Friday, April 18, 2008

Print-on-demand pubs and their silly demands

By now most everyone who's interested in the publishing world has heard about the furor over Amazon's announcement that they will stop carrying book titles from print-on-demand publishers other than their own BookSurge division. Yes, the news was a shocker, and POD publishers and their authors are understandably worried about losing sales now that they're no longer welcome at the Amazon party. But there's a difference between being disappointed and being cheated, not that you'd pick that up from the complaints that have been so shrilly voiced in recent weeks by the displaced publishers and authors.

Take a look at this snippet from a recent article in Publishers Weekly:

Saying it is reviewing the antitrust and other legal implications of Amazon’s “bold move,” the Authors Guild sent an e-mail late Friday [April 4] to its membership questioning the motives—and implications—of the e-tailer’s new position on print-on-demand that makes publishers use its BookSurge division if they want the sell their titles on Amazon in the traditional manner. While Amazon is pitching the move as a consumer-friendly change that will improve the speed of shipping books and other products, the Guild says it suspects the motivation has more to do with profit margin than customer service.

So what if it does have more to do with profit margin?

I don't get why everyone seems to believe it's horribly unfair (and possibly illegal) for Amazon to quit stocking POD titles except for the ones published by its own BookSurge. Doesn't the store belong to Amazon? And doesn't a retail outfit have the right to decide what it will and will not sell?

If I were an Amazon stockholder, I'd be glad to know the company planned to stop making available POD books other than their own. I'd say that was probably a smart business move. Why should Amazon promote their competition?

Amazon is a for-profit corporation looking to increase its profits. I don't see anything shocking or disgusting about that. But the Writers Guild is leveling "antitrust" accusations:

If Amazon is successful in wresting a large chunk of pod business away from current leader Lightning Source (which the Guild says does a good job), they will have taken a huge step in controlling publishing’s supply change and thus control much of the industry’s long tail business, the Guild said. “Once Amazon owns the supply chain, it has effective control of much of the "long tail" of publishing,” the statement reads. “Since Amazon has a firm grip on the retailing of these books (it's uneconomic for physical book stores to stock many of these titles), owning the supply chain would allow it to easily increase its profit margins on these books: it need only insist on buying at a deeper discount -- or it can choose to charge more for its printing of the books -- to increase its profits. Most publishers could do little but grumble and comply.”

I'm no legal expert, but it seems to me that it's going to be difficult to build an antitrust case on the giant online retailer's refusal to stock certain products.

But maybe I'm missing something. If you'd like to weigh in on this, hit the Comments button.


Douglas Cootey said...

Brenda, you are absolutely correct. This is nothing but whining by the POD pubs more akin to "It's not faaaaaiiiiir!" like my little girls might mewl when I won't let them do what they want. However, it's whining with the accoutrements of free speech, Mom, Pop, and apple pie — all to pressure from conducting business as it needs to.

"Waitaminute!" cries a young executive we'll call Jones. "Just why in heck are we hosting OTHER POD services in competition with our own?"

"Hey," mumbles Big Cheese. "Maybe Jones is onto something. That can't be very good for our bottom line."

The fact is that has their own POD division, and in a downturn economy is trying to figure out how to make it profitable. A monopoly would be if was pressuring ISPs and Hosts to not allow other POD pubs from conducting business.

In America, all these other POD publishers have the right to open their own bookstore online. The problem is that requires money, infrastructure, advertising, and, in short, work. Work which has already been done for them. These little remoras are afraid of getting cut off from the flow of money they're accustomed to.

Brenda Coulter said...

Douglas, every news item and blog post I've seen on this topic includes words like "blackmail" and "monopoly." Again and again, POD authors and publishers complain that Amazon is "forcing" them to use BookSurge.

That's ridiculous. POD authors and publishers do have a choice.

But then, so does Amazon. And Amazon has chosen not to promote the competitors of BookSurge.

Amazon isn't taking lollipops away from anyone. They've just stopped handing out free lollipops. And the spoiled children are throwing tantrums.

Anonymous said...

Legal or not,
ethical or not,
good business or not: needs to
come down to earth
with the rest of
us humans.

Terry Finley