Is Amazon pulling publishers from the store?

Publishers pulled?

Okay, folks…you want Amazon to do something about staggered releases, “high” e-book prices, poor formatting, and so on. 

They are the retailer, and they certainly have a lot of influence with the wholesalers (publishers, in the case of books). 

Personally, I’m a tad uncomfortable with Amazon dictating the contents of books.  I wouldn’t want them to mandate an active table of contents, for example.  Oh, they would be within their rights to say we aren’t selling anything without chapter marks or with page numbers in the middle of the screen due to poor conversion, but I’d rather have them buy and sell the books or not.   I love their seven-day return policy on e-books, and I’d rather let the market decide who wins and loses.

That said, it’s fine for retailers to choose not to carry “cheap looking” products, just to use one decision factor.  The Dollar Store can carry them, but Nordstrom’s may choose not to do that. 

It is becoming a war, though, in some ways with Amazon and some publishers.  Amazon backed down on text-to-speech, allowing publishers to block that access.  That was almost a year ago, in February of 2009.   They don’t seem to be in such a conciliatory mood lately, though. 

We’ve seen them pull a publisher before.  MobileReference, which published the Orwell book that Amazon removed from people’s Kindles, saw their titles unavailable through Amazon for awhile.

Okay, that might seem reasonable.  Maybe Amazon wanted to verify the rights status.  The MobileReference books (outside of the Orwell book) were eventually made available again.

However, New York Times bestselling author Douglas Preston (who sent me a statement for ILMK readers that appeared in this blog yesterday, contacted me this morning with a heads-up.

Mr. Preston sent this:

“Hi Bufo,
 
 
You and your readers may be interested to know that Amazon has stopped selling IMPACT and some of my other books in hardcover. I am told by insider sources this is in retaliation for the delayed Kindle release of IMPACT<snip>… .
 
As a result, IMPACT will probably drop off all the bestseller lists, since Amazon is one of the largest reporting booksellers. This will really hurt my sales.
 
 
Doug”

— 

(The “snip” represents a place where I excluded part of the e-mail)

Well, I went to check.

Indeed, the hardcover of Impact is not available directly from Amazon (although you can get it from third-party vendors through the Amazon site), and it was yesterday.  The Kindle edition, which was available for pre-order, is not available at all. 

So, one question was, how widespread is this?  It is just this one book?  If that’s the case, there could be something specific to it.  Is it all the books from that publisher (which might imply a dispute)?  Does it involve more than one publishers, and if so, what do the publishers have in common?  Is it tied to the author?

Factor: the author

While things could be in process, this doesn’t seem to be against Mr. Preston.  At least some other books from Douglas Preston are still available in the Kindle store.  Unfortunately, the two I found right away come from a publisher that blocks text-to-speech, so I’m not going to name them.  Logically, though, this takes Douglas Preston out as the sole variable.

Factor: the publisher

Impact is published by Forge, which is part of Tor, which is part of St. Martin’s Press, which is part of  Macmillan, which is part the Holtzbrinck group. I think that’s the right hierarchy, although my terminology here may be imprecise.

I checked five Forge books, which I found using Jungle-Search to generate this search:

Forge books at Amazon 

All of them were directly unavailable from Amazon. 

That keeps the publisher question alive.

I ran a similar search for Macmillan books:

Macmillan books at Amazon 

Same result: not available directly through Amazon.  It’s probably worth mentioning that there were 189,150 results in that search.  I only checked a few, of course, but there were some really big names in there.

This seems to suggest that it is the publisher.

Hypothesis: it’s publishers using a staggered release strategy

I also checked Simon & Schuster, since they have also announced a staggered release strategy (hardback first, e-book later for some popular titles).

Simon & Schuster books at Amazon 

These also were unavailable.  UPDATE: I dug a bit deeper and have found S&S books which are available currently.

My next one to check was W. W. Norton, which (to my knowledge) has not announced a staggered release strategy:

W. W. Norton books at Amazon 

Those were available. 

It’s hard to really isolate the variables here, and there could be something else that connects the unavailable publishers. 

I do have to say that, if this is a negotiating tactic on Amazon’s part (and this would be really playing hardball if it is), I wish they would do something similar with companies that block text-to-speech.  Is Amazon losing a lot of money because of the text-to-speech?  Perhaps not.  Are they losing more because of staggered release?  That could certainly be true.

Staggered release affect other e-book retailers as well, presumably.  Text-to-speech is a competitive advantage for Amazon over the nook (sic) and the Sony.  I’m not 100 percent sure on the iPad, though…it has some sort of voice capability, but I’m not sure how that will apply to e-books.

For e-books, Amazon is likely the big dog.  They may be able to pressure publishers to change their release strategies, although I doubt they will keep these books out of the store for very long.

Of course, this may be just some sort of database fluke, and not negotiating.  Supposedly, when Amazon was accused of dropping LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered) books from bestselling lists, they claimed an error.   That explanation seemed possible to me in that case. 

This, though, may be Amazon making a point…like when cable providers stop showing popular shows to negotiate. 

The e-book market will be largely shaped this year.  Amazon may be a very large part of how that world is shaped, even though there are significant competitors.  In fact, are the publishers being blocked because they want to Apple’s iBooks?  I think that’s unlikely…that would be tricky legally, I think, if a company says, “You sold to them, we aren’t buying from you.”  Negotiating over release strategies?  I’d say that’s legal.

All in all, very interesting…

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog

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8 Responses to “Is Amazon pulling publishers from the store?”

  1. Matthew Says:

    Thank you. I have been hoping/waiting for you to weigh on this since I learned of this this morning. I value your expertise and thoughts on the Kindle and the ebook field as a whole. I hope that this gets cleared up quickly since we have become a 2 kindle household in just over a month.

    Please keep up the excellent posts here and on the kindle forums.

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for the kind words!

      I do think it will resolve in a couple of days…it doesn’t help Amazon, the publishers, or the readers for the books to be out of the store for an extended period.

  2. Sally Says:

    I am having a hard time feeling anything but support for Amazon in all this. Before I bought my Kindle I purchased only a few books a year and got the rest from the library. Amazon’s reasonable prices have gotten me to purchase scores (I read a lot) of books in the last few months, including new $9.99 releases that I would never have purchased as $20-25 hardcovers.

    If the publishers think the net effect of that is negative, then I’m not sure how they do math. I guess they need to look out for their interests and do whatever they think they need to, but it seems to me that Amazon’s looking out for my interests as well as authors and publishers who can function outside of the “MGM Studio Star” type mentality. Authors and publishers have controlled pricing and access in a way that’s benefited them. I think that game’s about to change.

    I love Mr. Preston’s books and hope they are available but before the Kindle, I only got them from the library. I was looking forward to Impact, but maybe I’ll have to get it from the library since I’m sure I wouldn’t buy it at $20. Nothing personal – I’m just being honest. Amazon didn’t set the value at $9.99 to devalue its worth, they recognized that’s where many consumers could be enticed “into the store” and would spend money.

    They’ve gotten more book money from me in the last few months than they have in years and I doubt if I’m alone. I’ll pay more than $9.99 but not for a book I read once and can’t even resell or loan out. Only for reference books that I know I’ll read & use repeatedly.

    I don’t know, but it strikes me as not a coincidence that this “war” erupts after the unveiling of the iPad and Mr. Job’s promise “The prices will be the same.” when asked about the disparity between the price of Apple’s & Amazon’s books. I love my iPods, but never bought my music from the iTunes store. They make great devices, but there are better deals for content. Maybe Mr. Job’s wants to level the playing ground for eBooks by forcing Amazon to raise their prices.

    This is certainly an interesting development and fascinating to watch. I hope they can come to an agreement that doesn’t involve higher prices or I guess I’ll be going back to the library for my light reading. I support Amazon’s right to set pricing however they see fit and believe that they are forward thinking in this approach.

  3. Frith Says:

    Mac’s revolutionary innovation will rapidly grow after this initial over-hype period during it’s launch. The lack of keyboard and Apple’s potential to fix defections will help to make the iPad a monster in for the forseeable future.

  4. amazon plug-in Says:

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  5. Terry Kepner Says:

    Are you aware that Amazon blocks some public domain books from appearing in their searches unless you specifically search including the publisher’s name?

    I’m not as well knowledgeable about iPad and ebooks, but regular printed books are routinely removed from search results to “enhance the searcher’s experience.” This results in less expensive books, and in some cases, better books, from appearing. If you are willing to look for the “Other Editions” link that appears under the title of one of the books on the first page, it will return a complete list of EVERY match–Kindle, printed, sound, etc.– and then you get the joy of paging through dozens of webpages looking for good editions of the books you want.

    I just discovered this myself this week when some books I have up on Amazon mysteriously plummeted in sales–when I checked, the title were not being listed in search results where they used to appear!

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Terry!

      I’ll take a look at that. I’ve noticed a link at the bottom that says something like some similar results were filtered…similar to what you see on Google.

      If you’d like, go ahead and give me the specific book…I’ll see if I can replicate your experience.

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