Sunday, March 30, 2008 tries to force out the POD competition

A disturbing rumour has been circulating around the Internet regarding that I first read about on The Bookseller. It was one of those small snippets hidden within plain site that you could have almost blinked and missed, but one that nevertheless has disturbing implications for the publishing industry as a whole, not just within America either.

The article which was posted on Friday 28th March, and picked up from no less than the Wall Street Journal, states that in the United States have notified publishers who offer print books on demand that they will have to use their own on demand printing facilities (Booksurge) if they want their books to be sold directly on Amazon's website. According to the newspaper (The Wall Street Journal), this move signals that Amazon is intent on using its position as the premier online bookseller to strengthen its presence in other phases of book selling and manufacturing. In other words (this is my words), they are prepared to use bully boy tactics in order to destroy the competition, thus strengthening their own position.

When I first read this I wondered whether the Wall Street Journal had got the date wrong and printed this a few days ahead of April 1st, but sadly it seems that this is no hoax. Within hours of me reading this article, concerned authors began to post on the various networking sites, on both sides of the Atlantic, that I am a member of. A link on one of these, the Book Marketing Site led me to Writers Weekly which is one the largest and best known sites for reporting publishing news within the United States.

Here I found an article written by one Angela Hoy, co-owner of POD services company and publisher of Like many others, Angela states that when she first read this news she did not believe it either, but it is in fact very real.

Angela states that she emailed an Amazon/BookSurge representative who had been trying to get in touch with her by phone. John Clifford of Amazon/BookSurge called her back at 12.30 pm on Wednesday, March 26, 2008 at which point Angela relayed the rumours to him. Initially he tried to deny the rumours, but was forced to recant when he realised that Angela already knew too much for it to be denied.

As expected, print on demand authors and publishers across the length and breadth of America are up in arms at these heavy handed tactics, which are designed to force such companies to do business on Amazon's terms. Of course what they don't tell you is that their own printers, Booksurge, offer a far inferior service to anything offered by Lightning Source, the largest print on demand printer in both the US and the UK. If you type their name into Google you will find a myriad of author complaints about this company. This is not to mention the cost and inconvenience of converting files and changing publisher. After all, not all print on demand providers work with Booksurge, who are an entity in their own right.

Furthermore, since Amazon/BookSurge do not offer Ingram distribution (Ingrams being the US equivalent of Gardners), which is considered essential in order to stand any chance of being stocked in book stores, any company or individual who accepts the Amazon/BookSurge deal and wishes to maintain Ingram distribution will need to maintain two separate files - one for Ingram and one just for Amazon, and in effect, two ISBN's. This incurs certain costs, as the author is effectively forced to publish twice, maintaining two different versions of the same book.

This is to say nothing of course of the way in which their competitors will be affected. The knock on effect will be tremendous and not just for self published authors, since in the US like the UK, print on demand is becoming more and more mainstream, being utilised even by the large publishers to maintain their own back lists.

It seems to me then that in line with the recent debate re celebrity books that I talked about on here last week, this is all part of the divine plan, as there are clearly more things at work than at first it seems. There are two things happening here - firstly, print on demand is being debated openly in the general press as opposed to just the publishing press, thus opening up a discussion and dialogue on these issues that the reading public can see and respond to. The other thing which is perhaps more important, is that the large publishers who had previously dismissed print on demand as vanity press are seeing their chickens coming home to roost, as for the first time they are seeing and experiencing these issues and the prejudice that print on demand authors have to face through their own eyes. They therefore realise that both mainstream and self published authors are facing the same issues and the same battle. It is ironic in many ways that this had to happen before they could clearly see the consequences of their actions - that for every action there is an equal yet opposite reaction.

It is unclear at the moment as to how this will affect non-American authors and whether Amazon plan to use the same strategy on their other sites - of which is by far the largest. Bear in mind as I write this that they could easily try and do this, as Lightning Source also have a printing plant in Milton Keynes.

As Clive Keeble points out, on the Writers Weekly site, "As an opinionated independent UK book dealer I tend to follow the ongoing manner in which Amazon is enforcing terms and conditions on their suppliers. Thankfully I have had the good sense never to list, either directly or indirectly, on Amazon: and thankfully have never purchased anything from them.

I think that your readers should be aware that has in recent months withdrawn the 'Buy New' button here on "hard print" titles, the best documented case was with independent publishers Bloomsbury. It was several days before the 'Buy New' button was reinstated: neither publisher nor Amazon gave a printable quote to the trade press stating why the 'Buy New' button was withdrawn or re-instated.

At the time Benazir Bhutto's "Reconciliation" was published the 'Buy New' button mysteriously disappeared on Amazon, only to be re-instated two days later with the Amazon discount increased to 50 percent. I am unaware of any direct press comments - on the book world grapevine it was referred to a "just a little technical glitch" (believe that if you want). In my opinion, Aamazon is a dangerous predator and needs to be treated as such."

I am thoroughly confused I must say though and at a loss to understand what Amazon think they are playing at, as to my mind this is commercial suicide. Yes, Amazon are the largest online retailer and Internet sales are going through the roof at the moment, increasing year on year, but Lightning Source have printed over 33 million titles in the UK alone in the few short years since they started their operations here. Can Amazon really afford to lose this amount of business - somehow I think not. They need to realise that they are not the only Internet retailer out there, in the US or the UK - and there will always be someone willing and able to fill their shoes. They would be wise to remember the old adage, the bigger you are the harder you fall ...

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