There’s a story doing the rounds that Amazon is telling small presses to do their POD printing with Booksurge, enroll in Advantage, or Amazon will no longer directly sell their books, leaving them to Marketplace sellers alone.
Regardless of why they’re doing this, we small presses would be better off if they stopped. Legal action takes quite some time, if there’s any legal avenue to pursue. We’d be better off if we could persuade them that it’s not in their best interest either. So, why might they be doing this?
I see a whole bunch of possible reasons, including the recent trend toward non-trade discounts on some types of books sold through LSI/Ingram, a grab for vertical integration and larger market share in an evolving marketplace, or a mis-guided bit of executive hubris.
Let’s start with the discounting: There has been a trend lately for smaller presses to take advantage of the range of discounts that LSI allows publishers to set, and still sell their books through Ingram.
Instead of using the standard 55% discount for wholesalers, small presses have begun to tell LSI to sell their POD-original trade books at 20% discount. Amazon has been buying these, but it can’t be happy about the deal. Could it be that they’re trying to force this practice to stop?
It might be easier if it simply announced that it will only purchase trade books on traditional trade terms. When you think about that, however, its current actions are having that effect. Either they print through Booksurge, which offers only trade-type discount schedules, or they join Advantage.
If this is the issue, then, if LSI forces similar terms upon its clients, Amazon will relent.
An enormous proportion of the books printed using POD are sold through Amazon. They’re generally in the “long tail” and Amazon is one of the few booksellers to have mastered the techniques and built the expensive infrastructure required to sell such small numbers of so many different products cost-effectively.
I’ve blogged before about how the book business may be about to undergo a radical shift, as mass paperbacks in some genres are replaced by ebooks on something like a Kindle. If Amazon’s vision of the future is something like mine, they may be making a bid to establish significant barriers to entry in delivering ebooks or print on demand books.
It’s already going to be very expensive to try to duplicate Amazon’s search capabilities and their branded presence in consumer consciousness. But possible competitors, such as eBay or Barnes and Noble, both of whom have much of the infrastructure already, might be tempted in the coming evolution of the book business.
When bookselling is more about moving bytes than bits of paper and binding, what is to keep Amazon on top? Perhaps if they can push most of the on-demand printers and the “publish on demand” vanities out of the arena, they can make it that little bit more difficult to attack their supply line as well as their base with readers.
If this is their motivation, they’ll fight tooth and nail, because it’s a survival issue.
On the other hand, it could just be that some new executives don’t know what they don’t know. Never underestimate the possibility of cluelessness even in a small group of otherwise smart folks.
So, what’s your pet theory?