Question – Where does the eight hundred pound gorilla sit?
Answer – Anywhere it wants to!
The Amazon-Publish America imbroglio is achieving a melt-down-and-drop-through-to- the earths’ core degree of nuclear passion. The implications of Amazon’s recently announced policy of requiring that small independent and publish on demand (POD) presses who want to sell through Amazon must print their books through Amazon’s “Booksurge” publisher-printer are being chewed over like a mouthful of rubbery and vile-tasting bubblegum through this weekend.
Print on demand technology allows a printer to print up copies of a particular book as they are ordered from a formatted electronic text file. Because they are usually printed in small batches, not in 10s of thousands at a whack, the cost of the individual copy is higher, but not all that much. And because they are printed to order, the matter of warehousing thousands of copies doesn’t come up; all very ecologically sound. It allowed writers who couldn’t or didn’t want to publish through a traditional publisher and couldn’t afford to pay for a print run from a so-called vanity press to pay a small set-up fee for their text and cover, which would be available to the printer. Whenever orders came in for their book, the printer could run off as many copies as needed and drop-ship them to the customer. Sensing an opportunity, a whole host of new publishers sprang up or morphed from their previous incarnation. Most of these are internet-based: Author House, iUniverse, Booklocker, Booksurge, Publish America, Lulu: just check out the IAG books and members page to get an idea of the range. A fair number of authors set up as publishers themselves, since the actual printing of the books was now relatively inexpensive and accessible. While a good many of the resulting POD books are just as much vanity publications as ever were and pretty dreadful besides – quite a few are not. In fact, the best POD books are as quirky, literate and as high quality as anything available from the big traditional houses – and those authors who took it seriously have reached a wider audience. As another IAG member pointed out, readers don’t much care how a book that they love to read was published – they just want to read it. Nothing is in stasis for long – POD publishers grew, or were absorbed by others.
Amazon.com purchased the POD publisher Booksurge in 2005; not a large publisher or a particularly well-regarded one. In fact the worst POD book I ever reviewed was a Booksurge product, although that seemed to have resulted from author stubbornness rather than Booksurge incompetence. Still, it didn’t seem to be terribly out of line for a book retailer to be also in the book publishing business – and Booksurge books didn’t seem to be given any special favors among all the other POD books available from Amazon… until this last week. If anything, I thought it might indicate that the bright sparks at Amazon thought that POD published books were the wave of the future.
The main printer for many, if not most POD publishers is called Lightning Source; it’s owned by Ingram, the mega-huge book distributor. It’s essential for POD books to be included in the Ingram catalogue; it’s a main line into brick and mortar bookstores; otherwise you might just as well be back in the vanity-press days, with a garage full of copies to hawk around. But it’s also essential for your books to be available on-line and on-line means Amazon.com – the proverbial eight hundred pound gorilla of internet book marketing. If it’s published - anywhere! it’s available from Amazon. Over the last couple of years, Amazon.com has been relatively welcoming to readers and writers alike; offering opportunities to review and blog about our books, to do Kindle reader editions of our books, to do wish-lists and recommendations, to set up discussion groups; as a matter of fact, the Independent Authors Guild started as an Amazon discussion group.
So last Friday’s action by Amazon.com, demanding that POD publisher, Publish America now and henceforward have their books be printed by Booksurge, or else their authors books would not be sold directly through Amazon comes as a rather thuggish slap in the face. (Publish America’s news release is here.)
Worse – as reported by Angela Hoy at Writers Weekly – it looks like other POD publishers are or will be getting the same treatment. (there’s a long bloglist of other reactions to this at Writers Weekly)
In essence, POD writers are being told to make a choice between doing business with our chosen publisher and printer…or being sold through Amazon. Amazon might be able to make this stick – they are, after all, the eight hundred pound gorilla. But pissing off people who bought as well as sold a fair number of books through them is perhaps not as good a business model as previously assumed.