News

UK publishers' "concern" over Amazon e-book removals

UK publishers have expressed concern that Amazon’s use of “power” in removing the e-books of publishers which do not agree to a higher discount will spread to the UK and include print titles.

Amazon.com pulled the sale of over 4,000 e-books in the US after a fracas over terms with the American distributor Independent Publishers Group. The US IPG represents over 500 publishers and had 4,443 digital titles selling on Amazon, which have now been removed after the group would not agree to give Amazon a lower discount when its contract came up for renewal.

The IPG in the US also represents UK publishers such as Absolute Press, Aurum Press, AA Publishing, Anova and Alma, however Absolute and Anova said they sold few or no e-books in the US.

Alessandro Gallenzi, managing director of Alma Books, said: “I am shocked at this use of power and monopoly and I am afraid they will try to do the same here too. It does not affect us because we sell directly to Amazon, but it is what happened with UK publishers a couple of years ago and if their margins are tight, I am afraid they will do it again. Amazon’s system relies on efficient delivery and service of books, though, and this is a big spanner in the works.”

Physical titles of the IPG publishers are still available on Amazon US.

In an email sent to clients IPG president Mark Suchomel said: “I am disappointed to report that Amazon.com has failed to renew its agreement with IPG to sell Kindle titles. As of today, the Amazon.com website no longer offers for sale any electronic titles from any of IPG’s client publishers. All print editions are still available, as always.”

He added: “Remember that Amazon continues to be an important account that sells a lot of units. This is a business decision on Amazon’s part, and hopefully they will soon decide to reverse it and buy at our standard terms. IPG will be informing our other electronic book accounts of their favorable competitive position on our electronic titles.”

Suchomel advised publishers distributed by IPG to push customers onto rival sites such as those operated by Barnes & Noble and Kobo and to "support accounts that support your business". He added: "Seriously consider the implications of this action for the long run. If we don’t hold firm on your behalf, your margins will continue to erode."

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

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I believe this is a wrong-headed approach by Amazon.

There are a number issues involved.

First, Amazon has a huge footprint and continues to dominate the retail side of the ebook publishing industry in the US. I believe this type of action is unproductive and brings focus and attention to Amazon's position in the market. It creates an impression in the market that Amazon wants to restrict sales. Even though that may not be the intent.

Secondly, the more Kindle titles that are sold the more interest and demand will be created for the product. Now I would assume that IPG will be pushing the Nook and other devices strongly. It is never a good idea for retailers to send consumers to competitors which will be the case here due to Amazon's decision.

What I have learned over the years is that the more content that can be provided to users the more the hardware sells for it. It's not the reverse.

Lastly, I would like to say it is better to make a fair profit than none at all. When everyone makes a profit, everyone stands to benefit. This is good for Amazon and all those who work with them.

Robert Gottlieb
Chairman
Trident Media Group, LLC
http://www.tridentmediagroup.com

On the phone with my mentor and friend, John Calder (the man who brought you Samuel Beckett in the UK; Hubert Selby Jr; Marguerite Duras and the end of the obscenities act in Britain; was contemporaries with Barney Rossett And Dick Seaver; started what is now the Edinburgh Book Festival - all mostly on his own dime):

"Publishing used to be about creativity, art, bringing new ideas forward, challenging the status quo. Now, it's only about [pauses] money. How interesting."

There's a cold wind blowing...and sadly publishers are still floundering in the eye of the storm.

Who loses, yet again? The writers. Oh yeah, them.

"UK publishers have expressed concern that Amazon’s use of “power” in removing the e-books of publishers which do not agree to a higher discount will spread to the UK and include print titles."

How do you say "duh" in British?

At last, the mask is coming off, a bit like seeing the picture of Dorian Gray. I saw this coming years ago when I first began to submit books to Amazon. I knew the risks, and I knew that I was going to be stuck in the middle of a price war. Nevertheless, because of the expectation that my books must be on Amazon I posted them there. But in all the years that I have done business with Amazon I have sold very few books, and only a small number of ebooks. Amazon paints a pretty picture, but at the end of the day greed justifies its actions. I am not at all surprised. I'm just disappointed that Amazon chooses to bully its way through the bookselling world. Sooner or later, authors will begin to avoid Amazon altogether and lean toward its competitors for safe haven. Even in the stock market, Amazon has been downgraded to Equivalent Value from AA+. My question is, how long will it be before the deck chairs stop getting rearranged?

Well said Luis. With ebooks Amazon has clauses that mean they can do price comparisons and just pay less than the 70% we signed up for. They do it. They pay us 35% sometimes. They can also pay nothing if they decide they have a reason for that. They can also take back the money they have paid out if anybody signs up for KDP Select and keeps their books on another website too.

It's not just ebooks. The problem with printed books has been going on for a long time. I can't wait for buyers to realise that they don't necessarily supply the books they display even when they take orders. This seems to be even more of a problem with our US customers who just can't seem to believe Amazon isn't the most reliable online seller. I have to try to keep making them aware of this so that when they go through the steps of buying, having their order accepted, and waiting indefinitely as the delay emails arrive, that they really should order elsewhere and get our books immediately.

Perception about the brand has to become more appropriate to what they actually do. The marketing of Amazon has been astonishingly successful seeing as they can do all of these things and people still think they're the most reliable seller.

And yes, Martin, it does mean the writers are affected, even though so many seem to think Amazon is the great saviour of authors offering them an egalitarian platform for getting published and selling. That's another perception that has been well marketed and will hopefully gradually change.

If the writers are affected the publishers are too, and the booksellers are. Publishers often have just one product - books. We survive or fail depending on whether or not the books sell. Authors and publishers are both badly affected by the same things.

Amazon can make or break a book at the moment and that needs to change because they don't supply the books by all publishers - far from it. They can also make or break a book by setting a long time for delivery which they display. The only way to overcome this is to alter the perception of Amazon as a company happy to 'sell all books to everybody' as I so often hear on message boards. It's not true.

Is the dispute about the retail price to consumers or about the share that goes to Amazon?

Marketing at Amazon has shaken the publishing world in exactly the same way supermarkets have trashed high streets: empty boarded up premises.

Publishing has to get real. Amazon is here it and it ain't going away any time soon. Up until now publishers have called the shots on who they publish and who they promote most. Celebrity titles became "the IN thing" to the detriment of vast numbers of mid-list authors. Now those same publishers are pip squeaking because the goal posts have shifted on world book markets.

Back in the early nineties e-books and e-publishers were denigrated by the conventional elite in the UK. Most of the early UK e-book publishers fell by the wayside, not because their books were inferior in quality, they failed because the UK market aka UK readers were simply unprepared for the electronic age. In the meantime American e-book publishers pushed on and stuck it out and of those that started back in the early nineties they learned the ropes and are now slick at their job re formatting for electronic devices. Whereas, electronic back-copy books from conventional publishers (Kindle etc) are more often than not badly formatted. Same can be said of new releases.

There are Indie authors too putting conventional publishing to shame on Amazon. Many Indie authors are ranking higher than same by conventional authors. Among them Talli Roland (chick-lit) Francine Howarth (historical romance) and Rachel Lyndhurst (contemporary romance). Go girls GO! Amazon royalties are on a par with conventional publisher royalties, so what have these authors to lose?

Amazon are retailers so there's no comparison between so-called 'royalties' from them and traditional publishers. The 30% Amazon charges is a mark up on the price because they're a retailer, just as any shop would charge a mark-up. To be seen as a publisher and pay royalties they would need to be doing what publishers do in order to earn their percentage. All they do is sell. They don't edit, work on book design, proofread or help the authors get booked for events. They don't work to get the authors press and media coverage. The word 'royalties' is a misnomer. It's just a retailer's mark-up, not royalties at all, but it's clever of them to use the word. The self published authors are their own publishers and deserve full credit for it. They do all the work to write and produce their books and to promote them. Amazon does the easy bit, selling the books or not selling them and making an easy profit as there's no investment in work in the books or the authors.

We're also signed up with Kobo and they gave us an 'agreement to retail' our ebooks, which is a more correct description. The 30% mark-up retailers are taking for selling ebooks is high and makes it hard for small publishers to pay this mark-up plus pay authors the real royalties (often 50% of revenue or more). This makes it hard for small publishers to set competitive prices for their ebooks on Amazon.

Shops also have a 30-35% markup when we provide books 'sale or return', which is a similar no risk approach for retailers. But bookshops have the expense of providing shelf-space for the books in a physical environment. The mark-up charged by online sellers like Amazon should be less, but while people fall for the line that these are 'publisher royalties' and good by comparison with others they can not only get away with it but are even praised for it.

I believe this is a wrong-headed approach by Amazon.

There are a number issues involved.

First, Amazon has a huge footprint and continues to dominate the retail side of the ebook publishing industry in the US. I believe this type of action is unproductive and brings focus and attention to Amazon's position in the market. It creates an impression in the market that Amazon wants to restrict sales. Even though that may not be the intent.

Secondly, the more Kindle titles that are sold the more interest and demand will be created for the product. Now I would assume that IPG will be pushing the Nook and other devices strongly. It is never a good idea for retailers to send consumers to competitors which will be the case here due to Amazon's decision.

What I have learned over the years is that the more content that can be provided to users the more the hardware sells for it. It's not the reverse.

Lastly, I would like to say it is better to make a fair profit than none at all. When everyone makes a profit, everyone stands to benefit. This is good for Amazon and all those who work with them.

Robert Gottlieb
Chairman
Trident Media Group, LLC
http://www.tridentmediagroup.com

On the phone with my mentor and friend, John Calder (the man who brought you Samuel Beckett in the UK; Hubert Selby Jr; Marguerite Duras and the end of the obscenities act in Britain; was contemporaries with Barney Rossett And Dick Seaver; started what is now the Edinburgh Book Festival - all mostly on his own dime):

"Publishing used to be about creativity, art, bringing new ideas forward, challenging the status quo. Now, it's only about [pauses] money. How interesting."

There's a cold wind blowing...and sadly publishers are still floundering in the eye of the storm.

Who loses, yet again? The writers. Oh yeah, them.

"UK publishers have expressed concern that Amazon’s use of “power” in removing the e-books of publishers which do not agree to a higher discount will spread to the UK and include print titles."

How do you say "duh" in British?

At last, the mask is coming off, a bit like seeing the picture of Dorian Gray. I saw this coming years ago when I first began to submit books to Amazon. I knew the risks, and I knew that I was going to be stuck in the middle of a price war. Nevertheless, because of the expectation that my books must be on Amazon I posted them there. But in all the years that I have done business with Amazon I have sold very few books, and only a small number of ebooks. Amazon paints a pretty picture, but at the end of the day greed justifies its actions. I am not at all surprised. I'm just disappointed that Amazon chooses to bully its way through the bookselling world. Sooner or later, authors will begin to avoid Amazon altogether and lean toward its competitors for safe haven. Even in the stock market, Amazon has been downgraded to Equivalent Value from AA+. My question is, how long will it be before the deck chairs stop getting rearranged?

Well said Luis. With ebooks Amazon has clauses that mean they can do price comparisons and just pay less than the 70% we signed up for. They do it. They pay us 35% sometimes. They can also pay nothing if they decide they have a reason for that. They can also take back the money they have paid out if anybody signs up for KDP Select and keeps their books on another website too.

It's not just ebooks. The problem with printed books has been going on for a long time. I can't wait for buyers to realise that they don't necessarily supply the books they display even when they take orders. This seems to be even more of a problem with our US customers who just can't seem to believe Amazon isn't the most reliable online seller. I have to try to keep making them aware of this so that when they go through the steps of buying, having their order accepted, and waiting indefinitely as the delay emails arrive, that they really should order elsewhere and get our books immediately.

Perception about the brand has to become more appropriate to what they actually do. The marketing of Amazon has been astonishingly successful seeing as they can do all of these things and people still think they're the most reliable seller.

And yes, Martin, it does mean the writers are affected, even though so many seem to think Amazon is the great saviour of authors offering them an egalitarian platform for getting published and selling. That's another perception that has been well marketed and will hopefully gradually change.

If the writers are affected the publishers are too, and the booksellers are. Publishers often have just one product - books. We survive or fail depending on whether or not the books sell. Authors and publishers are both badly affected by the same things.

Amazon can make or break a book at the moment and that needs to change because they don't supply the books by all publishers - far from it. They can also make or break a book by setting a long time for delivery which they display. The only way to overcome this is to alter the perception of Amazon as a company happy to 'sell all books to everybody' as I so often hear on message boards. It's not true.

Is the dispute about the retail price to consumers or about the share that goes to Amazon?

Marketing at Amazon has shaken the publishing world in exactly the same way supermarkets have trashed high streets: empty boarded up premises.

Publishing has to get real. Amazon is here it and it ain't going away any time soon. Up until now publishers have called the shots on who they publish and who they promote most. Celebrity titles became "the IN thing" to the detriment of vast numbers of mid-list authors. Now those same publishers are pip squeaking because the goal posts have shifted on world book markets.

Back in the early nineties e-books and e-publishers were denigrated by the conventional elite in the UK. Most of the early UK e-book publishers fell by the wayside, not because their books were inferior in quality, they failed because the UK market aka UK readers were simply unprepared for the electronic age. In the meantime American e-book publishers pushed on and stuck it out and of those that started back in the early nineties they learned the ropes and are now slick at their job re formatting for electronic devices. Whereas, electronic back-copy books from conventional publishers (Kindle etc) are more often than not badly formatted. Same can be said of new releases.

There are Indie authors too putting conventional publishing to shame on Amazon. Many Indie authors are ranking higher than same by conventional authors. Among them Talli Roland (chick-lit) Francine Howarth (historical romance) and Rachel Lyndhurst (contemporary romance). Go girls GO! Amazon royalties are on a par with conventional publisher royalties, so what have these authors to lose?

Amazon are retailers so there's no comparison between so-called 'royalties' from them and traditional publishers. The 30% Amazon charges is a mark up on the price because they're a retailer, just as any shop would charge a mark-up. To be seen as a publisher and pay royalties they would need to be doing what publishers do in order to earn their percentage. All they do is sell. They don't edit, work on book design, proofread or help the authors get booked for events. They don't work to get the authors press and media coverage. The word 'royalties' is a misnomer. It's just a retailer's mark-up, not royalties at all, but it's clever of them to use the word. The self published authors are their own publishers and deserve full credit for it. They do all the work to write and produce their books and to promote them. Amazon does the easy bit, selling the books or not selling them and making an easy profit as there's no investment in work in the books or the authors.

We're also signed up with Kobo and they gave us an 'agreement to retail' our ebooks, which is a more correct description. The 30% mark-up retailers are taking for selling ebooks is high and makes it hard for small publishers to pay this mark-up plus pay authors the real royalties (often 50% of revenue or more). This makes it hard for small publishers to set competitive prices for their ebooks on Amazon.

Shops also have a 30-35% markup when we provide books 'sale or return', which is a similar no risk approach for retailers. But bookshops have the expense of providing shelf-space for the books in a physical environment. The mark-up charged by online sellers like Amazon should be less, but while people fall for the line that these are 'publisher royalties' and good by comparison with others they can not only get away with it but are even praised for it.