The UK’s Society of Authors has raised concerns over the volume of cheap editions being sold on Amazon.co.uk. It comes after the US Authors Guild told members it was “deeply disturbed” by a new a new scheme in which third-party sellers are eligible to win "buy buttons" on their book pages on the Amazon US website.
The SoA’s c.e.o Nicola Solomon said she wasn’t aware that “buy buttons” were being given to third-party sellers in the UK, but questioned where the volume of cheap books sold on Amazon.co.uk were coming from. She has also urged publishers to take more steps to follow up and investigate “suspicious” sales on Amazon.
Her comments follow news that Amazon US has introduced a new scheme in which third-party sellers are eligible to win "buy buttons" on their book pages. The move has been controversial, according to Publishers Weekly, with publishers and authors in the US trade reacting with "fear to downright anger" arguing it discouraged sales of new books that would benefit publishers and authors; previously the buttons only directed customers to books stocked directly by publishers.
Amazon.com now uses an algorithm that decides which sellers (Amazon or a third-party) are assigned buy boxes, based on factors such as price, availability, and delivery time. Amazon’s new policy states “eligible sellers will be able to compete for the buy box for books in new condition”, with "new condition" defined as a "brand-new, unused, unread copy in perfect condition".
The Authors Guild told its members it was "deeply disturbed" by the news and argued it was "very likely to cut into publishing industry profits even more".
"The problem with this outcome from an author’s perspective is that neither the publisher nor the author gets a cent back from those third-party sales," it said. "Only Amazon and the reseller share in the profits. This has the potential to decimate authors’ and publishers’ earnings from many books, especially backlist books."
Amazon said in a statement: "We have listed and sold books, both new and used, from third party sellers for many years. The recent changes allow sellers of new books to be the ‘featured offer’ on a book’s detail page, which means that our bookstore now works like the rest of Amazon, where third party sellers compete with Amazon for the sale of new items. Only offers for new books are eligible to be featured.”
Nicola Solomon, chief executive for the Society of Authors, has said the scheme was not an issue at present in the UK but did warn of a wider problem concerning third-party sales on Amazon. The SoA has called on publishers to address the issue of heavily discounted titles intended for the export market or book clubs being leaked onto the Amazon marketplace, a situation it said was “cannibalising” sales.
“I don't know if Amazon is yet offering this feature in the UK but this question ties in firmly with a question we have raised: where are all these cheap books coming from?” said Solomon. “We suspect that often they are ‘leaked’ from high discount or special sales deals made by publishers for example to book clubs. Authors generally receive very low royalty rates on such sales, much less than on a full priced sale of the book and nothing on the resale and of course the publisher suffers in the same way.”
She added: “Publishers should take more steps to follow up and investigate suspicious sales on Amazon and to stop selling to people who leak books in this way. For example we have long noticed that paperback copies are usually available on Amazon from other sellers well before they are available from the publishers, often on publication of the hardback. Where do these books come from?”
According to one report the SoA heard, an author (who prefered not to be named) had a newly-published book out in hardback and noticed that paperback copies were available on the same Amazon page - even though the book was not due to be published in paperback for another year. The SoA said when the author asked the publisher HarperCollins about it, it could only surmise that these were from a special printing for export which had leaked back into the UK market.
Solomon said: "This is something which should concern publishers as much as authors. It not only loses money but lowers the perceived value of books."
HarperCollins - one publisher of many affected, according to the SoA - has said previously: "It is very disappointing that some export editions come back into the UK market via third party market places. We actively discourage sales partners from taking part in such practices and are investigating the specific case."
Amazon highlighted it has an established process for rights holders to report any infringement and respond rapidly, should the sale of export editions in the UK not be permitted.
An Amazon spokesperson commented: "At Amazon, we are committed to providing our customers with the best possible shopping experience and have an established process in place which enables third parties including rights holders to provide us with notice of infringements or non-compliant products. We respond rapidly to any such notice, including removal of any such items. All Marketplace sellers must follow our selling guidelines and those who don’t will be subject to action including potential removal of their account."