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Amazon Experiences
A PMA Roundtable

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In her recent e-mail to members, Jan Nathan shared one publisher’s troubling report about Amazon and asked whether other publishers had had similar experiences.

Here’s what started the discussion:

Recently a member contacted us and told us that a pirated copy of his book is being sold on the Amazon.com site as a used book. His is a high-priced textbook ($200/retail), and he knows just about everyone that purchases his book, so when he saw a copy appear as “used” on the Amazon.com site, he purchased it himself. What was delivered to him was a book that contained his copyright page, but was smaller in size, printed on different paper stock, and definitely not a product that he manufactured. At this time, he is still trying to ascertain where this book is from.

To see responses, read on. To join the conversation, e-mail jan@pma-online.org.

Tracing Some Sellers

Hundreds of the nation’s top book reviewers (including many at the largest magazines and newspapers) take the free review copies publishers send them and sell them for their own private profit to online booksellers and used-book stores. These retailers then sell the unread, new books as “New, unread” used books, thereby undercutting the retail price of the book through all normal sales outlets.

We at Corinthian Books know that this is the case because when we release new books and send out review copies (with media kits enclosed), they start showing up on eBay and Amazon.com as “used books” within 30 days. Some of the s??oPrs even point out with pride that the book comes with “full media kit laid in.”

Antidotes? There are few. The practice of selling “review copy” books out the back door is widespread and unethical, but not illegal. Stamping the books “review copy” [discourages] resale but makes for ugly books, and often the reviewer’s only compensation is the book itself.

Our strategy: we inscribe every review copy individually, as follows (for example): “To our friends at the Los Angeles Herald Tribune, with our thanks for the care you bring to the fine art of book reviewing.”

This is both an advance acknowledgment of the reviewer’s hard (we hope) work, and a subtle way of saying that the book is traceable if the reviewer sells it on the secondary market.

Richard N. Côté

Corinthian Books


To Catch a Thief

Because of your e-mail, I looked at Amazon and saw my book offered as a hardcover edition. I have not produced a hardcover edition yet, although that is my next project. On Google I found the seller of the hardcover edition of my book, East Side Dreams. When I called the company, I talked to a woman who told me that, yes, they do make hardcover copies of books. She said because East Side Dreams is in high demand with young adults and schools, they buy copies, make new hard covers for them, put their ISBN on the book, and sell it at a hardcover price. She said they sell educational books.

When I asked her if they ever ask the publisher’s permission to change the ISBN, she said, “Well, I have to get someone to talk to you.” They did not get someone to talk to me. Instead they read me a statement that said they can do this because they are not changing anything inside the cover, and they have been doing this for 30 years. I told her that changing the ISBN is wrong because it is my book with my ISBN number. She informed me that it was not illegal.

Since then I have spoken to three attorneys and they all told me it was illegal. However, copyright attorneys do not work on a contingent fee basis. I was told that I would need $60,000 up front. Since then East Side Dreams has been taken off Amazon and the reprinter has stopped advertising the hardcover edition.

I wonder how many other publishers this is happening to without their knowing it. If I could, I would like to sue. I’m upset about this.

Art Rodriguez

East Side Dreams


The “Sample” Strategy

To foil Amazon’s practice of selling free copies from publishers as “used” books, I have taken to writing “sample” with a permanent marker on the covers of promotional copies. I’d rather they donate them to needy schools. No more Ms. Nice Guy for me.

Terry Callahan

Norman Books


When “POD” Means “Pirated”

Recently we saw a suspicious ad in the Amazon Market Place offering an out-of-print edition of one of our books. The ad stated that the book series is very popular and that it is being “printed on demand.” Because we know this book is not printed on demand, we attempted to get information from Amazon.com.

Amazon.com told us to contact the seller. We contacted this seller through e-mail and through the seller’s Web site, but the seller did not respond to our inquiries. We contacted the Amazon.com legal department and were instructed to supply proof of copyright infringement or other illegal activity. After we made our inquiry, the “print on demand” language was removed from all Market Place ads for our books.

Now the latest edition of this book has several sellers in the Amazon Market Place and “new and used book” sales area offering new copies shipped directly from a warehouse, but the “print on demand” language has been removed. Also, the seller that was advertising the out-of-print edition of our book as a “print on demand” book is now advertising the latest edition of our book and providing a different shipping location than the one in its previous sales ad.

Since these new books are offered in the Amazon Market Place at discounted prices, the books offered at list price cannot compete with them. We contacted Amazon.com and asked why they do not discount the title price on their site to prevent lost sales for publishers that do business directly with them and for themselves. We received vague marketing information in response but no real answer to our question.

Because we are currently investigating this situation, we request that you print the following response without printing our name.

Name withheld by request

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