This is a Bummer… Amazon as 800-lb. Gorilla

Alas, more stormy seas in the ever-changing world of publishing…

I participated in a terrific panel discussion last night with the James River Writers Group in Richmond, Virginia. Unfortunately, their bookstore partner didn’t bring any copies of The Good Humor Man, or, Calorie 3501 to sell, and that book got talked about quite a bit (the discussion was all about the portrayal of food and romance in popular fiction).

Given that there seemed to be a lot of interest in the room about my novel, I was curious to see if any ebooks had sold after my talk. So I went to the Author Central portal of Amazon.com to see if there had been a recent spike my Kindle sales… only to find that the Kindle version of The Good Humor Man is no longer available.

I quickly fired off an email to Jill at Tachyon Publications, my publisher, to let her know about what I assumed was a technical glitch. Turned out she was already well aware of the situation, which affects many more writers than just me. Below is the email she sent out to all of Tachyon’s authors:

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Dear Tachyon authors, artists, and friends–

Regrettably, due to a contract dispute, our e-book titles are currently not available at Amazon.com. Amazon.com made a unilateral decision to remove over 5000 Kindle e-books from its site this week, including all Tachyon e-books.

The issue is the Kindle contract between our book distributor, IPG, and Amazon. IPG’s Kindle contract came up for renewal. Amazon took the opportunity to ask for yet another larger cut of Kindle book sales. IPG took a stand and refused. In response, Amazon.com has pulled all of the e-books by IPG’s publishers.

While this means for the time being that you won’t be able to buy Tachyon e-books at Amazon.com, there are many other excellent options.

Our books are still available in print and in EPUB and PDF electronic editions from local independent bookstores (find them on www.indiebound.org), and on web sites such as Barnes & Noble (www.barnesandnoble.com), the Sony bookstore (www.ebookstore.sony.com), Apple’s iTunes, Google Books and elsewhere.

You can also purchase Kindle and other e-book formats from our friends at Weightless Books (www.weightlessbooks.com). Free software programs such as Calibre (www.calibre-ebook.com) can be used to convert non-Kindle e-files to Kindle readable formats. Kindle Fire users can download programs from the Amazon app store to read non-Kindle formats.

Please feel free spread the word about this unfortunate situation and let me know if you have any questions. This fight between Amazon and IPG is another chapter in Amazon’s continuing effort to control the marketplace, which is ultimately a bad thing for publishers and authors. For now there are only two certainties: change in the publishing industry is inevitable, and Tachyon will do its best to continue to publish the most thought-provoking and challenging speculative fiction available.

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I waited a little to see if things would shake out quickly, but as of now, we don’t have any time frame for a resolution. It’s maddening, but I’m proud of IPG for standing up to Amazon’s bullying.

Best,

Jill

Jill Roberts
Managing Editor
Tachyon Publications

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This is a fairly good illustration of the dangers of even a near-monopoly in the marketplace. It is true that Amazon doesn’t hold a monopoly on either electronic reading devices or the provision of content for electronic reading devices. But their portion of those markets is so huge (and owners of Kindle devices are basically “locked in” to utilizing Amazon as a provider of ebooks) that their position allows them to act as a bully to their partners — the publishers, writers, and subsidiary distributors.

I am certain this will not be an issue for Independent Publishers Group (IPG) alone. You can stuff French fries up my nose and use me as a potato gun if Amazon doesn’t soon begin demanding a bigger cut, probably a much bigger cut, from writers who independently put their works up for sale on Amazon as Kindle books.

What can be done?

Well, we’ve got the power of social media, which can sometimes be successfully used to shame big companies into backing down on their bullying. And there are competitors to Amazon out there which need to be supported. If you’re in the market for an ebook reader, you may want to strongly consider a Nook or a Sony eReader, if only to forestall a world in which Amazon is the only surviving player for ebooks (and print books, for that matter).

Update: Here’s a link to a February 23 story in the Chicago Tribune on the dispute between Amazon and IPG, which provides more context.

3 comments

  1. maury f. says:

    Here’s a link to an article from the New York Times of 1/31/12 in which Barnes & Noble is the David to Amazon’s Goliath — who the hell would ever think we’d be cheering on B&N after what THEY’D done to the publishing industry in general and independent bookstores in general…

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/29/business/barnes-noble-taking-on-amazon-in-the-fight-of-its-life.html?_r=1&scp=4&sq=barnes%20&%20noble&st=cse

    • Andrew says:

      Maury, that was an excellent article, one which provides a lot of valuable context; thanks so much for bringing it to my attention (and that of readers of this blog). We need to keep in mind that we are actors in this play, not merely spectators; the decisions we make as consumers will help tell the tale. When Borders was in trouble, I transferred the bulk of my new books and new CDs purchases to them, wanting to help preserve the variety of competing forces in the marketplace. Now that Amazon is acting in such a predatory manner, and in a way that is directly affecting my financial interests, I’ll need to direct my purchases away from them and towards their competitors. By myself, I can’t make much of a difference. But if enough consumers act in an educated and purposeful manner, we can help keep competition alive in the book industry.

  2. maury f. says:

    I totally agree with you Andy — our leverage, our vote, is with the choices we make as consumers and where and to whom we cast our lot with. I heard someone recently say that she is boycotting Amazon, not as a writer or even a reader, but a concerned consumer who doesn’t want to support their nefarious business practices. I’ve got to admit that in the past couple of years, I’ve given Amazon a good bit of my business in purchasing various consumer goods — everything from an electric toothbrush to a pair of sandals. Now it’s time to be more mindful.

    I think your sentiment bears repeating: “We’re actors in this play — not merely spectators.”

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