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The Standard Oil of Books
April 3, 2008 1:59 PM   Subscribe

Amazon.com dropped a bombshell on the publishing industry with the announcement on Friday that they will no longer allow print on demand books printed by vendors other than Amazon, to be sold directly by Amazon. In other words, use our print services or lose your listing on our site. This decision effects over half a million books listed on their site and could be a defining moment for both publishing and the future of online retailing.

The company with the most at stake is Lightning Source, the largest print on demand company in the world. If Amazon makes good on its threat, Lightning Source's 4,300 client publishers and their almost half a million titles on Amazon's site will go from "ships in 24 hours" to unavailable unless those publishers switch to using Amazon's company, BookSurge, as their printer.

Hubris or exceptionally bold gamble?

There is nothing on Amazon's site about the move.

Meanwhile, On Demand, the company developing the Espresso Book Machine (previously), announced today that they have finalized an agreement with Lightning Source that would allow publishers currently using Lightning Source to license that content to On Demand so those books could be printed at Espresso sites. If the EBM catches on and Amazon's catalog is compromised, could brick and mortar bookstores and libraries find themselves with an unexpected windfall?
posted by Toekneesan (43 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
jerks.
posted by joelf at 2:01 PM on April 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


From what I understood it was hard to get your self published book on Amazon anyways, There are also alternatives like an EBay store, or using paypal logins on your own site.
posted by joelf at 2:02 PM on April 3, 2008


If this keeps just one awful would-be poet, memoirist or children's author from self-publishing then it will not have been in vain.
posted by Atom12 at 2:05 PM on April 3, 2008 [16 favorites]


"Amazon's move should concern all publishers, and indeed readers. Amazon has always had a lot of leverage, but they haven't used it. That's clearly changing." *
posted by ericb at 2:05 PM on April 3, 2008


If this keeps just one awful would-be poet, memoirist or children's author from self-publishing then it will not have been in vain.

But without my autobiographical K-4 epic, how will the children learn dactylic hexameter?!?!
posted by Someone has just shot your horse! at 2:11 PM on April 3, 2008 [7 favorites]


Hubris or exceptionally bold gamble?

I'm guessing it takes a bit of the former to concoct the latter, in this case. in either case, it strikes me as incredibly monopolistic.
posted by Devils Rancher at 2:13 PM on April 3, 2008


Let's look at four levels of lock-in at play here:

1. Data-driven lock-in. This is the core "Web 2.0" piece. Reviews and recommendations (and now data on S3 and EC2 usage). Again, this implicit, and in general is good for consumers.


Why in the hell is that good for consumers? We'd all be better off if we could take our data and put it wherever we want.
posted by delmoi at 2:13 PM on April 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


There are also alternatives like an EBay store, or using paypal logins on your own site

Repeated for emphasis. Amazon doesn't have to be an industry defining force. If you're going to self-publish, it's not a huge leap to host your own site and sell your books that way. There's less margin in that method, but more writers doing so can only add a healthy check to corporate internet dominance.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:15 PM on April 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


I predict more of these titles will move to Amazon Advantage and prices will go up (since Amazon takes a 55% discount on those titles). This is not a good move by Amazon, not everyone will switch to Booksurge, and it opens the door for another bookseller to take on these titles.
posted by mattbucher at 2:18 PM on April 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


This has to break some sort of law. It seems like extortion.
posted by Dave Faris at 2:18 PM on April 3, 2008


I try to think positively, so I'm telling myself that maybe, just maybe, this is the first step to Amazon cleaning up some of the junk in their catalog. People are trying to game the thing, and (at least kinda) succeeding. Searches for my favorite jazz composers return a bunch of crappy t-shirts.
posted by box at 2:20 PM on April 3, 2008


it's not a huge leap to host your own site and sell your books that way.

Yeah, well you can also set up a stall in your garage and try to sell the books to passers-by from there. Your little website is no substitute for Amazon - I'd have thought most self-publishers would want both, anyway.
posted by Phanx at 2:21 PM on April 3, 2008 [4 favorites]


affects
posted by yath at 2:23 PM on April 3, 2008


Predicted by me two years ago.
posted by tkchrist at 2:23 PM on April 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Amazon has really gone downhill lately with all the 4,095,291 shitty 3rd-party sellers hawking their garbage through Amazon's platform. I don't go to Amazon to basically get eBay redux, I go to Amazon to buy products "Shipped from and sold by Amazon.com, Inc" - mainly because I am sharing a Prime membership and so I can get free shipping on many of their products. Of course, now, it's basically impossible to FIND their products because they insist on not adding a "only show me things from Amazon, you twits" tick box.
posted by leffler at 2:37 PM on April 3, 2008 [9 favorites]


If this keeps just one awful would-be poet, memoirist or children's author from self-publishing then it will not have been in vain.

It won't. You see, we've got this thing called the Web. And this thing called Kinko's. And these things called vanity presses. None of them are going away.

What it might do is stop up the recently expanded availability of a lot of valuable out-of-print stuff. Example: I am a rabid fan of Louis Jay Herman's A Dictionary of Slavic Word Families. It's out of print. I happened to ask the right used bookseller at the right time and have a copy shipped to me for about USD60, but that was luck. Not many years ago, luck would have been my only option, but as it happens, in the present I can also get it PoD for about USD100, also shipped to me. In the near future, if the publisher didn't like Amazon's terms, it might be I'd have to trek on over to some larger city to find me one o them fancy book-makin' machines.

Amazon, Amazon, Amazon. You got big by being the store that sells everything. Don't forget that. Well, that and by being the one that had trustworthy reviews from real users ... ahem.
posted by eritain at 2:40 PM on April 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


*booooooo
*hissssss

I logged in to avoid looking at the huge "Booksurge" google ad for this thread.
posted by eustatic at 2:53 PM on April 3, 2008


they insist on not adding a "only show me things from Amazon, you twits" tick box.

The "Can be shipped within one business day from Amazon.com" subcategory under Shipping Option in the search-results sidebar is close enough for stuff that's in stock.
posted by hilker at 2:55 PM on April 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


People buy books from Amazon?
posted by oaf at 2:57 PM on April 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


The Long Fail.
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:17 PM on April 3, 2008 [23 favorites]


I don't think this is as bad as it sounds. POD, from Amazon's perspective, means drop-ship ie. the book is not kept in stock by Amazon but the order is forwarded to the printer "on demand". It makes sense why Amazon would no longer want to do this, now that is has its own in-house "on demand" service.

From the authors/publishers perspective, they can still print their book from a LuLu or whatever "POD service" they use, and send 10 copies to Amazon, which can then list it as being in stock. If a book has an ISBN and Amazon carries it in stock, it doesn't matter who actually printed the book. This is how I read it anyway, maybe I'm wrong.
posted by stbalbach at 3:19 PM on April 3, 2008


stbalbach: "I don't think this is as bad as it sounds. POD, from Amazon's perspective, means drop-ship ie. the book is not kept in stock by Amazon but the order is forwarded to the printer "on demand". It makes sense why Amazon would no longer want to do this, now that is has its own in-house "on demand" service.

From the authors/publishers perspective, they can still print their book from a LuLu or whatever "POD service" they use, and send 10 copies to Amazon, which can then list it as being in stock. If a book has an ISBN and Amazon carries it in stock, it doesn't matter who actually printed the book. This is how I read it anyway, maybe I'm wrong.
"

While most vanity presses do use POD, this has a great effect on traditional publishers as well. The publisher I work for has 1/3 if our titles in POD. Other publishers, and some pretty major ones, have significantly more.

BookSurge is not located at any Amazon distribution center. There is no added efficiency to be had here. This seems to be about leveraging market share to make more money by tying their listing to buying their print services. To take part in the the Advantage Program, which you describe above, Amazon charges the publisher 25% more to sell a book on Amazon that way. So who does that give the so-called advantage to? And who will ultimately pay that added 25%?
posted by Toekneesan at 3:36 PM on April 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


I sure hope that this doesn't cripple the literary juggernaut that is Philip M. Parker.
posted by cortex at 3:48 PM on April 3, 2008


It's a pretty huge carrot to lure away authors from the other POD services at the very least.
posted by drezdn at 3:56 PM on April 3, 2008


Wait--Amazon sells books? I thought they just served up incorrect search results.
posted by DU at 3:58 PM on April 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Toekneesan, point taken, but consider:

1. Amazon is not preventing any books from being in its catalog. All those 1/2 million books can still be available on Amazon, if the publisher does it the traditional way: print the books beforehand and keep them in stock at Amazon's facility.

2. Most of the major publishing houses do this already.

3. Amazon is probably seeing the big publishers look at the 25% and say "gee, why publish it the old fashioned way when we can save 25% by doing it the POD way". Who bears the cost of this? Amazon in part, for its overhead dealing with lots of small POD publishers, and loss of some margin probably. Plus now that it has BookSurge, it takes away from its own business.

I honestly don't see a problem here, just a change in business that in the long run won't effect anyone except to bring POD more in line with the true cost of doing business that the big publishers currently pay.
posted by stbalbach at 4:09 PM on April 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Remember when people used to get wood from the Amazon?
Then they got books from Amazon.
Pretty soon they the short end of the stick from Amazon.
Then they got nothing from Amazon.
And the Amazon ran out of wood.
posted by blue_beetle at 4:10 PM on April 3, 2008 [6 favorites]


I am the blue_beetle and I speak for the trees.
posted by Toekneesan at 4:24 PM on April 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


This is an outrage! I wouldn't be surprised if McDonald's followed suit and stopped selling the hamburgers I make at home, the bastards!

Really.

If this means big trouble for the likes of Lightning Source, then it's their own fault for leaning their business plan so heavily on someone else's business.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:39 PM on April 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Sys Rq writes "If this means big trouble for the likes of Lightning Source, then it's their own fault for leaning their business plan so heavily on someone else's business."

That may be true, but Amazon's business depends in large part on being a venue for other people's sales. This may be a smart move with the added leverage for PoD, but Amazon can't shut out whole segments of their market without repercussions and some flak coming back at them. They could easily restrict sales of everything to in-house, and it's their right, but, considering the shitstorm that would cause and the inevitable exodus away from them for a period of time, is that really smart? Cornering the market isn't the only way to make money.
posted by krinklyfig at 4:58 PM on April 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wow. This is totally lame.
posted by dobbs at 5:04 PM on April 3, 2008


What does this mean? So Amazon will only sell my print-on-demand book printed-on-demand by their own service, but I assume I can still sell copies through other channels as well, printed by whomever I wish, no?

If I got that correctly, where's the big deal? I don't see it, but I guess I might be missing something.
posted by Anything at 5:43 PM on April 3, 2008


From what I hear, part of the problem is that the quality of Amazon's BookSurge is teh suck.
posted by maxwelton at 6:37 PM on April 3, 2008


Amazon is an increasingly big deal, especially for the dwindling but still influential pool of independent publishers. I work for a 10 year old indie publisher and AMZN has become our largest trade buyer in the last two years, outstripping Barnes and Noble and even the second tier distributors like Baker and Taylor and Ingram. I've recently made the choice to add a large amount of our titles to their Kindle program, not that it doesn't give me pause, but it's a revenue stream and those are few and far between.

Amazon throws its weight around, they are hard to get access to and not always easy to deal with and I don't think they have the hold on the book world that they think they do, but they act tough and sometimes that is enough, at least in the short run.

My next big move is to release a bunch of our titles as purely DRM free ebooks, especially our backlist, but that's a very scary thing to do, we'll see if it works.

The bad news about book publishing is that a third or more of our overhead is printing costs, in a business that is already a nightmare of overhead and low margins. The independent book publishing world is stocked with true believers and tough motherfuckers, but it gets harder every year and our cultural world (my bias aside, I really believe this) will be much impoverished without them. So read (and buy) more books and with more variety please, world.
posted by Divine_Wino at 6:48 PM on April 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


Oh boy, this should be interesting.
posted by TheSpot at 6:56 PM on April 3, 2008


3. Amazon is probably seeing the big publishers look at the 25% and say "gee, why publish it the old fashioned way when we can save 25% by doing it the POD way". Who bears the cost of this? Amazon in part, for its overhead dealing with lots of small POD publishers,
So you're saying Amazon is unhappy because its big publishers might do something which is only bad when small publishers do it? How does that make sense?
and loss of some margin probably. Plus now that it has BookSurge, it takes away from its own business.
Well, yeah. Since Amazon has BookSurge, they're in competition with their own suppliers (the other publishers). So its in their interest to add artificial barriers to the previously open market they've created, in order to make their in-house stuff more competitive. I don't see how this can be anything but a lose for the actual customers (that is, me).
posted by hattifattener at 7:39 PM on April 3, 2008


If this keeps just one awful would-be poet, memoirist or children's author from self-publishing then it will not have been in vain.

Print-on-demand is increasingly being used for so-called "legitimate" publishing as well as the good ol' vanity publications. The myth that if you don't print 1,000 copies off the bat, it's not a "real" book needs to die soon.

The problem is that print-on-demand is increasingly touted as a viable alternative to traditional publishing methods, especially for smaller publishers but also for large publishers that may not otherwise take chances on niche books with small built-in audiences, or republish out-of-print books without a history of brisk sales. Print-on-demand was supposed to allow publishers to say, "we will never be out of stock of any of the books we sell, ever." That kind of publishing proposition appeals most to established publishers with big back catalogs currently sitting in vaults making absolutely no money.

But until those magic book-printing machines get installed in every bookstore, library, coffee shop and airport lounge across the country (in other words, never), the vast majority of print-on-demand sales will come from online sources, simply because it's a hell of a lot easier to find a POD book online than to go into a bookstore and ask about it (and also because bookstores like to maintain a lot of stock, which means you have to print all that stock upfront, which defeats the whole point of print-on-demand). So to have the biggest online book retailer suddenly say "use our service or you can't sell on Amazon" is to essentially destroy all the other POD providers unless they can figure out how to replace Amazon's sales pronto, and then convince all their publishers that losing Amazon as a retail source won't cause huge amounts of damage to their bottom lines. Good luck with that one.
posted by chrominance at 8:02 PM on April 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


<3 Astro Zombie
posted by bonaldi at 8:04 PM on April 3, 2008


History doesn't repeat but it does rhyme a lot.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 8:59 PM on April 3, 2008


BookSurge could be better. Our full color full size (11x8) 115+ pages is too many pages in color for BookSurge ... what kind of desktop printer are they using?
posted by jbelkin at 9:03 PM on April 3, 2008


Sys Rq: This is an outrage! I wouldn't be surprised if McDonald's followed suit and stopped selling the hamburgers I make at home, the bastards!

Not really an apt metaphor.

Amazon makes its dough mostly selling stuff they don't make. Most of the stuff they sell is made by huge publishing conglomerates.

So it's more like McDonald's saying they'll still sell outside hamburgers if they're made by Burger King, but not if they're made by Joe's Burger Shack.
posted by loiseau at 10:56 PM on April 3, 2008


Predicted by me two years ago.

Agreed. Was anyone in the publishing industry surprised by this? News, yes. Bombshell, no.

It certainly opens the market for a competitor, which seems to be a good thing. Not surprising at all.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:28 AM on April 4, 2008


Can someone help explain this? I've read a lot of the links & I can't really get a straight answer.

They say "directly" sell. Does that mean that these guys can continue on Amazon as the marketplace types?

If so I don't really see the problem. Why would Amazon "directly" sell anything that they in fact simply drop ship. Why not let the merchant sell that stuff themselves. What's the practical difference? Amazon should have some involvement in what they say they sell.
posted by Wood at 10:47 AM on April 4, 2008


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