News

Anger over authors’ website links to Amazon

Several publishers and authors have told The Bookseller that they are in the process of changing their author websites to link to independent booksellers, after a protest over author sites that link to Amazon or chain retailers. 

Keith Smith from Warwick & Kenilworth bookshops has expressed anger at the issue in a piece for The Bookseller. Smith cited the websites for Joanne Harris, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Alison Weir and Julia Donaldson as among those that link directly to Amazon, while those for Kate Morton, Ian Rankin, Tom Holland and Patrick Ness link to Amazon or chain retailers.

Smith said: “As someone who owns two independent bookshops I feel angry that these authors, unthinkingly or by design, have chosen to support Amazon, W H Smith or Waterstones without giving a fig for independent bookshops. Many of these are authors who, when asked, will say they couldn’t imagine life without their local bookshop. But words need to be matched by deeds if they are to make a difference.”

Author Alison Weir defended herself, commenting: "Publishing, as you must know, is going through hard times and every author and publisher wants to maximise sales. When I set up my website, my webmaster told me I could link to Amazon, so I told him to go ahead. My American publishers then asked me to link to other bookstores. I'm not sure how Keith Smith envisages linking to every independent bookseller in a practical way - how many must there be? The fact remains that not one, including him, has ever asked me to do so. But if they had, I would have worked out a way to do it. If you look on my website you will see links to other websites whose owners requested a link. Linking to Amazon does not mean that I do not support independents."

Weir continued: "The fact remains that publishers can shift large quantities of books through Amazon, W H Smith, Waterstones and the supermarkets, which are their main clients. Amazon also pays authors on their associates programme fees based on the number of books sold. Authors do have a living to make and Amazon can provide a great source of income which, sadly, independent book shops could not possibly meet. I understand the concerns of independent booksellers, and I think that there is a case to be made for Amazon to pay corporation tax, so that there would be fairer parity between its prices and those which independents with overheads have to charge. But accusing authors like me...of not 'giving a fig' for independents is not only ignorant but untrue; I think my deeds over the years give substance to my words."

Orion marketing and publicity director Anthony Keates said: “Orion manages Ian's website and it does have links to The BA 'find your local bookshop' finder. We are developing it and it will have more links to lots more retailers."

Novelist Joanne Harris said: "I am more than happy to include links to independent bookshops. I know how much I owe them and I support them fully."

Julia Donaldson told The Bookseller changing the links on her website was something she had been planning to do “for some time”. She said: “I want to think carefully about how I do it. Independent bookshops really are something I care about very much and I have been feeling guilty about it. But when I first set up my website, this is what was suggested to me would be the easiest thing to do.”

A spokesperson for her publisher Pan Macmillan added: “Julia really and truly is a staunch supporter of independent bookshops. We are currently reviewing Julia’s online presence, and how we can best fully support all bookshops in a digital and physical way for the future. In terms of Julia’s web presence on the Pan Macmillan website, we are pleased to link to all retailers including Hive.”

A second Pan Macmillan spokesperson speaking on behalf of Kate Morton added: “While Kate [Morton] includes independent links in Australian and US territories, she was unaware of being able to offer a link to UK independents and we are now assisting her with this.”

A spokesperson for Little, Brown said Tom Holland was “hugely supportive towards independents”, often linking to them via Twitter. “The reason he has not linked to one through his website is because unfortunately, he doesn’t have an independent bookseller where he lives, otherwise he would link to it,” she said.

Bloomsbury said Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s website was run from River Cottage. His agent did not respond to a request for comment. Patrick Ness is out of the country and could not be contacted.

Comments: Scroll down for the latest comments and to have your say

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I guess you could link the The Hive as well as Amazon?

Linking to Hive only gives independent booksellers a tiny percentage(about 5)of the selling price of the book.
By linking to www.localbookshops.co.uk the shop would get 95% of the price. By linking to the Booksellers Association http://www.booksellers.org.uk/bookshopsearch.aspx the shop would also get 95- 100% of the proceeds of a book sale

Ah, cool. Should do those things, then.

When I presented my titles to my local independent book shop in London, I was told how exciting it was to have another author in the area and that they looked forward to stocking my books. Three months later my sample book was still under the counter, having been completely forgotten about.

Waterstones put my first book (Practical Everyday English) on their core list of titles so that it now features in nearly all of their stores.

And amazon certainly don't leave books under the counter either; in fact they list them as being in their top 10,000

So, here's to the big guys! Thank you.

Long may you continue to thrive.

Please don't tar us all with the same brush! Here's to the little guys as well!

Authors don't link their books to a bookshop because they want to support that particular shop. They link there because they want to help their potential readers buy their books so they must make their choices about which shop to use on that basis. Amazon links are a good choice because most online bookbuyers already use and trust Amazon and, in my experience, that trust isn't about price - it's about availability, customer service and the ability to return the book for a full refund if they don't like it. Plus linking to Amazon also provides potential readers with other information about the book - reviews, sales rank and positions in bestsellers lists. Linking to Amazon doesn't force people to buy there. They are free to buy from Marketplace sellers (some of whom are independent bookshops) or to take the information and order elsewhere.

I sympathise with small independent bookshops struggling through a recession, but authors are struggling too. Only a few get the high advances mentioned in the press. The rest earn much less, and many don't even get the equivalent of the minimum wage. As a result, the fact that the Amazon Associate scheme pays commission on sales resulting from links is very important. Because I have to split the royalty on my picture books with the illustrator, I actually earn more from the Amazon commission on a sale than I do from the publisher. And the commission isn't just payable on sales of the author's own books - it's on anything bought during that customer's visit to the Amazon site, including high ticket items like bikes and televisions.

Replacing Amazon links with ones to a site that doesn't pay commission doesn't make economic sense, especially if that site doesn't stock all our books. The only option that looks indie friendly and pays commission is hive.co.uk, but the Hive associate system is run by Linkshare which is a US company that demands that participants submit an American W8-EN tax form which would put many people off using it. (I certainly wouldn't use it for that reason or recommend that anyone else does.) It seems ridiculous to switch to a US based system in order to knock Amazon for not being based in the UK.

Personally I get fed up with the constant attacks on Amazon by The Bookseller and others. Amazon runs an excellent website that it built up for years at a loss while everyone else laughed. It has constantly improved during the 14 years we have been Amazon Associates, and it has won customers' confidence and loyalty by offering good service. It helps people discover books they might never find otherwise, and it keeps backlist titles selling long after the bricks and mortar shops have taken them off the shelves. It has also done more than anyone else to create the current ebook market and, by opening up viable methods of self publishing, it has given authors new freedom to turn down the low royalties and restrictive contracts many publishers are offering these days. Yes, it does organise itself in a way that minimises its tax bill but paying tax in Luxemburg on profits made in the UK is absolutely legal under EU rules and seems quite similar to the equally legal system authors like myself use when we pay tax in the UK on profits made in the US.

By trying to pressurise authors to remove the Amazon links from their websites, The Bookseller is interfering in a business decision that may affect authors' income. Can we look forward to the next campaign being one pressurising small independet bookshops to stock our entire range of books or will you be suggesting all authors should get our books published by small, independent publishers to make it easier for them to compete against the big multinationals like Pearson? Of course you won't. But both those campaigns would be the equivalent of what you are doing in this article.

Thanks for the comment Diana. Just to correct one point: we are not pressurising authors one way or the other, we are giving Keith an opportunity to express his opinion. He's also written a column in the magazine this week on the same subject.

the authors who will win out in the long run will stick with the independent booksellers as they sign their book for the general public at signings,the industry is cutting corners ,just look at the movie industry the computer makes the movie not the actors any more ,the successful author will stick by the book shops because collectively that is where their sales will be

It is not an either or matter in my view.

Everyone must innovate in the market in order to stay relevant.

Maybe as one example Independents should find ways to work together and organize their own website clearing system that will direct book buyers to the shops and then offer authors the opportunity to place links on their author websites nation wide.

Yes Amazon is a strong competitor but at the same time they have their weaknesses as well. It is up to those who compete to find the weaknesses and succeed against them. Book sellers have the advantage of being part of communities. I suggest you use that advantage as well as others in the market place. Innovation means reaching out to the consumer as opposed to waiting for them to walk into the shop.

I'm sure there are other innovations the booksellers can achieve if they work together. The power is in numbers and not going it alone.

Robert Gottlieb
Chairman
Trident Media Group, LLC
Literary Agency
www.tridentmediagroup.com
Like us on Facebook

I guess you could link the The Hive as well as Amazon?

Linking to Hive only gives independent booksellers a tiny percentage(about 5)of the selling price of the book.
By linking to www.localbookshops.co.uk the shop would get 95% of the price. By linking to the Booksellers Association http://www.booksellers.org.uk/bookshopsearch.aspx the shop would also get 95- 100% of the proceeds of a book sale

Ah, cool. Should do those things, then.

When I presented my titles to my local independent book shop in London, I was told how exciting it was to have another author in the area and that they looked forward to stocking my books. Three months later my sample book was still under the counter, having been completely forgotten about.

Waterstones put my first book (Practical Everyday English) on their core list of titles so that it now features in nearly all of their stores.

And amazon certainly don't leave books under the counter either; in fact they list them as being in their top 10,000

So, here's to the big guys! Thank you.

Long may you continue to thrive.

Please don't tar us all with the same brush! Here's to the little guys as well!

Authors don't link their books to a bookshop because they want to support that particular shop. They link there because they want to help their potential readers buy their books so they must make their choices about which shop to use on that basis. Amazon links are a good choice because most online bookbuyers already use and trust Amazon and, in my experience, that trust isn't about price - it's about availability, customer service and the ability to return the book for a full refund if they don't like it. Plus linking to Amazon also provides potential readers with other information about the book - reviews, sales rank and positions in bestsellers lists. Linking to Amazon doesn't force people to buy there. They are free to buy from Marketplace sellers (some of whom are independent bookshops) or to take the information and order elsewhere.

I sympathise with small independent bookshops struggling through a recession, but authors are struggling too. Only a few get the high advances mentioned in the press. The rest earn much less, and many don't even get the equivalent of the minimum wage. As a result, the fact that the Amazon Associate scheme pays commission on sales resulting from links is very important. Because I have to split the royalty on my picture books with the illustrator, I actually earn more from the Amazon commission on a sale than I do from the publisher. And the commission isn't just payable on sales of the author's own books - it's on anything bought during that customer's visit to the Amazon site, including high ticket items like bikes and televisions.

Replacing Amazon links with ones to a site that doesn't pay commission doesn't make economic sense, especially if that site doesn't stock all our books. The only option that looks indie friendly and pays commission is hive.co.uk, but the Hive associate system is run by Linkshare which is a US company that demands that participants submit an American W8-EN tax form which would put many people off using it. (I certainly wouldn't use it for that reason or recommend that anyone else does.) It seems ridiculous to switch to a US based system in order to knock Amazon for not being based in the UK.

Personally I get fed up with the constant attacks on Amazon by The Bookseller and others. Amazon runs an excellent website that it built up for years at a loss while everyone else laughed. It has constantly improved during the 14 years we have been Amazon Associates, and it has won customers' confidence and loyalty by offering good service. It helps people discover books they might never find otherwise, and it keeps backlist titles selling long after the bricks and mortar shops have taken them off the shelves. It has also done more than anyone else to create the current ebook market and, by opening up viable methods of self publishing, it has given authors new freedom to turn down the low royalties and restrictive contracts many publishers are offering these days. Yes, it does organise itself in a way that minimises its tax bill but paying tax in Luxemburg on profits made in the UK is absolutely legal under EU rules and seems quite similar to the equally legal system authors like myself use when we pay tax in the UK on profits made in the US.

By trying to pressurise authors to remove the Amazon links from their websites, The Bookseller is interfering in a business decision that may affect authors' income. Can we look forward to the next campaign being one pressurising small independet bookshops to stock our entire range of books or will you be suggesting all authors should get our books published by small, independent publishers to make it easier for them to compete against the big multinationals like Pearson? Of course you won't. But both those campaigns would be the equivalent of what you are doing in this article.

Thanks for the comment Diana. Just to correct one point: we are not pressurising authors one way or the other, we are giving Keith an opportunity to express his opinion. He's also written a column in the magazine this week on the same subject.

the authors who will win out in the long run will stick with the independent booksellers as they sign their book for the general public at signings,the industry is cutting corners ,just look at the movie industry the computer makes the movie not the actors any more ,the successful author will stick by the book shops because collectively that is where their sales will be

It is not an either or matter in my view.

Everyone must innovate in the market in order to stay relevant.

Maybe as one example Independents should find ways to work together and organize their own website clearing system that will direct book buyers to the shops and then offer authors the opportunity to place links on their author websites nation wide.

Yes Amazon is a strong competitor but at the same time they have their weaknesses as well. It is up to those who compete to find the weaknesses and succeed against them. Book sellers have the advantage of being part of communities. I suggest you use that advantage as well as others in the market place. Innovation means reaching out to the consumer as opposed to waiting for them to walk into the shop.

I'm sure there are other innovations the booksellers can achieve if they work together. The power is in numbers and not going it alone.

Robert Gottlieb
Chairman
Trident Media Group, LLC
Literary Agency
www.tridentmediagroup.com
Like us on Facebook