How will Amazon's print-on-demand changes affect authors?
ONLINE COLUMN: Web Savvy
Published: July 15, 2008
|In March, online bookselling giant Amazon announced a new procedure for print-on-demand books, requiring these titles to be printed in Amazon's own fulfillment centers. Amazon had previously bought print-on-demand publisher BookSurge, possibly with the new procedure in mind. |
Independent publishers and writers' organizations were quite naturally upset. The American Society of Journalists and Authors issued a statement titled, "Big rich Amazon now gouging independent publishers—and writers most of all." The Authors Guild noted that while Amazon claimed the new process would save transportation costs and enhance customer service, the bookseller's intentions might be less than honorable. Once Amazon has the author in the pocket, what's to stop the retailer from upping profits by decreasing the author or publisher's share of the book sale?
The bravest response of all came from writers' advocate Angela Adair-Hoy, who operates the publishing company Booklocker and the Web site Writers Weekly. Booklocker filed an anti-trust suit against Amazon.
So what's an author to do, especially if you're not a best-selling brand and your 'Buy now with one click' button no longer shows on your book listing page?
Amazon isn't the only online bookseller, for starters. For instance, Borders just pulled away from a sales arrangement with Amazon, opting to increase Borders' earnings by cutting out the middle man. Borders created a sleek new Web site, and publishers can submit works to the chain for approval to participate in online sales. The same is true of Barnes & Noble.
Most presses love to sell their authors' books on the publisher site, but it's also true most publishers are not very adept at marketing and pulling traffic to those sites.
It's my opinion Amazon's move will primarily impact small, regional and vanity publishers more than any other. If you're a self-published author or if your publisher, although traditional, doesn't have a solid marketing budget, the burden of marketing will naturally fall on your shoulders. Even if you're published with a mainstream house, this may be true. Large publishers do very little promotion for mid-list authors.
The worrisome aspect of Amazon's requirement is the vulnerability of those who want to participate in a true POD arrangement—printing a copy of a book once an order comes through. Amazon still offers options like the Advantage program, whereby you provide 5 copies of your book to Amazon inventory. Based on my own experience, that's probably the smartest thing to do. My former publisher uses this setup, but sales via Amazon were, for me, the bottom of the bookselling barrel. Author events where I presented a program, in-store signings, festivals, Web marketing and social media were tools I used to spread the word. My publisher was a small regional company, and the marketing budget was basically nonexistent. So I had to be creative.
Another option is for the author or publisher to create a bookstore via Amazon's open marketplace option. But the prices you may charge will be affected by what Amazon lists a new title for.
There's no way to tell how Booklocker's anti-trust lawsuit will be resolved. We may be writers, but we're also consumers. Amazon makes it very easy to purchase products once you have an account set up. We may do ourselves a large favor by turning elsewhere for some purchases. When an online retailing giant controls the publishing process from print to package, that conglomerate can pretty much set the cost wherever its heart desires. That's not an advantage for writers or authors.
Amazon-BookSurge Anti-trust Lawsuit blog
Information for Publishers and Artists, Borders online
Amazon options for publishers
Previously at Web Savvy: Expert tips on promoting your book
--July 15, 2008
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