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Sometimes Amazon is More Evil Than the Major Publishers

When it comes to ebooks, it is easy for a digital and indie author proponent to take the side of Amazon against the major publishers. After all, the former wants to sell more ebooks, while the latter did their best to kill the ebook market (and probably doomed themselves when the ebook market grew without them, but that is a story for another time).

Picking sides, however, shouldn’t stop us from criticizing Amazon when they take a position that is actually more evil than major publishers.

Consider library ebooks, for example. Everyone is upset with the major publishers over the restrictions they have placed on library ebook sales, but Amazon is actually worse. Macmillan may have imposed further restrictions on library ebooks this year and charges ridiculous fees, but Amazon doesn’t even sell ebooks to libraries.

As the ALA made clear in their testimony before Congress earlier this week, on a scale of one to Amazon, Macmillan and the other major publishers barely rate a score of five out of ten. The Big Five at least sell ebooks to libraries, after all, but Amazon does not.

From the ALA statement (PDF):

In the past decade, eBooks have grown from a niche phenomenon to become about 19% of the U.S. book market. Though consumers may acquire eBooks easily through commercial channels, libraries face major barriers because of abuse of market power by dominant firms.

The worst obstacle for libraries are marketplace bans: refusal to sell services at any price. Amazon Publishing, now a large publisher in its own right, ranks as the fifth largest publisher for eBooks by dollar sales. Among Amazon Publishing clients are high-profile authors Dean Koontz, Mindy Kaling, and Mark Sullivan.

The eBook titles from Amazon Publishing are not available to libraries for lending at any price or any terms. By contrast, consumers may purchase all of these titles directly from Amazon. This is a particularly pernicious new form of the digital divide; the Amazon Publishing books are available only to people who can afford to buy them, without the library alternative previously available to generations of Americans.

Sometimes Amazon is more evil than publishers.

image by Abee5 via Flickr

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Steve October 25, 2019 um 12:32 pm

As I understand it, neither Amazon nor the BigPub sell directly to libraries. They work instead through OverDrive and other services that function as an intermediary to actually track the ebook checkouts on behalf of the publisher. BigPub sets the terms of their contracts with these intermediaries so that they can turn a profit, sometimes obnoxiously high profits.
Now, Amazon is seldom reluctant to enter a market where it can make a profit. I wonder if Overdrive and the other intermediary services have even bothered to try for a contact with Amazon Publishing? Or have they tried, but Amazon insisted on too high a price?

Darryl October 25, 2019 um 6:36 pm

When I saw the headline my thought was Nate is at it again. I sometimes find Nate a little too ready to criticise Amazon. But on this occasion I agree 100%. Amazon would, just like the large publishers, like people to buy books, not borrow them. And no doubt would prefer people to join KU rather than a library. Amazon so far has obviously seen no sufficient benefits in making their books available for library lending. Their answer, as I seem to recall, has always been that they are open to the idea but have not been seriously approached. Well, this seems to be the litmus test.

Disgusting Dude October 26, 2019 um 10:39 am

Books don’t go into libraries for free. Libraries pay and they pay through the nose. And the big publishers keep on squeezing them on top of it.
Amazon simply forgoes library blood money and stays away from that can of worms.
Until there is a law mandating library book distribution they have that right. And are smart to do. There is no value there. Not in money. Not in discoverability.

And they aren’t the only publisher that doesn’t have books in libraries.
How about doing a bit of research and listing them?
Or pointing out why they’re not there?

There’s a ton of (good and cheap) books published via Kobo, Nook, Smashwords, and small presses all over that don’t get into libraries, either, and it’s because libraries don’t *want* to even see them listed side by side with the books from the big boys. How about shining a bit of light there?
The libraries are wedded to the big publishers and the traditional establishment and the "bestsellers" lists. Both sides want to eat their cake and have it too.
If the big publishers abuse libraries it is only because libraries enable it.
They talk about how libraries make books available to all except they don’t point out it is only *certain* books that merit library attention.
They’re gatekeepers supporting the establishment just like bookstores.
Anybody want to bet that if AmazonPublishing (because that is who they are complaining about, remember?) did make their books available to libraries any of them would actually be supported by tge libraries? I’m betting they would instead join the boycott against APub or simply ignore them because they’re not listed in the "bestsellers" list.
What is more likely to happen is that if APub made their books available to libraries none would be featured and then APub would stop and get vilified anyway.
If you’re going to be treated liie a villain anyway, might as well save the money and effort.
They’re Amazon.
Of course they’re the bad guys to that crowd!
Why even try to get the approval of the "kool kids"?
Can you seriously say APub making its books available to libraries would actually result in libraries lending out those books?
But, hey, it’s Amazon.
Let’s put a target on them so the kool kids will know you’re one of them.
Amazon is snart to stay away from that catfight.

If you won’t, try covering the whole story: how the libraries choose what to feature and what not to, how they enable their own oppression. Go ahead, the facts are out there if you just ask. Kobo makes their KWL books available;how are they treated by libraries? How many does overdrive actually sell?

There’s a "revolution" going on against tradpub for their abuse of writers. Libraries chose to side with the abusers yet now they act surprised and offended that they are being abused? Just like authors and non-chain bookstores?
What’s that old story about scorpions being scorpions?

Xavier Basora October 26, 2019 um 7:18 pm


Perhaps the govt needs to intervene and establish legislative guideline for ebooks purchase/borrowing for libraries The antics from the Big 5 and Amazon need to be reined in.

Will Entrekin October 28, 2019 um 9:27 am

"Among Amazon Publishing clients are high-profile authors Dean Koontz, Mindy Kaling, and Mark Sullivan.

The eBook titles from Amazon Publishing are not available to libraries for lending at any price or any terms."

Dean Koontz doesn’t yet have any stories out through Amazon Publishing; according to Publishing Perspectives, he was headed to a deal with Thomas & Mercer, but the first book in a five-title deal is coming in spring 2020. In the meantime, there will be some stories available starting next month.

Could the not-available-in-libraries thing stem from or be related to ISBNs? I know Overdrive requires them. But a quick jump over to the Amazon Publishing page led me to Robert Dugoni’s "My Sister’s Grave," whose book info page includes an ASIN for the ebook, but no ISBN.

"the Amazon Publishing books are available only to people who can afford to buy them,"

In general, it looks like Thomas & Mercer books are priced around $4.99. Some make it to $6.99, but there are also myriad discounted to $1.99 or less through frequent promotions.

So corporate publishers sell ebooks to readers for $9.99 (that was the price they colluded to, wasn’t it?) or sell ebooks to libraries for ten times that (with restrictive licenses), but Amazon is more evil?


Steve October 28, 2019 um 1:06 pm

Will, I thought your question about ISBNs was interesting. But I suspect that more to the point would be whether the book is cataloged with OCLC (Worldcat), since most US libraries get their book metadata from there. I did a few searches for books listed prominently on the Amazon Publishing page and saw that they are indeed listed on, with Amazon Publishing as the publisher.

Clicking through, however, I found that only the print editions were listed (and were, as it happens, available in the libraries of the two closest cities near me.) The ebooks were not listed among the "available formats and editions".

Will Entrekin October 28, 2019 um 8:58 pm

Perhaps further worth noting: a cursory glance at the book info pages of several books published by Thomas & Mercer lists ISBN in both digit varieties for the print versions, but again, none for the ebooks.

So is Amazon really "evil," or — like many independent authors and publishers — is it simply unable to sell ISBN-less ebooks to libraries' systems? And if the latter, is that Amazon’s fault, or Bowker’s? Because only one of those two companies is an actual monopoly, and it’s not Amazon.

Nate Hoffelder October 28, 2019 um 11:00 pm


Amazon buys blocks of ISBNs from Bowker, this we know. Is it your argument is that Bowker is stopping Amazon from assigning some of those ISBNs to ebooks?

*yanks on Will’s hair, revealing several gnomes in a Will-suit*

Aha! I knew you were Underpants Gnomes!

Will Entrekin October 29, 2019 um 8:54 am

No, it was simply that for whatever reason Amazon isn’t using ISBNs for its ebooks, and because it isn’t, those books can’t be catalogued for libraries.

No idea why Amazon wouldn’t do so, especially given, as you note, it must be buying blocks of them for use with the print versions.

Either way, I’m still wondering if the fact that Amazon’s books aren’t available through libraries is somehow related to the fact that most don’t seem to have ISBN numbers.

Oh! Or it could be format. Amazon ebooks aren’t .epubs, which might be required for libraries. Certainly Overdrive uses them.

Steve October 30, 2019 um 1:01 pm

Most US libraries get their cataloging data from OCLC (WorldCat), Out of curiosity, I went to their site and searched for some of the books listed prominently on Amazon Publishing’s page. I had no trouble finding books that were released by Amazon Publishing, and some of those were also listed as available at nearby libraries, but when I asked to see all editions and formats, only paper editions were listed.

I then checked some of those on Amazon, and found ISBNs listed for the paper versions, but not for the ebook versions.

So, make of that what you will. It’s hardly a comprehensive study, but it does appear that Amazon Publishing is selective in where it assigns ISBNs.

Allen F November 16, 2019 um 12:09 am

Late to the party, but here’s another thought.

One of the major advantages of going indie/self-pub is still owning all your rights. Nothing stops a writer from selling their ebooks on Amazon and other sites – some of which sell to libraries.

So, if libraries actually want ebooks maybe they should ask the writers rather than blaming Amazon.

(I myself would love to donate my ebooks to libraries for free, but from what I understand you can only offer them to third parties that then charge the libraries …)

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