Sam’s Club, Costco, and Target.

 In a turn of events that might offer some solace to other publishers, White recently announced that EDC has not only survived the leap into the unknown but just had its best year ever in net revenues. July sales were up 28% over the same month last year, and first-quarter revenues came in 20% higher than 2013’s numbers.

Amazon was only a small fraction of EDC’s business, so the decision to cut ties may have beenblown out of proportion, but it still shows that life is possible without Amazon.

image by Daniel E Lee

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Timothy Wilhoit August 28, 2014 um 7:38 pm

On the part about EDC, they have a home-business division, described in the article as "an army of some 7,000 sales “consultants” who sell Usborne and Kane Miller books directly to their friends and neighbors, mostly through book fairs and Tupperware-style home parties (a root beer float night is one surefire winner). The home division is a multilevel marketing organization (MML) in which amateur sales reps around the country not only peddle books but also recruit new representatives into the program." The way they describe it, this isn’t a pyramid scheme.

Dan Meadows August 29, 2014 um 8:12 am

Nope, totally not a pyramid scheme. Not at all. And can someone possibly be less sympathetic than Japanese publishers complaining and boycotting because students are getting a 10% discount? Another example of the glorious wonders of fixed price book laws. Sometimes I want to criticize Amazon more but then I take a good look at some of the folks leading the charge against them and they’re not anything I’m even remotely interested in supporting.

Dan Agin August 28, 2014 um 9:26 pm

You say: "After checking several Japanese news sites (both English-language and Japanese) I have yet to uncover a corroborating story, so I would suggest that we take the above quote with a large grain of salt."

So maybe the headline should be "…may be in conflict…" rather than "…is in conflict…"

Nate Hoffelder August 28, 2014 um 9:41 pm

Except I have the other story as well. I thought the other one was completely plausible.

Dan Agin August 29, 2014 um 12:24 am

Does that matter? Plausible is not actual, so your headline slants the news. Do you want all your headlines to be interpreted as opinions and guesses rather than reports of news? That destroys an ihteresting site. IMO

Nate Hoffelder August 29, 2014 um 6:59 am

Yes, it does matter if I find it plausible.

I have an obligation to verify, filter, and analyze stories. If I think a story is too outlandish, I express doubt. If it passes my judgement I report it as news.

That older story from the UK has never been confirmed, which is why I added the word "reportedly". But the boycott story has names attached, is plausible, and has a high probability of being confirmed. And so I report it as news.

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