Dear Amazon, please punch me in the face again…

Posted on Dec 19, 2013

Dear Amazon, please punch me in the face again…

The ever-increasing print on demand options for self-published authors and small presses have changed the game in the publishing industry. But what is really going on behind the scenes these days? As a small press, Firbolg Publishing works hard to get our anthologies out to as many markets as possible. We want our books in the hands of readers. What author or press doesn’t? That means dealing with the creature that lurks in the shadows of every release–the Amazon beast. I hold my breath every time I see the name appear in a news headline—what new Chance card have they added to the great big pile of Monopoly money this time?

A few years ago, unbeknownst to most authors and publishers, a war began. Amazon had launched CreateSpace. You can be an author! You don’t have to bow down before the corporate publishing gods! Get your work out now! Amanda Hocking’s doing it and making a mint! Amazon had stepped into the publishing business and print on demand hit the news. Other companies also did POD. One of the largest and most well-known is Lightning Source. Lightning SourceWith their multitude of publishing options, broad distribution base, and customer service, they quickly became the preferred choice among many POD presses and authors. Firbolg Publishing began working with them in 2012. In a comparison with CreateSpace, they had the edge.

Fast-forward to the close of 2013. Firbolg Publishing has three anthologies out and we are working on our fourth. Our sales have grown over the years and the word is out. One afternoon, I casually wander over to the Amazon beast to check for new reviews, sales rankings, ect.– WHAT??? Enter at Your Own Risk: Dark Muses, Spoken Silences is TEMPORARILY OUT OF STOCK?? How can that be with POD? I quickly checked our other titles and discovered the same out of stock status. Out of curiosity, I checked on the releases from a fellow author who I know uses Lightning Source. His releases indicated that Amazon only has one copy of each of his books left. One copy? Again, what is going on? Anger boiling over, I stalked over to Lightning Source. Why are our books not available? But… they are available. There’s nothing wrong at Lightning Source. Baffled, I hit Google to see if there’s anything out there on this issue. Oh, boy, was there. I found blogs from Aaron Shepard and The Book Designer discussing Amazon’s bully tactics against LS. Why? $$$$$$$$$$$$$$! LS is the largest competitor to Amazon’s CreateSpace. According to Shepard, Amazon has decided to “open” warehouse space by no longer stocking POD titles from LS as frequently as they had in the past. You see, your novel is still available. It’s simply not in Amazon’s warehouse.

So you’re a small press or author interested in self-publishing. You go to conferences like Wordstock and hear the praises about Lightning Source. You do your homework because you know it matters. LS has good product and good distribution. You’re leaning toward LS, but then… it happens. TEMPORARILY OUT OF STOCK! The worst fear an author or publisher knows… your book is not getting to the public. But it is available! That’s not how it looks on the Amazon beast to the average customer. Suddenly, LS isn’t looking quite that good.

Why doesn’t Amazon simply indicate that a POD order might take longer to process? Why make it appear as if the book is no longer available? Think like a customer. You want The Story of My Life by author Jane Doe. You find it on Amazon, but it’s out of stock. Okay, no big deal. You wait a week or so. It’s still out of stock. Jane Doe’s novel is not burning up your want list. It was something you saw go by on FaceBook that sounded cool. If it’s not available anymore, no big deal. You find something else. Like the latest release on… you guessed it. CREATESPACE.

We could spend months debating the lawless, unregulated nature of the internet. We could argue over the negatives, the positives, freedom of speech, and whatever other issue you want to toss into the ring. Whatever ribbon you wrap the Amazon beast in to disguise it, however, you still have the stench of a bullying monopoly. Teddy Roosevelt waged a war on monopolies in the early years of the twentieth century. In 1893, Esther Tarbell called them “fearful evils.” Amazon has taken the publishing industry, wrapped a noose around it, and is threatening not only to strangle it, but yank its head entirely off from the pressure of the rope. What’s a small press like Firbolg Publishing and the countless others out there to do? Time to open a CreateSpace account…

Dear Amazon, please punch me in the face again… I’m getting used to it.

For on making a living (or not) in today’s publishing industry, see “An Open Letter” from Richard Russo on FaceBook.