Sunday, October 12, 2008

Amazon UK launches POD service

Around the end of March this year, stories began to circulate around the Internet that were contacting US based print on demand publishers by telephone and telling them that from now on, if they wished their books to be listed directly (i.e have buy now buttons) on, then they would have be printed by Booksurge, Amazon's own printer. This understandably caused a flurry of protests, for various reasons, which I blogged extensively about at the time, and which I will talk more about later on. It culminated in Angela Hoy, proprietor of together with her husband Richard, filing an anti-trust suit against Amazon, which is due in court at any time.

Everyone in the UK breathed a sigh of relief when Amazon confirmed that we were safe - for the moment, but sadly it seems that this moment has passed, for earlier this week The Bookseller ran an article written by Graeme Neill entitled Amazon UK launches POD service.

The article states that Amazon has launched a print on demand programme in the UK, which means that they can rapidly print and ship individual books following a customer order. The service will allow them to bring previously unavailable titles, such as out of print books or foreign language editions, into print in the UK. Publishers who have joined the programme are listed as Faber, John Wiley and Sons, HarperCollins UK, Cambridge University Press and Allen and Unwin Australia. Amazon state that they will be able to print books in both colour and black and white, and that the books will be 'virtually' indistinguishable from traditionally printed (lithographic) titles.

The article goes on to state that for a limited time, will be offering free set up for publishers with POD ready print on demand files. The service will it seems be offered from Amazon's fulfilment centre in Milton Keynes, the exact same town where POD printer Lightning Source are also based.

The more I read this article the more confused I got, as what the article describes is the exact service that Amazon already have through their partnership, if that is the right word to use, with Lightning Source. The similarities are so similar, that I began to wonder if they had come to an agreement with Lightning Source to print books with their name on in their own fulfilment centre - especially since Cambridge University Press are so I am told, Lightning Source' biggest customer by far.

Somewhat suspiciously, Christopher North, Vice President of media at says that "Amazon will be consulting with its US POD company Booksurge for their 'expertise and experience'". He went on to say that would not require publishers to use its POD service exclusively, adding that "We are offering titles that are being produced by other print on demand providers".

The funny thing is that they said the exact same thing in the States, but this turned out to mean that publishers who refused to print with Booksurge would have to join the inappropriately named Amazon Advantage programme instead, which requires publishers to give Amazon 55 percent off the list price (the same terms that wholesalers demand, when they are not a wholesaler), and pay Amazon $29.95 a year, plus all shipping costs to send the books to Amazon. These terms are even worse than the Booksurge contract, and that is saying something.

If this is what Amazon are proposing to bring into the UK then we should all be concerned, as it will cause ripples that will impact across the book industry for years to come.

This will be a lesson for all of us in unity consciousness - what publishers, large and small will need to do is band together and pool their resources, standing up and saying NO, we will not allow you to do this.

Although I reacted with fury to begin with, now that I have had a chance to think, the threat is a bit overplayed. The laws are different in this country, and the Monoplies and Mergers Commission would never let them get away with this. The court case in America with BookLocker is yet to be decided also, and to push ahead with this prior to the verdict would be stupid in the extreme. The fact is that no one, not even Amazon can force anyone to do anything that they don't want to - people like to think otherwise as thay way they can kid themselves that they don't have a choice, and then don't have to take responsibility.

Amazon do not buy books published by the smaller companies and the self publishing outfits direct from them, but through wholesalers. I know this for a fact, as I been told it many times by many different people. It makes sense for them to obtain my book in this way, since it is stocked by Gardners, who give them a far better deal (and higher discount) than Richard would. All books that have both an ISBN and distribution through either Bertrams or Gardners, the UK's two largest wholesalers (all major POD companies have accounts with both) are automatically fed to Amazon's site by the ISBN agency, and there is nothing that Amazon can do to prevent this. It is how the system works. They can in theory remove any book that they like from their site (and I am sure that they would find a way - they did with Hachette Livre) if they really wanted to, but this would entail an awful lot of work, too much even for the mighty Amazon. I mean think about it for a moment, would they really go to the time and trouble of wading through all those books from all those publishers and removing them from their site - of course not, and more to the point, would they really alienate themselves from companies that provide their most lucrative source of income - no - they know which side their bread is buttered.

I don't think we have reason to panic then quite yet.


Aaron Shepard said...

June, Bertrams and Gardners no longer actively stock Lightning Source UK titles, they only list them as available for backorder through POD. This has allowed Amazon UK -- along with Amazon Canada, France, Germany, and Japan -- to start listing Lightning UK books as "temporarily out of stock" or simply to not take orders for them at all. This is actually worse than the situation in the U.S., where small self publishers have managed to slip under Amazon's radar to keep selling Lightning US books uninterrupted.

What makes this a double blow is that Amazon UK has not yet even established something like CreateSpace or the consumer end of BookSurge to give a way in to the smallest publishers. No doubt, this will come, but at this point, there is NO guaranteed way for an independent POD self publisher to get a book listed on Amazon UK or the other non-U.S. sites!

Aaron Shepard
Shepard Publications

Aaron Shepard said...

I have to apologize for my previous comment. Though my facts about sudden availability of many books were true, and the timing was extremely suspicious, it turns out that the probable cause was a temporary data feed problem between Lightning UK and I jumped to a conclusion, and there's no evidence of any discrimination against Lightning books by

June said...

Thanks for clarifying Aaron. I think many POD authors were quite emotional at that time, so it is understandable that anyone would reach such a conclusion. However, like I said, the laws in this country do not allow Amazon (or anyone else) to form such a monopoly. I have it n good authority that they have no intention of doing so.