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Anti-Amazon: A Sampling of Critics’ Concerns

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Complementing last month’s roundup of mixed reviews about the way Amazon does business with smaller publishers, the reports featured below are generally negative, and the reports we’ll feature next month will be enthusiastically positive. Again, the sample includes comments from just a few of the many publishers who criticized Amazon’s practice of repeatedly ordering one or two copies, and its insistence–so far–on burying information about new editions while touting their outdated, and sometimes even out-of-print, predecessors.

–Judith Appelbaum

Left in the Lurch at the Launch

What were they thinking? I have no idea, because you can’t actually talk to anyone at Amazon.com.

My first two books have sold steadily there for years. So you can imagine my dismay when I couldn’t get attention for my new book’s launch. The launch plan was to notify 6,000-plus subscribers to my weekly leadership tip about a bonus offer for the new book, and I was driving the purchasers to Amazon.. Don’t you think Amazon would be interested? I emailed again and again, but it did not order any books.

I went ahead with the launch anyway. Joy of Leadership went to #7 on the Business Top Seller List. Since Amazon hadn’t stocked the book, buyers had to wait three weeks to receive their purchases.

I’m grateful to Amazon for being there when the big boys weren’t. I just wish you could call and actually speak to someone. You could when the company first started.ndex2FP>

Shar McBee

SMB Publishing, Inc.



The Price Isn’t Right

My last book sold very well on Amazon at full price ($60) for two years. The list price of my new book is $75, and I was shocked to see it offered on Amazon at below $50, including no tax and free shipping. Fortunately the book had not been printed, and I immediately raised the price to $85 to get Amazon’s price at least over $50.

Why do I care, since I get the same amount no matter what Amazon sells it for?

First and foremost, discounting a brand-new book even before it hits the streets cheapens it in the eye of the beholder. Second, it interferes with retail sales I might make at $85. Third, it will probably affect my sales to bookstores, which just can’t compete with Amazon’s pricing. Fourth, it is another nail in the coffin for independent bookstores. And last, since I am an (albeit minimal) Amazon stockholder, it hurts me because Amazon is giving up most of its profit.

The stupid thing is that I believe that my books are not price sensitive. Most buyers who pay $53 would have paid $85!

Tristan DuBois

Alice Press



Against Extortion

I have ceased to do personal retail business with Amazon because of its extortionate practice of forcing publishers to buy publicity or have their titles delisted. If Amazon’s business model does not return a sufficient profit, the company should not sell the books at such deep discounts. The books we publish are still listed on Amazon and sold through Amazon, because it is the major player in the industry.

Richard Sorsky

Woodworkers Library



Four Faults

Where do I begin?

Failure to communicate. Amazon does not let you call in to a customer service representative to resolve problems. One must email, and the response is usually computer generated, necessitating further emails to resolve any problems. Sometimes there’s no response for weeks.

Slow inventory management. I ship my books to Amazon Priority Mail with Delivery Confirmation, but it takes 10 days to update its system and record the arrival of my books.

Amazon Marketplace. Not only does Amazon allow others to profit from selling both used and new copies of my books at bargain-basement prices, it doesn’t include Marketplace sales in its bestseller tally.

I won’t even talk about the contract wording in the Search Inside program. It’s a nightmare: giving away rights in perpetuity to reproduce parts of your book anywhere, at any time, in any format.

Larry Cuocci

Palette Press LLC



Why Should It Be Different?

There are so many issues, but I will focus on two areas here.

Email communications are a problem. About a year ago, the Amazon form for applying to the Advantage program was broken. I tried to use it 15 times (literally) before contacting the appropriate customer service person and explaining what the problem was, and the different ways I’d tried to remedy it. I promptly received an email asking me to try something I had clearly stated that I had already tried several times. I said so again. The next email offered another suggestion that I had already tried. This continued for about six months until I gave up. Then I received an email informing me that the form was broken. Imagine my surprise. But meanwhile, my author had been upset with me, and she assumed I didn’t know what I was doing.

The other major problem area for us is returns. Returns are sent with shipping numbers that do not match or in any way reference the shipping numbers in Amazon’s original order. A series of emails back and forth ended with one from Amazon confirming that the return shipping ID number is different from the reference shipping ID number it originally assigns.

Without a reference to the original order, how can Amazon know for sure where these books came from, and how do we know if they are in fact our books and not books someone else sold to Amazon?

Amazon’s policies always supercede our own, not allowing us to do business in an organized, straightforward fashion. We do not allow returns from anyone else without paperwork or a reference number common to us and them. Why should Amazon be different? We too are a large organization–a university–and we too have policies we must follow to be accountable. Several of Amazon’s policies prevent us from accomplishing this.

Alba M. Scholz

Portland State University Extended Studies

Continuing Education Press



Opting Out

I had trouble figuring out how to sell through Amazon, and moreover I thought its fees were outrageous for the service/advantage it offers.

Bill Klemm

Benecton Press



Contacts and Co-op

The most frustrating experience I had with Amazon was getting it to replace the old edition of a title with the new edition, which had a different ISBN. The response from everyone I dealt with at Amazon was that it could not list my latest edition because it would harm used-book sellers. This made no sense at all (and convinced me not to invest in Amazon stock). The latest editions of two books were hidden for more than a year. Finally, when I bought into an Amazon advertising program, I spoke to an employee who understood the problem and fixed it.

The second most frustrating experience with Amazon was paying hundreds of dollars for Small Vendor Co-Op email advertising, only to see my main competitor’s book get a free ride in the ad I had paid for.

Gail Howard

Smart Luck Publishers



Fines Aren’t Fine

In what category would you put companies that levy a $100-plus fine if, in its opinion, you have made a mistake in any one of several categories? Of course, I’m talking about Amazon. What’s next? The problem is other big stores imitating this and also levying fines and other charges. The University of Virginia recently notified me that it will charge vendors 1 percent of the invoice total to cover purchasing charges (!).

It really shouldn’t be this hard, but hey, we’re selling to 1,000-pound gorillas.

Bob Adjemian

Vedanta Press



What Hurts Sales

Three very bad Amazon policies hurt publishers’ sales:

1. The book review sections include reviews of a book’s old edition. If a book was first self-published or previously published by another publisher, the reviews generated by these old editions appear on the book’s page, even if the title has been completely rewritten and reedited. Apparently at the Amazon school, books truly have permanent records.

2. Some prestigious newspapers and magazines may run wonderfully positive reviews of a book, but if Amazon does not have a relationship with those periodicals, it will not include their reviews on a book’s site. And it doesn’t help if you forward such reviews to Amazon–even if you obtain reprint rights.

3. This is a new one: Amazon will cite only one edition of a book at a time, even if that edition is out of print. This can only result in lost sales for both the publisher and Amazon.

Rudy Shur

Square One Publishers



When Each Sale Loses Money

Our experiences with Amazon were not good or bad, simply disappointing. After listing a book for over a year, we had sold somewhere in the neighborhood of a dozen copies–a fraction of even a single local sale. That, coupled with the 60 percent discount (plus paying the shipping), meant we were actually losing money on each sale. We discontinued our relationship earlier this year and will be listing no further books through Amazon. We don’t feel that it offers any real “advantage” over local distributors or sales through our company Web site.

Paul Hightower

Upstream Press



Steamed by Slow Pay

My biggest gripe with Amazon is that it is now taking nearly two months to make electronic payments (EFT), which is ridiculous. For example, Amazon will not be posting payment for October sales in my account until the end of December.

Amy Vickers

WaterPlow Press



Says Who?

There is no system in place to ask reviewers to identify themselves; nor does a reviewer have to be accredited. There is no area within the consumer review system for an author to respond with a rebuttal–a right that print media routinely grant authors.

Ellen Poulsen

Clinton Cook Publishing Corp.



Earnings Evaporate

My principal complaint about Amazon is that, with its 55 percent discount and the publisher having to pay shipping both ways, there’s no money in it for us. I think the “advantage” in Amazon Advantage is wholly Amazon’s.

Jon Myers

EMQUAD International, Ltd.



Incorrect Info

Don’t get me started on Amazon. Although they list my books, I stopped dealing with them long ago.

Why? The same reason I won’t sell to those other huge retailers. I don’t need the aggravation. Back before I had a distributor, I was selling enough books to niche markets that I didn’t need to put up with Amazon’s bureaucracy. I still sell 95 percent of my books at nontraditional locations, mainly gift shops and eBay, and through the mail.

But my main complaint with Amazon is that, while it manages to list all my books, it is virtually impossible to get changes made to the cover photo or the text that accompanies the listing. I can’t get Amazon to run the correct cover for two books, and I can’t get it to delist out-of-print versions of two other books that have been revised with new covers and prices.

Lee W. Merideth

Historical Indexes Publishing Co.


Accounting and the Annual Fee

I manage two accounts on Amazon.com (my own and one for an academic press). Neither sells enough books to cover the yearly fee of $29.95, so although I receive statements of what Amazon owes me when a book sells, I never receive any year-end accounting to show what I owe Amazon. At this point I have no idea what the bottom line is for either account. On the other hand, Amazon never bills me for any remainder owed on the annual fee. So what happens to that? Will I suddenly get hit by a bill if I ever decide to close out my account? I have asked if I could just pay the annual fee up front, but the answer was No.

Leila Joiner

Imago Press


The Appliance Analogy

My relationship with Amazon can be compared to my relationship with my washing machine. There is no human connection. I have tried to communicate on several issues, and I always get generic responses that are of little help. For instance, I have written to ask why books that are out of print or otherwise unavailable come up before my book does in relevant searches. Usually, after I complain, my book pops up for a day or two and then the same problem occurs a few days later, just like with my washing machine!

Jan O’Neill

Annabelle Publishing Company


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