Monday, April 07, 2008

YouWriteOn urges authors to boycott Amazon

Regular readers of this blog will know that when the whole Amazon thing kicked off, just over a week ago, one of the first things I did was email everyone on my mailing list, and also post on here, encouraging everyone to boycott Amazon and not have any further dealings with them until further notice.

I am pleased to see that I am no longer alone in this endeavour, as the managers of, a website funded by the Arts Council and aimed at budding writers, who review others work in exchanging for having their own reviewed, for a chance of getting a critique by industry experts, including leading UK publishers, have now added their weight to the anti Amazon campaign.

A report written by Graeme Neill in today's edition of The Bookseller online reads as follows:

", the Arts Council initiative for new writers, has called for a boycott of Amazon after the retailer's move to push publishers into using its own print on demand service.
Last week Amazon caused anger among small and independent publishers in the US when it told them that all p.o.d. titles would have to be printed at Amazon's fulfilment centres by its POD service BookSurge. It sparked fears that Amazon was trying to squeeze competitors out of the POD market.

There are no current plans to introduce BookSurge into the UK. However, has invited all POD authors to list books on its site with a free link to any bookseller apart from Amazon. It called this "effectively...a proactive boycott of Amazon".

"It seems that Amazon are effectively attempting to monopolise the POD industry, and monopolies are never to the benefit of individuals. This will inevitably lead to less choice, less opportunities, and less royalties for POD writers," said Edward Smith, manager of YouWriteOn.Com. "It is also a red flag to the publishing industry in terms of how Amazon may use their influence on books from mainstream commercial publishing houses in the future."

The trouble is that having gone to their site, I cannot for the life of me see exactly how POD authors are supposed to do what Edward proposes. All I have received so far is an invite to review a book. Perhaps I am meant to do this first and then I can upload my book to their site. The report in The Bookseller should really make this clear, and much as I admire their philosophy and what they are trying to do, this does smack in its own way of their own attempt to not just help POD authors, but also to increase their membership. This may of course be my well developed inner cynic talking here.
I know that this is becoming big news when I see that this is the third report on the Amazon debate to appear on The Bookseller online today. Graeme Neill also reports regarding the Authors Guild statement that I mentioned on Friday, where they surmise that Amazon are attempting to control much of what the Guild refer to as the 'long tail' of publishing. The Guild, echoing the views of so many others state that in their view "once Amazon owns the supply chain, it has effective control of much of the 'long tail' of publishing - the enormous number of titles that sell in low volumes but which, in aggregate, make a lot of money for the aggregator."
This is what we in the UK would call back list titles, those books that sell in relatively slow but steady numbers, as indeed mine does.

It is uneconomic for book stores to stock many of these titles, since they cannot get sufficient discount, and the books are also non returnable. Once Amazon has control of the supply chain for these books, via Booksurge, they will be able to dictate any terms that they want, having both authors and publishers over a proverbial barrel, or so they think.

Owning the supply chain would allow them to easily increase profit margins on these books by insisting on higher discounts and upping the prices for printing. Most publishers, the Guild state, would be able to do little but grumble and comply. If Amazon really think this, then they have an awful lot still to learn and are in for one hell of a shock.
The Guild go on to state that "We suspect this maneuver by Amazon is far more about profit margin than it is about customer service or fossil fuels. The potential big losers (other than Ingram) if Amazon does impose greater discounts on the industry, are authors - since many are paid for on-demand sales based on the publisher's gross revenues - and publishers."

The third story to appear today is regarding Amazon's attempt to control pricing as reported a few days ago in Publishing News. I am totally incredulous to see two messages of support that actually agree with this policy, by Julian Rivers and someone purporting to be a tree (if I was a dog I would cock my leg against them and see what they think of that!)

This person states that in their opinion "publishers should stick to publishing and if this action stops publishers stupidly trying to undercut retailers to make a quick few quid, then that's good news for them all from the mighty Amazon to the humble indie. Publishers should support and work with retailers, not cut corners and cut them out." What a shame this does not appear to work the other way.

Julian in the meantime states "Amazon are just like any other trader who realises that their supplier is their competitor as well . They are completely correct in assuming that the new RRP is the price that the publisher is seeking to sell the book to the public at. How else could they judge it? I personally think that all the big players should follow suit, and the small ones too for that matter. The publishers need to respect their trade customers large and small, and thank goodness that Amazon are now strong enough to take the publishers on. All the retail trade needs to follow their lead." He does not get it though - it is the retailers that cause the problem, not the publishers. Publishers would never offer to sell books at high discount unless the chains did not do this themselves. What we need is for all of them to get round the table and discuss this in a sensible and rational manner, realising that when it comes down to it, both want the same thing - to make money by selling books. There is nothing wrong with this, but not at any price, for one has to work with the competition and not against it. Competition is healthy, for it keeps us on our toes.

As I say, let's not forget that without the authors who write books there would be no Amazon, and no book industry full stop.

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