The Amazon Kerfluffle
Posted by jamesviscosi on April 19, 2008
Last month, it came out that Amazon.com is instituting a new policy that print-on-demand publishers, such as Lulu.com and Hard Shell Word Factory (publisher of Night Watchman), must use Amazon.com’s own POD service BookSurge* or have the print editions of their books dropped from the main store (though they can still be sold by third parties through the Amazon marketplace). Some companies, like Lulu, quickly caved … uhhh, agreed to use BookSurge; others, like Hard Shell, are taking a harder line and refusing to accede to Amazon’s new rules. The net result, for me, is that Night Watchman may be disappearing from the Amazon.com store in the future. I will be watching to see if this happens; so far, it’s still there, but they only have one copy left (“order soon — more on the way”).
I haven’t quite decided yet what I think of this whole thing. I’m not really sure that Amazon doing anything differently from Wal-Mart, which is notorious for beating up suppliers to cut costs and lower prices. I don’t think Wal-Mart runs its own factories and requires its suppliers to use them, though. (I could be wrong; if I wanted to do stuff like “research” and “fact-checking” I would be writing non-fiction.) I guess I’d have to say that on the face of it Amazon is being anti-competitive and the ultimate upshot is likely to be higher POD costs, but we’ll see how it shakes out. I don’t have much to lose whether my books are on Amazon or not. The ones who do have something to lose are, I think, the small publishers; a lot of folks in the small press and self-publishing world are extremely agitated about Amazon’s move, and some are calling for a boycott. Will a boycott succeed? Probably not; it’s likely to be more symbolic than anything else. After all, Amazon has been boycotted before, notably over their one-click patent. The Internet was a smaller place then (fewer tubes) and the boycott still had no noticeable effect. The current issue at hand is about as arcane as the one-click patent issue, and just as few people care about it; I think Amazon will just get away with it, until and unless it attracts attention from regulators (i.e., never). In any case, I am neither an economist nor an MBA, so my opinion on such matters is probably worth about as much as I make on sales of my book from Amazon.com – i.e., next to nothing.
Anyway, if you’re looking for a copy of Night Watchman and you can’t find it at Amazon, you can always buy it directly from any number of places, like Barnes and Noble or directly from Hard Shell. Or you can just swing by the house and pick up a copy; I’ll even sign it, too.