Okay, I’ll admit it. I am in an abusive relationship.
This love/hate/hurt relationship is with Amazon.com. As a humble independent publisher, I need exposure at the world’s largest bookstore. Yet there are many troubling things about relationships that publishers like me have with Amazon. Some of this leaked out through a sequence of comments last night. PRIMMIE suggested I turn this into a post of its own. Good idea. Here comes an adaptation of what was discussed about Amazon. And them I’m going to move relevant comments to the comments section here.
If you ever buy books from Amazon, now read this. Please forward a link to any friends who buy books there. There’s something going on that you may not know about.
And if you know any publisher who sells books at Amazon, please forward a link as well. They could be losing money and not know it. If they’re willing to sacrifice a little time to deal with vexing formalities, they can (probably) stop being cheated in this way from now on.
What is for sale at Amazon?
Click on any book offered at Amazon. Usually you will find two kinds of listing. One is for regular books and the other is for Amazon Marketplace.
As a consumer, you would just know the convenience factor, right? Well, here’s inside information.
1. The book publisher has the main listing. Although there might be several others not from the legitimate publisher.
When books are sold through the publisher’s listing at the online bookstore, these copies are genuine new books, authorized for sale by the publishing company.
Amazon happens to take an outrageously large share of these profits, at least if the publisher chooses the “Amazon Advantage” Program. Service and listings are far worse with the regular program available to publishers. Worse than with any other bookseller. Definitely worse than when sold at the cover price through a publisher’s own website.
Why? Amazon Advantage demands a 55% discount, plus shipping from the bookseller. (Bookstores get 40% and legitimate book distributors like Ingram get 55%, but then ship books over to a bookstore.) Each order is for a machine-generated amount of books, so each order takes longer to pack. Personally, I spend 30 minutes on average per order, because I’ve gotten pretty efficient over the years.
But that’s okay, the good part of the relationship with Amazon. People can actually find me. No way can my one-person publishing company compete with the online clout of Amazon.
Most book buyers don’t understand that purchasing directly from a self-publisher’s website is a powerful way to support the publisher. Although many or most of you Blog-Buddies DO understand this, for which I am very grateful!
Amazon can afford to give discounts to customers. Because all the booksellers are paying for it anyway.
Smaller booksellers can’t compete with the volume traffic at Amazon. We can’t offer those discounts. Okay, fair enough.
2. Amazon Marketplace listings are also right up there, usually. Big problem!
For example, you might take a look at the detail page for my book from last year, Magnetize Money with Energetic Literacy.
Right underneath essential information about purchase, with the publisher, it says at the listing for this book of mine:
Where do these “New” copies come from? Not the publisher! Zero income from any of these sales will go either to the publisher or the author.
Sure, the listing makes it appear to be from the publisher. No way! Personally, I think it would be more honest to display something like this on screen:
Stolen, or otherwise fraudlently sold, copies called “New.”
Also used copies.
And one copy that was, unfortunately, autographed by the author. (Perhaps a review copy.)
Beware buying “new” copies in competition with legitimate copies
Most people don’t know better. They think the publisher is doing this.
Others think it’s a perfectly fine thing that people are doing with their own books. Blog-Buddy AMY put it beautifully in her Comment 2: (My italics added.)
“I think Rose is referring to sellers on Amazon who sell their own books through Amazon, not Amazon itself, although Amazon does take a hefty cut out of book sales anyway.”
Who are those sellers? I’m not so sure they are people who ever paid for a book in the first place. More on that later. But first:
What crazy kind of publisher would willingly sell books at discount in competition to his or her own books?
Does that even make sense? Especially because most big publishers like Random House and Hay House, not just independent publishers like me, have this same problem. Check out any newly published book, any brand new title from a large or mid-sized publisher. Aren’t there “new” copies sold in competition?
Even before the official publication date for a new title, those new copies are being sold from somewhere. Who obtains these books in the first place?
A hidden little business practice at Amazon
Because I personally ship all my publishing company’s Amazon orders, and track them, aha! I learned of a rather inconspicuous place at the PO records tab for vendors, online, where there will sometimes be a tiny little notification that an order from Amazon has been cancelled.
What an interesting and benign term. Oh, they just cancelled, did they?
When you take the time to follow up, you read that Amazon claims not to have received books that were requested by them, sent by the publisher, and then marked as “not received.”
How many books per order? Depends. Somewhere between 1 and 25 copies. Just pouf, gone. (Amazon says. And then cancels the order retroactively.)
What happens if a publisher doesnt know to check up here? Publisher pays to print and ship the consignment books. Amazon pays nothing.
I only started noticing this about a year or so back. I talked with a colleague who handles distribution for a large group of publishers and she never knew to check. Probably most publishers do not know. Oops!
About all those missing books…
Once I found the “cancelled” orders, I would follow Amazon’s procedure for proving that I had shipped all of the books ordered — forcing Amazon to take responsibility for losing books in their warehouses.
What did I find, after I began sticking up for myself in this way? For months, Amazon would mess up approximately 1 in 4 orders.
Now the pace is picking up. Within the last six weeks, I had to write 7 reports in a row, each one documented meticulously with UPS proof of delivery. Sometimes I have to go through three or more rounds of email correspondence per request. Just so that Amazon will stop blaming me, the publisher, for losing books shipped as requested. Then Amazon will usually, eventually, find the books. A couple of cases, they don’t find the books but “magnanimously” agree to reimburse me anyway.
The plot thickens. Or worsens, for publishers.
Over the last six weeks or so, ha ha! Amazon has stopped adding the little notifications for most of the mishandled orders. Are they just too busy counting their money? Gone is the Cancelled notification. Why bother? To locate them now, I go through every single order, one at a time.
So thats a pretty interesting problem right there, isnt it? And it can’t be only me. I am such small potatoes to the large buffet feeding frenzy through Amazon.
My theory about where these “New” books come from
Many publishers dont know to find the losses, or dont bother to take the time and it is hours and hours of time each month, even for this pretty small publisher documenting and following up in order to receive funds for books that were shipped.
It is hours of very annoying work involved in recovery, each time. As noted, I suspect Amazon gets away with a lot of lost books that never have to be paid for with Amazon reimbursement.
As for losses that are reimbursed, maybe its just considered a cost of doing business. Surely its balanced out from all the income through the wonderful Marketplace program.
Very savvy friends of mine, including professional writers, have always assumed that new books sold through Amazon Marketplace were authorized by the publishers with some strange kind of marketing strategy.
Well, I suspect that all warehouse workers at Amazon arent all terribly honest. I think some have figured out that they can easily lift a few new books here, a few new books there, as orders come in.
If I’m correct, then these stolen books can be sold through a third party. How convenient, right? If you work in an Amazon warehouse, you have probably heard of Amazon Marketplace.
Now I dont know how big a mess it really is over at Amazon, how big their pilferage is. Given how many of my books have fallen through some big hole in the Amazon sky, I do suspect there is stealing, and that this stealing happens a lot.
Starting from the day that Amazon stops this bad-karma trade of profiting off the sale of New books not from the publisher — in my dreams — I’ll bet there would be a whole lot fewer Cancellations.
Why would Amazon care?
Until somebody goes after Amazon legally, however, why would they ever be motivated to break this cycle? It’s profitable.
If they cared about ethics, something that does motivate people like you and me, they wouldn’t sell the extra “new” books in the first place. Period.
BTW, other new books come from reviewers who make income that way. Which is what I call “fraudulent,” personally. In the years that I worked as a book reviewer, I would donate books to the library, never sell them for my personal profit.
Still other books might be seconds or discarded copies from printers that make their way to sale without the publishers knowledge or consent. (Unless, of course, knowledge comes eventually. As when a reader complains to the publisher about a defective book sold through Amazon Marketplace as new. Which has happened to me, incidentally.)
What about the idea that people order these books from the publisher and then return them? Guess what. They can return them for full price to a bookseller like Amazon. So why on earth would they turn around and sell them for less?
Or are supposedly “new” books purchased as gifts and then returned? How often does that really happen? If the books were purchased at Amazon, they can be returned for full price as well. If people call my toll-free number or order securely at my website, they can return books, too. Anywhere people purchase new books they can return them, if in good condition, right?
Whatever pretty Hallmark-style pictures flow into peoples heads when imagining where on earth those cheaper new books come from? Throw those pretty pictures away, folks.
Mitch, who handles my appointments, has offered to take on this vexing and time consuming chore for me. But I do it. How else am I going to meet all those nice people in India?
Seriously, I do it as a spiritual exercise more than anything. Outrage has giving way to grimness and then a work-woman-like way of just spending the hours, having to prove obvious facts to a big old company again and again and again. Sometimes I do get really angry, but this happens less and less often.
Ive written to the Attorney General in my state, as well as repeatedly to Amazon. Ive complained to some reporter contacts. Nobody yet seems interested, and I do have a life with quite a few other things to do than launch a Quixotic crusade against the biggest book retailer in all the world.
Another publisher’s experience
One other self-publisher has come forth already, discussing this theme. Blog-Buddy ELAINE wrote:
Rose, I know this has some credence to it, and I havent investigated as you have. My self-published book I pulled from Amazon, and yet there are very recently 9 new copies from 3 sources that I never received any reimbursement for in the last 9 months.
Maybe people dont think 9 isnt very much, but out of my pocket it is.
I pulled my Kindle sales and paperback sales out of the program. Amazon is still listing it as Buy it and well let you know when it ships.
ELAINE also commented:
And by the way, I have every right to sell copies of my own book, not only as a collectible (Its the only way you can get a genuine autographed copy through me) on Amazon, and also sell it as a seller. Get this: Amazon will not let me sell it new but only used, like new.
So how are others selling my book new but I cant?
However, what I found out is I am constantly outbid on the price by other vendors on my own book. Its almost an automatic process.
So many interesting surprises from Amazon
Back at the display page where Amazon responds to a search for Magnetize Money with Energetic Literacy, three listings come up, actually.
There’s the publisher’s listing, flawed though it is.
Then come two completely separate listings, not with the publisher at all. Because why care, from Amazon’s perspective?