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Amazon Insists Publishers Use Their On-Demand Printer 182

Posted by kdawson
from the why-that's-blackmail dept.
Lawrence Person writes "According to a story up on Writer's Weekly, Print on Demand publishers are being told to use Amazon's own BookSurge POD printer or else Amazon will disable the 'buy' button for their books. After hemming and hawing, an Amazon/BookSurge rep 'finally admitted that books not converted to BookSurge would have the "buy" button turned off on Amazon.com, just as we'd heard from several other POD publishers who had similar conversations with Amazon/BookSurge representatives... their eventual desire is to have no books from other POD publishers available on Amazon.com.' So much for Amazon's Vision Statement: 'Our vision is to be earth's most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.'"
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Amazon Insists Publishers Use Their On-Demand Printer

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  • I wish all POD books would just go away for the most part. They are often of poor quality both in content and presentation.

    I wrote a sci-fi novel [moon-age-daydream.com] last year and we published it hardback with our own press.

    What's the difference between that and POD? Pretty much everything. We registered a business, raised capital, had everything professionally laid out, cover designed, then offset printed in a large quantity and warehoused them with a real distributor (that can deal with Ingram and hence the rest of the world, including Barnes and Noble, Borders, etc.). This will net you a quality book!

    POD, on the other hand is about a big company milking newbie authors of their dreams and pumping out inferior (even "crappy") products.

    I stand by the quality of my book as an independent publisher. I guarantee its quality, that's why it is *returnable.*

    In POD things aren't returnable which is why retail outlets stay away from them.

    Amazon just wants to milk the little guy like all the other POD companies. They don't mind pushing out the other POD books because they know they don't sell for beans anyway! That's why Amazon will make their money off the authors like the other PODs, but since the only major outlet that will even touch POD books is Amazon, it means most POD authors will now flock to Amazon's POD since who else will carry their book?

    It's pretty genius, if ruthless, if you ask me.

    *iza

    • I don't think POD is such a bad idea. Wordpress has had it for awhile.. a small webcomic can sell a printed version of their comics for a little server money, or you can get tired of reading your ebooks (cough, textbooks) on your laptop and have them printed out on the cheap, and there's no humongous initial cost.
      • by kesuki (321456)
        wouldn't having an ebook printed out be a violation of copyright? i mean remember we're in America here, ebooks don't give you the right to print them out, normally... much less get them PODed?

        if amazon is letting people submit an ebook for POD then there is a problem there houston... it's a little different if it's a text file from project Gutenberg, and it's on the 'American' mirror, but not many textbooks are going to fall under anything but well copyrighted material.
        • Who said anything about ebooks? I was just coughing.. and I don't know if you can just submit a pdf to have it printed with no human interaction with Amazon BookSurge like you can with CafePress (did I say wordpress before? gah)
          • by kesuki (321456)
            ah yes the wonders of automation... I'm quite sure that open office.org allows any textfile you can import into it to be exported as a pdf... quite easy to break copyright laws and get stuff printed as a book that doesn't belong to you. at least at this CafePress company.

            sure it's kinda the copyright holders fault for not putting it in a no printing allowed pdf, instead of distributing it as either a regular pdf, or as a text file, even if it was on a cd-rom printed in 1990 way before anyone had heard of t
            • by Rakishi (759894)
              Or they could have their own POD option with which you can legally acquire a copy of the ebook in print form.
              • Or they could have their own POD option with which you can legally acquire a copy of the ebook in print form.

                      Most of the POD publishers have this. The e-book is available for sale as another option. But Amazon already dropped other e-book sales after they bought their own e-book publisher.

                      Shades of what was to come.

                  rd
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by daveb (4522)

          i mean remember we're in America here, ebooks don't give you the right to print them out, normally... much less get them PODed?
          No

          No we're not.

    • Choice is Good, OK? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by gnutoo (1154137) on Saturday March 29, 2008 @10:30PM (#22908976) Journal

      Regular publishing might have worked well for you but it won't for everyone. Sometimes a book's contents are more important than the presentation and that's where POD is good. The inconvenience of it all is why print is dying.

      This ruthless genius of yours is making Amazon suck. I could almost forgive them for the one-click-patent fiasco because they had a real range of goods to chose from. Yes, I'm still angry at them for making shopping everywhere else suck. Then they opted for that second rate search service two years ago [news.com]. The one that immediately locked out smaller vendors in favor of bigger ones. Not being able to find specialty items drove me right back to ebay and Google itself. The trend continues and Amazon continues down the tube.

      If I want a limited choice of goods I'll go to the local brick and mortar store. Amazon used to offer better than that.

      • Kindle in the future by securing such an avenue for niche content.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by pla (258480)
        Sometimes a book's contents are more important than the presentation

        Not much of a market for your thesis/dissertation, though...


        The inconvenience of it all is why print is dying.

        I disagree... If I want to read a book, I still massively prefer to pick up a rectangular paper block and flip through its pages, over either ebooks or POD (or printing the ebook myself). But with the growing volume of material available online, I find that I don't need to read books so often. Whether fiction for enjoyment
      • If I want a limited choice of goods I'll go to the local brick and mortar store. Amazon used to offer better than that.

        Amazon has gone down the tubes but I would like to thank them for prompting me to go back into the bookstores. I had forgotten how much I liked checking out new titles recommended by a real person rather than an algorithm that has difficulty differentiating between my interests and gifts I purchased.

    • by Detritus (11846) on Saturday March 29, 2008 @10:32PM (#22908990) Homepage
      They are very useful for technical or specialized material that has a small audience. It's a way of keeping a book in-print without spending large amounts of money. I'm grateful when I can buy a POD copy of a book at a reasonable price, when a used copy would otherwise be priced at ridiculous levels. Equating POD with vanity publishing is extraordinarily short-sighted.
      • It's just as short sighted as thinking self-publishing is the same as being published by a traditional, royalty-paying publisher. It isn't. There's no selection for quality, no professional editing (usually, but YMMV and probably does), no marketing except for what the author/publisher is able to do on their own and very limited availability in brick-and-mortar stores. I'm not saying, mind you, that self-published books are junque (and I'm especially not saying that about the OP's book) but the quality c
        • by Detritus (11846)
          It isn't the same thing as self-publishing.

          See:

          http://www.artechhouse.com/Default.asp?Publish=1&Frame=reason12.html [artechhouse.com]

          • No. In self-publishing, you start your own publishing company to handle your own works. (And only your own works, mind you.) Your company is responsible for distribution and handles all marketing and publicity. If you publish through a POD company, that company handles distribution for you, and might even give you a little help getting your marketing and publicity campaigns off the ground, for an extra fee. Not the same at all, because self published books can sell several thousand copies, while POD ra
            • by Rakishi (759894)
              The number of copies has little to do with what method you use, self-publishing or pod, except that you pre-select the method based on expected sales. You can sell thousands of copies using pod but it just wouldn't be as profitable in the long run if you knew you'd sell that many beforehand.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by rhakka (224319)
          why do you need a publisher to select for quality?

          can't a reviewer, friend, or recommendation algorithm select for YOUR particular needs better?

          as an end user, I don't give a fig for publishers any more than I can about "recording" companies. The act of printing is trivial now.

          What you're looking for is a marketing department that specializes in book promotion and who's willing to take the risk for a cut of the profit. The "publishing" part of it is not where the value is.
          • why do you need a publisher to select for quality?

            can't a reviewer, friend, or recommendation algorithm select for YOUR particular needs better?

            You DO realize that a publisher is, abstracted, someone you hire to recommend a book you like? That the whole "marketing" apparatus includes every book review, word-of-mouth recommendation, and "if you like X, you'll like Y" wannabe in existence?

            What you're looking for is a marketing department that specializes in book promotion and who's willing to take the risk for a cut of the profit. The "publishing" part of it is not where the value is.

            Publishing is the act of fronting money to get a book printed, usually for a cut of the gross revenue. Didn't Family Guy have an episode about this?

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by rhakka (224319)
              Yes; I'm saying, it's an unnecessary layer of abstraction to some degree; secondarily, that the functions of reviewer, printer, and promoter by no means need to be conglomerated into one all-in-one company as they currently are. Perhaps there has traditionally been convenience in that, but now that communication is so much easier I don't see much value in it. Especially if you are able to only print the number of books you need! Then your front money requirements go down, risk for everyone goes down.
          • I think you misunderstand. A traditional publisher only accepts those books that meet certain standards of writing quality. This includes, but is not limited to proper spelling, grammar, syntax and appropriate use of the language. It also, probably, includes minimizing the use of the passive voice and advancing the story by showing what happens instead of telling the reader. POD companies, OTOH, accept whatever the writer wants put into print except, in most cases, hate literature. A traditional publis
            • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

              by Rakishi (759894)

              I think you misunderstand. A traditional publisher only accepts those books that meet certain standards of writing quality. This includes, but is not limited to proper spelling, grammar, syntax and appropriate use of the language. It also, probably, includes minimizing the use of the passive voice and advancing the story by showing what happens instead of telling the reader. POD companies, OTOH, accept whatever the writer wants put into print except, in most cases, hate literature. A traditional publisher will work with the writer to correct any flaws in the manuscript and in some cases require scenes to be rewritten, while a POD company simply takes camera ready copy and puts it out. I'm not saying that there aren't good books to be found in the POD lineups -- Piers Anthony has put his entire backlist out via Xlibris -- but the average quality is poor by comparison to that put out by companies who pick and choose their product.

              You point being? If someone wants to put out a quality book with a POD they simply need to pay someone to do the editing for them. The same is already done with regular self-publishing I believe so it's not exactly uncommon. Likewise vanity presses don't even do much more than dump the book onto the market.

              The grandparents point was that the selection part isn't necessary and the number of quality works isn't going to be smaller, possibly. The difference is in who gets you decide what works are quality and

              • You mean you actually like every single book published by a major publishing company and read every single one?

                Don't be any more silly than you have to be. Of course not. What I meant is that the editorial staff of that company have picked out what they think are the best and most marketable (Not always, I'll grant, the same thing.) of the manuscripts submitted to them for publication and rejected the rest. Presuming that they know their business, that means that the quality of their work will, on the

                • by Rakishi (759894)
                  Yes but you still have to rely on people besides the editors to help select the works you wish to read, they alone don't do that and in reality are very far from doing that. Why does the idea that those same people who help you select reading material now won't be able to if there is more of it out there seem to impossible to you?
                  • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                    What you don't understand, and probably don't want to is that editors and publishers don't decide what I read. What they do is decide which manuscripts are worth reading by anybody. I've read bits and pieces of books by a number of aspiring writers and, believe me, Sturgeon's Law is, if anything, an understatement. With traditional companies, I can go to a brick and mortar store, look at the book and see for myself if it's something I'd like. With POD, I can't. And if it turns out to be unreadable, inc
              • If someone wants to put out a quality book with a POD they simply need to pay someone to do the editing for them.

                Your point being? All you've done is listed one of the problems of POD for an aspiring author: the need to invest your own money in your work to get it in print. For a professional author, as I've said in another post in this thread, money flows from the publisher, through the agent, if there is one, to the author; never, under any possible circumstances in the other direction.

            • by rhakka (224319)
              absolutely. Much as you let a variety of other sources filter your other media for you (news services, google, wikipedia), and writers would be wise to hire people to proofread their work. It does take a layer of expertise to sort and classify.

              all I'm trying, unsuccesfully to say, is that those functions do not have to be tied to a company that physically prints books. Perhaps that's a nice all in one service, but if other companies can be competitive AND offer another avenue to access for writers that m
              • There are already companies doing exactly that, as well as freelancers. Alas, even the best of them are hardly ever worth the money spent. Why? Not because they're no good, but because a third-party can never understand your book, your ideas, your voice as well as you do. Even the specialist copy editors at the big publishers don't actually make changes except to correct typos, spelling errors and missed punctuation. They mark up the copy, suggesting changes, then send it back to the author. That way,
          • by 1u3hr (530656)
            as an end user, I don't give a fig for publishers any more than I can about "recording" companies. The act of printing is trivial now.

            A (good) publisher does a lot more than printing. If that's all you need, just talk directly to a printer. They arrange editing, layout, design, artwork. They oversee printing and check quality and costs. They should try to sell rights to other publishers in other languages and countries They arrange distribution and billing. They get books reviewed in real newspapers, inte

        • Sturgeon's Law (Score:3, Informative)

          by alizard (107678)
          90% of everything is crap.

          The traditional publishers' 90% is usually professionally proofread and edited. Anyone who thinks a major publisher's imprint on a book is a guarantee of quality content really needs to read a lot more.

          That said, I'm most likely to go with POD should I publish a book on Linux, and I know an increasing number of writing professionals who are either considering POD or are already personally using it. The people I hear making your argument are people who hope to be published somed
          • by Chapter80 (926879)

            Sturgeon's Law
            90% of everything is crap.
            No No No.

            Sturgeon's Law [wikipedia.org] is that 90% of everything is crud. If you are crapping crud [princeton.edu], you should see a doctor.

          • The traditional publishers' 90% is usually professionally proofread and edited. Anyone who thinks a major publisher's imprint on a book is a guarantee of quality content really needs to read a lot more.

            As far as this goes, you're right. However, if you stick to reading books published by traditional companies, you'll at least miss all of the badly-written, incoherent, unreadable crud that the editors have rejected. That's not true in POD! Except for filtering out hate literature, POD publishes anythin

        • by Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) on Sunday March 30, 2008 @12:00PM (#22912358)

          You seem to have this wonderful illusion that going via a real publisher is some sort of guarantee of decent quality. It certainly isn't in programming books: take a look at some more recent titles by Addison-Wesley, previously the source of the majority of good C++ books, and it's hard not to find typos all over the place, amateurish design and typography, and a general lack of editorial quality. Several other professional publishers were never much better than that. And if you think going for a reputable university press would be better than the big professional outfits, guess again: take a look at the guidelines for authors published by some of them (you can often find these on their web sites) and they tend to insist on petty things like conforming to some arbitrary (or sometimes, IMHO, outright incorrect) house styles that do nothing to improve the quality of a work written by a skilled and knowledgable author, before they'll even grace you with the benefits of their immense knowledge and experience (and yes, that was sarcasm: do you realise who these "professional editors" typically are?).

          Not so long ago, I considered writing a book, after receiving some favourable comments on a couple of smaller pieces of work I'd done. I looked into what would be involved in going through a mainstream publisher, and came away asking why anyone with decent writing ability and decent knowledge of the presentation side of things would ever use one. I always knew authors didn't normally receive a high percentage of the cover price of a book, but I was shocked at just how little it really is: well under 10% seems pretty typical, and it varies depending on the market. Anyone with some basic knowledge of subjects like book layout and typography could produce a better design than many of the "professionals" do without even trying, using any good DTP package (or even LaTeX, for technical books). I have some contacts at some university publishers, and some of the comments I hear about their editorial teams are just appalling. And it's not even like being published by a reputable press will get you into bricks and mortar stores any more: if I walk into my local Borders, it's full of "computing for fools" and "learn computing in ten seconds" books, but even relatively mainstream "serious" books are in short supply these days and I usually have to look on-line for them. There are almost no more specialised books of the kind you'd typically find from an academic press.

          So, if people are going to have to order in or buy from the big on-line vendors to get any serious technical book, and publishers add precious little value in the editorial and presentation departments if you're likely to be as competent as their staff anyway, what real advantage do they bring? You can jump through a few hoops to get things like an ISBN and use a reputable POD organisation with links to a major distribution channel, and then you can have exactly the book you want available through all the same (realistic) channels anyway, but with at least 10x the profit margin on every book sold and with almost no financial liability if your book doesn't sell. Do professional publishers really produce and market books well enough to get an order of magnitude more sales for specialist titles than the self-publishing/POD route? Not if the data from people like O'Reilly and the anecdotes from published authors on the web are anything to go by, they don't.

          And of course, just because you're self-publishing, that doesn't mean your quality has to suck. You might be a decent writer and designer yourself, compared to what you'd get from a typical publisher, and you can still bring in professional help for areas where you need it if you're not an expert. It's just done on your terms, with costs you know, and once you've paid your overheads you don't have to keep paying for them with every new book sold.

          So tell me again, why would anyone with decent writing and presentation skills go to a professional publisher today, if they aren't writing the kind of mass-market fiction or technical books for idiots that are likely to sell with a really high volume and make it into real world bookshops?

          • I think we're talking apples and oranges here. You're talking about technical books and I'm writing about how it works with fiction. Even so, there's one, important thing you're missing that the traditional companies do: they provide all the money needed to assemble, print, distribute and market your book, then give you a percentage of what comes in. Going POD or self-publishing means that you have to pony up in advance, with no guarantee that you'll recover your investment, let alone make a profit.
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              Even so, there's one, important thing you're missing that the traditional companies do: they provide all the money needed to assemble, print, distribute and market your book, then give you a percentage of what comes in.

              But the actual monetary cost of assembly and printing via print-on-demand is close enough to zero that it makes little difference. The major expense is time, and if you've got the time to write a whole book worth publishing, you're obviously not too worried about that. And as I noted before, the distribution and marketing advantages of using a major publishing house are highly overrated if you're not writing the kind of book that's mass market and going to make it into bricks and mortar bookstores, while

              • I hate to break this to you, but going via an old school publisher is no guarantee you'll ever cover your advance or make a profit, either. In any case, it will take a lot more book sales before you do...

                I'll go further than that: the odds are that whatever you get for an advance will be the only money you ever see from your book because most books don't earn out their advances. However, there is no possible way that you are going to be out-of-pocket for any of the expenses involved, and that's Just Not

        • ...but the quality can be rather unpredictable.

          I would say this about any book from any publisher. That's why I read a sample chapter if available from publsher and buyer reviews on Amazon before I buy.

          Now obviously, POD publishers print anything a person pays to have printed, so it could be lunatic ravings as far as that is concerned. But no one will ever see the book unless they're browsing through online book sites with some kind of search that happens to bring
      • by julesh (229690)
        They are very useful for technical or specialized material that has a small audience. It's a way of keeping a book in-print without spending large amounts of money. I'm grateful when I can buy a POD copy of a book at a reasonable price, when a used copy would otherwise be priced at ridiculous levels. Equating POD with vanity publishing is extraordinarily short-sighted.

        Well, perhaps. Except for the fact that most POD publishers pretty-much exclusively print the same kind of junk you find in vanity publishin
    • by bcrowell (177657) on Saturday March 29, 2008 @10:44PM (#22909048) Homepage

      You're conflating POD with self-publishing. Lots of big, established publishers use POD as one of their methods of production. It's not uncommon these days for a publisher to keep a novel in print in paperback by producing 300 units at a time via someone like Lightningsource.

      I'll agree with you that self-publishing is full of scams. But: "This will net you a quality book!" Well, when you're talking about "quality" with respect to a novel, the big issues aren't layout and cover design, the real issue is whether the writing is any good. That has nothing to do with methods of production and everything to do with editorial standards.

      Self-publishing can be fine, as long as you go into it with realistic expectations -- i.e., you don't expect to make any money. AFAICT, 99% of self-published books don't reach an audience. The other 1% reach an audience, but aren't profitable.

      • by kesuki (321456)
        you're forgetting one thing... publishers usually have very narrow topic margins, even a professional author can get fed up with the kinds of books a publisher wants to buy.. there are plenty of book topics that might have a large customer base (large enough to make money anyways) that no publisher would dare buy no matter how good the manuscript...

        the majority of 'readers' are female, so book topics that appeal to men only get less play with editors, unless they know there are millions of men who might wan
        • by Repossessed (1117929) on Sunday March 30, 2008 @12:04AM (#22909386)
          It's very very hard not to make money off of POD if you sell at least one copy. The nice bit about POD is that there's no up front cost (just the printers cut). Of course 'profit' in this case may mean a few dollars. POD is a bad choice if at all possible to avoid though, prices are much higher, and you have zero chance at all to get into retail. Biggest thing I've seen POD used for where its a first choice, is stuff that's meant for person to person distribution. Textbooks, instruction manuals, things where you just need 50 or less for employees/students/friends.

          Self published can mean a lot more money (there are webcomic authors who make a living partly off of self published books). But you get into risks and predatory companies.
          • Actually, most POD places do charge an upfront cost. Booksurge [booksurge.com] and Xlibris [xlibris.com], for example, want $299.

            I use lulu [slashdot.org] because they don't have an upfront cost. Then again, I don't expect to make money from this - it's a hobby with me.
          • It's very very hard not to make money off of POD if you sell at least one copy.

                  It's very very hard to sell at least one copy.

              rd
        • .. there are plenty of book topics that might have a large customer base (large enough to make money anyways) that no publisher would dare buy no matter how good the manuscript...

          Yes, as everyone knows from tv nowadays, there is incredible interest in true crime but publishers will not take on true crime books about a crime unless and until there is a verdict, with very few exceptions.

          Self-publishing POD would be the only way to get your true crime book published.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      This is simply the way it will go.

      I work in the book industry, science buyer for a large branch of a national bookstore specialising in academic titles. A very big chunk of my job is promoting my subject locally, I'm in touch with local organisations, universities and clubs. I am heavily involved in a national science festival at the moment, supplying books for events where the authors give a public lecture on, say, cosmology, and then sign a few books and have a chat. I'm making sure that we have a
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Rakishi (759894)
      I care about the content of a book not the fluff attached to it myself. I regularly read 40 year old barely held together books, horrendously mangled OCRed ebooks (for when I can't get the used version of an out of print book), web only work and so on. I really only care about paperback books because they're easier for me to read. Hard cover books simply take up more space and are more difficult to carry about.

      In terms of the quality of the content, I don't care much about some single entity saying it's goo
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Planesdragon (210349)

      I wish all POD books would just go away for the most part. They are often of poor quality both in content and presentation.

      I wrote a sci-fi novel last year and we published it hardback with our own press.

      ...

      Have you, I mean, actually LOOKED at your website?

      Good writing is good writing, if it's printed in a collector's edition hardback or a dot-matrix ebook. Unfortunately, sometimes bad writing in a collector's edition hardback LOOKS like good writing, and enough of the folks who poney up the $30 for a copy delude themselves that the genre gets another hack on the shelf.

      Mass-market books are returnable because the publisher expects enough of the ten-thousand or so of the first run to sell to make a profit.

    • Now granted, a humanities professor trying to make a name for himself with a major book is going to publish it through a major academic press, not POD. But especially in the sciences (where books don't really "count" as publications nearly as much), and especially with established authors, POD is becoming an increasingly used alternative. The main reason is that traditional publishers charge exhorbitant prices for small-print-run academic books. So for many, your choices are basically: 1) traditional public
    • i have published a book on POD on a very eclectic topic which no mainstream publisher would have touched with a bargepole ... and I am perfectly happy with the fact that 50 copies have been sold globally ... And in terms of layout and look-and-feel I have made every effort to make it perfect. So what is wrong with POD ? Just because you have published a book on the traditional route does NOT mean that the rest of us POD enthusiasts should do so as well.
    • by 1u3hr (530656)
      I wish all POD books would just go away for the most part. They are often of poor quality both in content and presentation. I wrote a sci-fi novel last year and we published it hardback with our own press. What's the difference between that and POD? Pretty much everything

      I work in publishing, mostly conventional offset, but have prepared several POD books. The quality can be almost as good as offset. Even interior colour recently, but I mostly just do text. Anyway, POD is very useful to make books availa

  • Uh OK (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Brian Gordon (987471) on Saturday March 29, 2008 @10:19PM (#22908918)
    It seems like it would require significant work to set up a line to and account with every print-on-demand service an author cares to use.. why would Amazon jump through hoops to accomodate competitors? This seems like a very specialized situation that Amazon should have plenty of free reign to work with however they'd like.. I think it's surprising that they were even accomodating print-on-demand services in the first place.
    • Re:Uh OK (Score:5, Informative)

      by christurkel (520220) on Saturday March 29, 2008 @10:24PM (#22908948) Homepage Journal
      Most POD and self publishers use LSI, a competitor to Booksurge. That's the issue.
      • by v1 (525388)
        If that's the case, isn't there some law to prevent you from squeezing your only competition by placing unjustifiable limitations on the market? Not saying they're a monopoly, but it looks like that's what they're attempting to create with this new requirement they are placing on their vendors.

        There should be something illegal about pressuring business associates in one market you have control over, to stifle competition in another market you are also involved in.

        • If that's the case, isn't there some law to prevent you from squeezing your only competition by placing unjustifiable limitations on the market? Not saying they're a monopoly, but it looks like that's what they're attempting to create with this new requirement they are placing on their vendors.

          There should be something illegal about pressuring business associates in one market you have control over, to stifle competition in another market you are also involved in.


          Amazon isn't preventing anyone from selling
        • If that's the case, isn't there some law to prevent you from squeezing your only competition by placing unjustifiable limitations on the market? Not saying they're a monopoly...

          Until Amazon.com is a monopoly, they can do whatever the hell they want.

          They are the Wal-Mart of online bookstores, but they do have competition. http://www.barnesandnoble.com/ [barnesandnoble.com], target.com, half.com... and, oddly enough, wal-mart.com.

    • by ErkDemon (1202789) on Monday March 31, 2008 @01:11AM (#22918124) Homepage

      It seems like it would require significant work to set up a line to and account with every print-on-demand service an author cares to use.

      That argument might work if amazon were just targeting the small POD companies. In fact, they seem to be targeting some of the customers of the largest POD company, Ingram LSI.

      Ingram are a major book distributor, and LSI can supply any of about half a million books straight into the distribution chain to both "bricks and mortar" bookshops and to online sellers like amazon. This massive catalogue includes large numbers of specialist academic titles from university publishers. The customers buying these books will often have no idea that they're being printed on POD technology rather than litho. In fact, if you buy an individual POD book through amazon, and it's printed by one of the larger printer/distributors like LSI, amazon may not actually ever see the book themselves. Their computers pass on the order and the payment to LSI, and LSI package it up in a nice amazon box and send it directly to the customer. With POD printing/distribution, not only do the nominal publishers not have to worry about warehousing and handling stock, neither do the online booksellers. It's a good system, that puts some of the more traditional distribution systems to shame. Laser-printed POD-technology books work out significantly more expensive per page than litho printing, so for "popular" titles, litho is still the way to go ... but for the established academic presses that might have tens of thousands of "niche" books in their catalogues, migrating them to POD makes a lot of sense.

      At this point in the story, almost everything in the garden looks happy. LSI are the largest most integrated supplier but have fixed printing options that don't please everyone: smaller specialist POD companies take up the slack for more specialist POD print jobs that require more human intervention: unusual sizes or cover options, foldouts, inserts, prestige paper, special inks, that sort of thing. Vanity publishers and print-your-own-book services run their own in-house POD printing plant rather than subcontracting, to keep the business in-house, as do certain other speciality publishers. Each has their own niche.

      Where the business shakedown started to happen was with the larger independent POD/distribution startup companies that didn't have the niche business of the smaller companies, and couldn't compete with the slickly integrated production service offered by LSI (whose parent company, Ingrams, is one of the most important book industry corporations). One of these companies, "BookSurge", was ambitious, and had the print plant, but had trouble actually getting companies to sign up with them. What they offered wasn't as good as the larger LSI, or the smaller specialist companies. There was no obvious niche for them. So amazon saw an opportunity and bought them out.

      And now amazon run their own print-on demand service built around BookSurge.

      Snag is, it's not really all that good. It can't offer the flexibility or customer-friendly service of the smaller POD companies, and it can't achieve economies of scale or better integration than LSI, because LSI already take orders directly from the Amazon systems and ship direct. So amazon don't get any additional "process efficiency" by having books printed by their own POD company rather than LSI. What they do get is an extra share of the profits from being the printer and distributor as well as the seller.

      Trouble is, that argument only works if their printer-distributor company actually //makes// money, and while Booksurge has had great publicity, it turns out that it doesn't actually seem to offer a sufficiently compelling service for enough people to want to sign up for it. Even with the amazon name behind them, they simply aren't sufficiently competitive.

      And so, we have this new development that BookSurge sales reps have started making up lists of

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I am outraged! Good thing I just made some homemade prozac out of ice cream and bleach.
  • Soapboxing (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Improv (2467) <pgunn@dachte.org> on Saturday March 29, 2008 @10:23PM (#22908944) Homepage Journal
    Customer-friendliness and vendor-friendliness are not the same thing. It may be fine to complain about this (details about "why?" and "what effects will it have" are open questions), but saying that it violates their stated goal to be customer-friendly is, at least, underjustified.
    • by houghi (78078)
      They talk about the second part of the last seentence: to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online
      If they disable the ability to buy, it violates their goal to become customer friendly.
  • No surprise here (Score:3, Informative)

    by Ethanol-fueled (1125189) * on Saturday March 29, 2008 @10:29PM (#22908964) Homepage Journal
    ...why not just acquire e-books(in a more open format) through another vendor [thepiratebay.org]?
  • not unreasonable (Score:3, Informative)

    by bcrowell (177657) on Saturday March 29, 2008 @10:54PM (#22909098) Homepage

    This is not entirely unreasonable. POD operations aimed at self-publishers tend to be flaky and unreliable about issues like quality control, packaging, and promptness in filling orders. Since most self-published books sell only a microscopic number of copies, I suspect Amazon is simply doing this as a way to stay away from business that creates lots of hassles and no significant profit.

    TFA refers to PublishAmerica [wikipedia.org], which is an infamous author mill. I'm not crying any tears for them.

    I've self-published some CC-licensed physics textbooks, and I've been reasonably happy with lulu, whose CEO was one of the founders of Red Hat. However, I think most of the people who buy one of lulu's distribution packages probably end up being sorry they did it, because it's just not typically realistic to hope for significant sales of a self-published book through the big retail channels. I just use their free package, where customers order directly from lulu. It's worked great for my needs: noncommercial project, with college bookstores as the customers.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by SQL Error (16383)
      I'm planning to make printed copies of a manual available for some software I've developed, so I've been looking at various POD options. Lulu looks like one of the best. CafePress also have a POD offering with no upfront charges.

      It's worth noting that Booksurge does not have a free option; their minimum upfront charge is $299, and they're quite keen on pushing their more expensive packages.

      Bad, bad PR move by Amazon.
    • Re:not unreasonable (Score:5, Informative)

      by Dzimas (547818) on Saturday March 29, 2008 @11:50PM (#22909342)

      Wrong. Don't confuse POD with vanity publishing. It is possible to directly self-publish a book through a major distributor without a fluffy middleman, My book www.essentialretro.com and hundreds of thousands of others are published on demand through Lightning Source, a division of Ingram (one of the largest book distributors). It costs a mere $12 a year to list in the Ingram catalog (which gets my book onto Amazon) and I earn around 35% of each book sold, with the rest going to pay LSI for printing and fulfilling the book and Amazon for selling it. Amazon maintains a small inventory of my book to ensure that it's available to ship "within 24 hours" and they automatically order more from LSI when they run low. The system works very well and I don't have to do anything to keep my book in print.

      Amazon's standard percentage for each sale is a whopping 45% (I've specified a "short discount" of only 35%, which they somewhat grudgingly accept). I investigated Booksurge in the past, and it has several significant shortcomings. First, it would result in me earning about 10% less per book sold, they offer a smaller number of trim sizes and distribution through normal channels is nowhere near as comprehensive as Ingram/LSI (who allow my book to be special ordered at nearly all bookshops). Personally, I'll start directing traffic to an Amazon competitor instead - Barnes & Noble offer me the same terms. Amazon can go take their proprietary system and get stuffed.

      • by JohnFluxx (413620)
        Out of interest, how many books do you sell?
        • by Dzimas (547818)
          The book was published just over two years ago, and it now sells a few hundred copies a year. In all, I sold less than I would have through a publisher, but the difference is that I earn significantly more for each copy sold, especially if they're purchased directly from essentialretro.com. It's a decision I'd make again, unless I stumble across a book idea that is so good that it would sell a million copies. :)
    • I suspect Amazon is simply doing this as a way to stay away from business that creates lots of hassles and no significant profit.

      It's incredible that this post was modded informative. Amazon bought their own POD publisher and printer Booksurge in 2005 and is now in the process of requiring that POD's sold by Amazon be printed by their subsidiary. There is also a change to percentage requirements of the sale on Amazon that further benefits Amazon.

      In addition, accor
  • A good use for POD (Score:3, Informative)

    by edwardpickman (965122) on Saturday March 29, 2008 @11:04PM (#22909150)
    I use POD services for portfolios and presentation books. I can get a 40 page four color for $20 a copy with no minimums. They look decent and I can print what I need. There's an even bigger reason the service is mainly for wantabes, you can't make money off them. You can't compete with the high run publishers for price or quality. It's a handy service but I would never use POD for a retail business.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 29, 2008 @11:14PM (#22909196)
    Amazon can pretty much push whatever they demand on smaller and even larger publishers these days. As an example, the small press that I work at is required to sell books at a 42% discount rate to Amazon. If we don't comply, they take out books off their listings. Of course Amazon sells it for full price--translation, higher price for consumers due to the chunk Amazon is taking.

    Additionally Amazon (like Walmart with RFID) can push other demands, such as conforming to their barcode standards, and shipping by their standards, or refusing to pay.

    It's really quite crazy, I wish more people were aware of this.
    • by Kalriath (849904) *
      Uh, Amazon's barcode standard is the global industry standard UPC. If you aren't using it, you wont be dealing with any bookstores either.
    • by steelfood (895457)
      Sounds like an anti-trust lawsuit waiting to happen, as soon as someone figures out what percentage marketshare they have.
  • I hear that Apple Computer is getting into the POD business as well.
  • by Geoffrey.landis (926948) on Sunday March 30, 2008 @12:03AM (#22909382) Homepage
    Yow-- unbelievable as this may seem, this does seem to be true; a dozen other sites are reporting the same news, including the Wall Street Journal [wsj.com] and the Washington Post [washingtonpost.com], among others [graphicartsonline.com].

    What in the world are they thinking? This seems to be a pretty flagrant abuse of power.

  • Chilling (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bsandersen (835481) on Sunday March 30, 2008 @12:04AM (#22909384) Homepage

    I find this move by Amazon to be disturbing. Are they a distributor or manufacturer? Until recently, Amazon was simply a retail hub for nearly any product I might be looking for and they were happy to sell it to me. I could search for the best product and know that Amazon was a reasonable place to look for a good price with quick delivery and great service. I was so confident that I would be spending money with them that I gladly paid the Amazon Prime pre-paid shipping and have saved money each year since that program began because of it.

    Now there appears to be a shift: Amazon has produced the Kindle and now are, in essence, the publisher of at least 100K titles. They also produce the reader, the Kindle itself. They now have a competitive stake where they were previously just "honest brokers." What happens when two years from now an electronic book system comes out that blows the Kindle away? Does Amazon shun it? Do they do more? Must we now expect Microsoft-like tactics for any technology competitor to the products that Amazon develops or acquires? It isn't just that something might not appear in the Amazon store; I now worry that more active anticompetitive actions may be in the offing now that Amazon has begun down this path.

    We recognize when Walmart, the nation's largest retailer, throws their weight around. That makes the evening news occasionally. Our view of Amazon to this point has been only through their web site, stock price, and that little box that arrives occasionally. I fear we may be seeing more of Amazon than that--and it isn't a good thing.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Pennidren (1211474)
      I fear we may be seeing more of Amazon than that--and it isn't a good thing

      the seeing part is good. the thing we are seeing is not.
    • Re:Chilling (Score:5, Informative)

      by MITguy21 (1248040) on Sunday March 30, 2008 @03:36AM (#22910072)
      Amazon have done a lot of chilling things to me over the years, although from their perspective it's probably just business as usual... As noted by others, Amazon's policies are hell on small specialty publishers. I never buy anything from Amazon or any of their affiliates.
      Our automotive engineering textbooks are published by a small press and the first book has been in print continuously since 1995. The other two books are somewhat more recent. All remain in print and sell between 300 and 1500 copies/year. Typical press runs are 2000-3000 copies at a time. Our publisher has their own warehouse which stocks books and sells direct (web/phone/mail order) as well as quantity sales to wholesalers (worldwide) and college book stores.
      On several occasions, our publisher has not accepted Amazon's draconian terms[1] and in response (retaliation??), Amazon has listed our books in various ways such as: as "out of print", "possibly out of print", "out of stock", "special order only" or "availability 6-8 weeks".
      This has a chilling effect on potential customers. For example, I've received multiple emails through our company website (where we have a page on the books) asking if we might still have a copy for sale. After all, Amazon carries *every* book, right? So if Amazon says it's "out of print" that must be true, eh? Pure BS from Amazon.
      Amazon is also the lowest price source, right? Not true, the price on Amazon has been both higher and lower than the direct list price from our publisher.
      I just checked to see what they are up to now. Amazon lists our first book (best selling of the three) as follows:
        "(Title) (Hardcover - Nov 1997) Buy new: $149.95 Not in stock; order now and we'll deliver when available"
      Our publisher's list price for this book is $99.95 and they ship same day if you order in the morning. Our other books are also listed on Amazon at prices above publisher's list price.
      I've also had emails from a number of people that have bought our books and report extremely bad service from Amazon, for example, delivery times of two months are common. I suspect that Amazon sits on orders and waits until there are enough from one specialty publisher to attempt to strong-arm the small publisher into a low price.
      When I want to order a book from a small press, I order directly from the source. It might cost a few bucks more (yes, I'm in USA) but I choose to support small publishers this way.
      [1] The terms that I heard were that Amazon would only pay 40% of the list price (60% discount) and also insisted that our publisher would cover the cost of any unsold books that Amazon chose to return.

    • If Microsoft does something bad, you have to switches OSes, which isn't that easy. If Wal*Mart does something bad, you have to drive a longer distance and get more expensive stuff to avoid them. If Amazon does something bad, you just need to search for the product on Google and buy it from whoever sells it. There isn't even the effort of driving to Supermarket A for one product and Supermarket B for another - you're still at home on your computer.

      Amazon is forgetting that their market share is of the easy-c
  • Too bad he hasn't been seen since early 2001.
  • These are the same people that think their Kindle is a great product with a great sales strategy.

    Who really cares about print on demand books anyway?  The future is clearly electronic--just not on the Kindle :-)
  • Alternatives? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by beegle (9689) on Sunday March 30, 2008 @06:25AM (#22910524) Homepage
    What other online booksellers are out there? Particularly booksellers that deal with POD?

    If Amazon's being evil, I'm willing to take my business elsewhere.

    If Amazon's the only online bookseller who's willing to touch this stuff, then perhaps it's time for the POD industry to stop and take a long, hard look at itself.

    I really don't know which is true. The article is terribly one-sided, and I'm sure that if Amazon responds, their response will be equally one-sided. So, let's see the alternatives.
    • Barnes and Noble (Score:3, Informative)

      by Etherwalk (681268)
      Pretty much all of the Print-On-Demand in the US is done, ultimately, through LSI. Their titles are available through Ingram, from whom every bookstore buys. So if you want a POD title, you can get it online from Barnes and Noble, or you can special order it through your local bookstore.

      I've been a loyal amazon shopper for years. No longer. They're leveraging their market share to prevent sales of thousands of books because they want a bigger cut, and rather than just wanting a bigger cut (which would b
  • Google already has a project going to digitize all the worlds books. Now, they just need a link to publishers. No Amazon needed. Google can get a small cut from the retailer. A POD now looks like any other publisher. Poof, instant sales channel.

    That's similar to what B&N, Borders, et al do. They also provide the distribution organization, warehouses, accounting, shipping, etc. That is a significant investment. I would imagine that most small publishers (and even larger ones) will want to use the lowest

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