Will Amazon Hurt Small Pagan Publishers?

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  March 28, 2008 — 15 Comments

In the past few days news has emerged that Internet book-selling giant Amazon.com has been pressuring small publishing houses who use print-on-demand services like Lightning Source (owned by Ingram), Lulu, and PublishAmerica to switch to Amazon’s own in-house POD service or have their “buy” button removed.

“Reports have been trickling in from the POD underground that Amazon/BookSurge representatives have been approaching some Lightning Source customers, first by email introduction and then by phone (nobody at BookSurge seems to want to put anything in writing). When Lightning Source customers speak with the BookSurge representative, the reports say, they are basically told they can either have BookSurge start printing their books or the “buy” button on their Amazon.com book pages will be “turned off.” The book information would remain on Amazon, and people could still order the book from resellers (companies that list new and used books in Amazon’s Marketplace section), but customers would not be able to buy the book from Amazon directly, nor qualify for the coveted “free shipping” that Amazon offers.”

This policy was confirmed by Amazon spokeswoman Tammy Hovey, who called the move “a strategic decision”, and that it wasn’t “an ultimatum” for smaller publishers to switch to Amazon’s POD service. While it may not be an “ultimatum”, it does put smaller publishers who use POD services between a rock and a hard place according to Lupa, an author and employee of Immanion Press.

“So why not just switch over to [Amazon’s] Booksurge, you may ask? Two reasons … They’re more expensive – they want a significantly larger cut of the profits than many others … Their distribution isn’t as good … So why not just have accounts at both Lightning Source and Booksurge? Because the cost to upload books would double … So why not just use offset and other traditional forms of printing? Because you need thousands of dollars up front, even for a small run, plus warehousing space–and you have to hope that they all sell or else you’re out a good deal of money. Given that the big box stores are already biased against small presses, big losses are a major possibility …”

Lupa’s concerns are echoed by Virtualbookworm, a Lightning Source customer who was recently on the receiving end of an Amazon “strategic” strong-arm call.

“I’m going to refrain from editorializing on this move, since any talk of a monopoly could be dangerous (wink, wink). Instead, I just want you to think of what this could do to your title(s) and, eventually, your pocketbook. When you let everyone know your book was available, many of them probably went to Amazon to purchase it. If this new move (I won’t say threat) goes through, the only way readers will be able to purchase POD titles that haven’t also been set up through Booksurge/Amazon is through a reseller. The availability of your title will be choked, readers won’t be able to take advantage of free shipping (when the requirements are met) and the retail price will skyrocket (and just do a web search on the complaints about Booksurge’s quality).”

If this policy continues, it could conceivably hurt a number of smaller Pagan presses (Immanion/Megalithica, Asphodel, Waning Moon, Bibliotheca Alexandrina, etc) who utilize professional POD services to publish niche books that larger companies aren’t interested in due to a lack of mass-market appeal. For some of these publishers, revenues from Amazon is what keeps them solvent, since many book distributors don’t reliably carry POD titles. This trend could mean a big reduction in publishing diversity within modern Paganism, and may even result in some small publishing houses closing down.

For now, the POD publishing community seems to be waiting for the inevitable showdown between POD-heavyweights like Lightning Source and the Internet giant over the legality of this move. In the meantime, Lupa has some excellent suggestions for those who wish to support small Pagan publishers and voice their opinion of this development.

“In the meantime, you may want to consider alternate avenues to Amazon.com, such as Powell’s City of Books, Magus Books, Mystic Intentions and, of course, B&N, if you must order online. Additionally, some small pagan/occult shops, such as Edge of the Circle in Seattle, have excellent selections of books, including small press fare. And, if you feel up for it, contact Amazon (third box down on the right hand column) and let them know how you feel about this.”

Expect this news to break big as more and more publishers receive their “non-ultimatums” from Amazon reps, and POD companies consider legal action. If Amazon gets away with this recent move, the ecology of the smaller Pagan publishers could be irrevocably changed, and not for the better.

Jason Pitzl-Waters

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