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DIY Poetry Publishing Cooperative

March 31, 2008

Do not panic...yet.

Publishers Weekly reports that Amazon is forcing some POD services to either use their printer (BookSurge) or else.

Apparently Amazon is approaching some publishers who sell POD books via Amazon.com to tell them that if they do not make their books available via BookSurge, Amazon's POD arm, they will be deactivated, i.e. have their buy buttons turned off. What this potentially means is that publishers who use POD printers other than BookSurge will have to either 1) replace their current printers with BookSurge (not likely for many, see next paragraph), or 2) add BookSurge as an additional printer in order to remain available via Amazon.com (more likely). (I have *not* seen any reports that Amazon is demanding that publishers use *exclusively* BookSurge. If anyone else has, please point!)

In order to reach bookstores, many publishers use Lightning Source, which is owned by Ingram, the largest book wholesaler in the US. Lulu.com's distribution packages include integration with Ingram/Lightning Source, for example. Using Lightning Source and Ingram makes books available to bookstores beyond Amazon, both physical and online. So I can't imagine current Lightning Source customers dropping Lightning Source totally in favor of BookSurge. Amazon is not the only sales outlet. In fact, most POD publishers emphasize direct sales, because the profits are better. (Reminder: Buy directly from the press whenever possible! Also good options: independent bookstores & SPD.)

I can imagine publishers adding BookSurge as an additional printer to retain their Amazon buy buttons however. Amazon may not be their only sales outlet, but it's important enough that publishers and their authors will not want to lose it. Adding BookSurge as an additional printer will be a pain for preses though, and more expensive. Honestly, the last thing small presses need is another entity taking a cut. Angela Hoy of WritersWeekly.com and several posters in the Lulu forums (linked below) have also suggested that the design specifications for BookSurge are different than for Lightning Source. If that's true, conversion to or addition of BookSurge as a printer would mean redesigning headaches and the hassle and expense of creating and maintaining more than one file. (POD books are typically uploaded as PDF files.)

It's worth noting that Amazon has already made similar moves with ebooks (now that they have Kindle) and will probably do it with digital audio too--they *just* bought Audible. Because I don't work with those formats I know a lot less about the options and haven't really kept up, but Amazon's behemoth size and growing tentacles probably scare the bejeebus out of their competitors. This doesn't *quite* add up to monopoly, however. Amazon may be able to control how POD books sold via Amazon.com are printed, but as long as other retail alternatives exist, they can't insist that BookSurge be any publisher's exclusive printer.

As for how this will affect DIYers who use Lulu--it might not? Lulu has yet to issue any statement, but report that customers can expect one "early this week." (Here is the forum to watch, but please note that much of what is there right now is *speculation* and has not come from Lulu.) Lulu already works with BookSurge, at least for some titles with distro packages. So Lulu may not be affected in the same way as companies like Publish America (whose books have already been deactivated in the Amazon system) that do/will not work with BookSurge. In other words, Lulu seems to already comply or be making plans to comply with Amazon's new requirements.

Why is Amazon doing this? Because from their perspective, not only will mandatory BookSurge printing increase profits, it will, admittedly, be more efficient for them and their customers. Amazon will have to decide whether the ill will generated in the publishing/writing community is worth it. Can they afford to piss off Ingram by poaching Lightning Source business? If they endanger Lightning Source will the trade publishers who use Ingram to distribute their books and Lightning Source to print their POD backlists step in? Amazon surely can't afford to take on the entire trade publishing industry, can they?

But I think some small presses may have to choose between being sold on Amazon.com and being available via Ingram. This is bad news, for independent bookstores (again), small presses, their authors, and BookSurge's POD competitors.

I'll post further developments to the DIY News feed as I see them, but I'll be out of town for the next couple of weeks on the Bloof tour, so you might also wanna keep an eye on the PW front page here. And if you're a DIYer who uses a POD service *other* than Lulu and have more news, please do share.

UPDATE 3:00 PM: Aaron Shepard's Publishing Blog has more

UPDATE 3:45 PM: This article has a little more detail, including what Amazon is offering as alternatives. Basically a pay-to-play option. Considering that a Lulu-based poetry press makes--for example--about $3.50 on $15.00 for an 80 p. poetry book sold through Amazon as it is, this "alternative" is as unfeasible as paying as two sets of printer fees.

UPDATE 3:50 PM: Amazon is listening. Er, reading. Multiple amazon.com visitors have already stopped by to read this post today via blogsearch.google.com (using search terms "Amazon" and "Booksurge"). So if you got something to say, sound off on your blogs. Can't hurt.

UPDATE 7:00 PM: Amazon has posted an open letter. However, all it does is confirm that yes they are requiring POD publishers to use BookSurge in order to remain directly available (i.e. not from Marketplace sellers) on Amazon.com. They mention the Advantage program, but do not go into details about what it will cost. They also do not mention that they will be taking 48%* of the cover price, nor admit that this percentage is on top of the $50 setup fee**, per title. So what I said above is still the case: publishers are being asked to either use 2 different POD channels--one for distribution through Amazon, and one for distribution everywhere else--or forgo one in favor of the other if the double fees are not affordable. They're banking (literally) on the idea that having your (you authors, you presses) books appear at Amazon is more important than having them available in other retail outlets. (And can I just mention that as poets, college course adoptions and college bookstore orders in conjunction with teaching and speaking gigs are muy importante. Guess where they usually get their books? Yep, Ingram.) The usual bookstore cut is 40% of the cover price. Amazon can claim (and they likely will, when/if they get specific) that the additional 8% is analogous to the commission taken by Lulu and other POD services. That might be technically true--I'd need more info about volume discounts, if any, through BookSurge to tell--but it's not going to fool any publishers who suddenly have to pay double fees to get their books distributed in "global" retail channels. Is it? (* **Note: The 48% and $50 figures have been quoted by affected POD publishers in several different forums I've read today; I repeat the figures here confident that they are correct, but without having verified them myself. My press has no direct relationship with Amazon at this time; our books are made available to Amazon via Lightning Source/Ingram by way of a Lulu distro package. No word yet from Lulu--supposedly Amazon's deadline to comply is tomorrow, April 1.)

I know these thoughts are a bit scattered, and I apologize if they are less clearly organized than usual. I'm packing and cleaning and doing laundry to get ready for my trip and it's either post on the fly like this or not at all.

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