“Modern POD printing machines can print and bind a book in less than two hours. If the POD printing machines reside inside our own fulfillment centers, we can more quickly ship the POD book to customers—including in those cases where the POD book needs to be married together with another item. If a customer orders a POD item together with an item that we're holding in inventory—a common case—we can quickly print and bind the POD item, pick the inventoried item, and ship the two together in one box, and we can do so quickly. If the POD item were to be printed at a third party, we'd have to wait for it to be shipped to our fulfillment center before it could be married together with the inventoried item.… Simply put, we can provide a better, more timely customer experience if the POD titles are printed inside our own fulfillment centers. In addition, printing these titles in our own fulfillment centers saves transportation costs and transportation fuel.”
As an aside, I have to say I find this shipping-everything-in-one box justification strange. I recently ordered (in one Amazon order) five items for my three-year-old grandson (one book and four toys). The items were shipped in four separate shipments, within a day of each other. I saw this as a huge waste of packing materials and fuel—which bothered me not only because it’s bad for the environment, but also because (full disclosure here), I’m an Amazon stockholder.
It looks like the Amazon move is aimed directly at eliminating competition from the largest print-on-demand printing company, Lightning Source (LSI).
Publishers who use LSI to digitally print their books and don’t want to switch all their printing to Amazon’s BookSurge are offered two choices in the Amazon letter:
- Use BookSurge just for those units that ship from Amazon and continue to use a different POD service provider for distribution through other channels; or
- Use a different POD service provider for all your units, and pre-produce five copies of each title and send those in advance to the Amazon Advantage Program for in-stock inventory.
Publishers who choose option #1 (use Amazon’s POD company, BookSurge to print all books that ship directly from Amazon), face an unpleasant situation.
- BookSurge has a reputation for printing low-quality books, with pages falling out, missing pages, etc.
- BookSurge’s printing prices are higher than LSI’s, so the publisher and/or author will earn less per book sold.
- Publishers will have to modify the files they have set up for LSI because those files aren’t compatible with BookSurge’s specifications.
- Because BookSurge does not offer Ingram distribution, which is virtually essential for bookstore sales, publishers will want to continue to have their books available for printing though LSI, which provides the Ingram distribution. Using two printing companies means extra formatting and extra fees.
Publishers who choose option #2 (stay with LSI for all their book printing) would have to participate in the Amazon Advantage Program to sell books directly through Amazon. To do that, they will have to print and ship copies of their books to Amazon for them to warehouse and ship to customers. And they will have to pay Amazon $29.95 per year plus 55% of the list price of each book sold.
It not clear at this point whether Amazon intends to impose the new requirement on all publishers that use POD printing, which would include thousands of small presses, or if they are primarily targeting the subsidy (author services) publishing companies that use digital printing. I haven’t heard yet of any small independent publishers that have been affected by the new Amazon policy.
The story was originally broken by Angela Hoy, co-owner of BookLocker.com, in her ezine, WritersWeekly.com. She has continued to follow the story with frequent updates on a special WritersWeekly page. One of her most recent updates says that AuthorHouse/iUniverse has reached an agreement with Amazon to allow Booksurge to print their books.
Apparently AuthorHouse had originally refused to comply with Amazon’s demands, with the result that their book listings on Amazon had their buy buttons removed. This meant that a customer who wanted to buy one of the books would have to buy it from one of the marketplace vendors and the book wouldn’t qualify for Amazon’s free shipping offer. I checked some AuthorHouse book listings on Amazon earlier today (Wed 4/2) and the buttons were gone. Then after I heard about AuthorHouse reaching an agreement with Amazon, I checked again and the buttons were back.
My tiny publishing company has three books printed through the POD printing company, Lightning Source (LSI). I haven’t heard anything from Amazon saying that I should switch to BookSurge for printing, and the listings for our books are unchanged. I did get an email letter today from LSI President & CEO, J. Kirby Best, which said that LSI is following the discussions about Amazon requiring publishers to use BookSurge for their POD books in order to sell on Amazon, and reassured LSI cutomers that our titles are available to Amazon.com for shipment within 24 hours.This situation is changing way too fast to draw any conclusions. So what can we do besides follow the story and hope for the best?
- Some authors and publishers are circulating an online petition "Stop the BookSurge Monopoly," that has 600+ signatures. Personally I haven’t signed it, because the originator is anonymous. But some of you may want to.
- Some authors and independent publishers are removing links to Amazon from their websites and sending customers to BarnesandNoble.com instead.
- Some are trying to work through the professional organizations PMA (The Independent Book Publishers Association) and SPAN (The Small Publishers Association of North America) in hopes they will join together, question Amazon on behalf of their members, and advocate for their members’ interests.
- • Some are contacting Amazon officers and directors to express their displeasure and to let the directors know they will no longer buy from Amazon.
I’m still in the watch-and-wait camp right now. And maybe I should sell my Amazon stock?