Amazon Says It Will Only Sell Print-On-Demand Books That It Gets To Print

from the well,-that's-not-very-neighborly dept

Amazon has generally been a rather friendly neighbor in the e-commerce world, not acting vindictively against competitors, but focusing on improving its customer experience continuously, and figuring that’s a better way to beat the competition. Apparently, that’s not working in the print-on-demand space, however. You may recall that in 2005 Amazon bought a print-on-demand company. There are a few other print-on-demand companies out there, some of which have pretty good reputations and are probably more widely known than Amazon’s print-on-demand offering. It would appear that Amazon has a problem with that. It’s now saying that it won’t sell books from competing print-on-demand shops, requiring anyone who wants to do print-on-demand to use Amazon’s (more expensive) service. This is a pretty aggressive (and totally unnecessary) move. You would think that Amazon might play nicer. Any bets on how long it takes for another print-on-demand firm to sue over this decision?

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Comments on “Amazon Says It Will Only Sell Print-On-Demand Books That It Gets To Print”

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22 Comments
Douglas Gresham (profile) says:

Smells like antitrust

In the non-monopolised world, Amazon not stocking those products would lose them their cut to other outlets. The only way this can work is if Amazon controls a sufficiently large market share in general book retail to leverage it unfairly in this new market space. IANAL, but that seems shady at best and antitrust at worst to me.

Jake says:

Re: Smells like antitrust

Depends on whether Amazon intends to ban them from being listed as dealers, or if they’re merely declining to buy copies wholesale or ship them through Amazon’s own depots; I couldn’t see enough of the article to tell which. If it’s the latter it’s hard to blame them; print-on-demand is something of a niche market, and if Amazon did accept a batch, it could be a good while before the last one left the warehouse.

Rick says:

Re: Smells like antitrust

Would you go so far as forcing Ford dealerships to carry Lexus next to their Lincolns? Walmart only carries about 5000 CD’s. Should the other 55,000 CDs available be forcibly placed on their shelves too?

A retailer is free to choose what they sell and who provides it. This is America.

Douglas Gresham (profile) says:

Re: Re: Smells like antitrust

You may notice I made that point, and that I noted questions of antitrust are relevant if and only if we’re talking about leveraging monopolies in one market to gain traction in another. In your car analogy, it would be like Ford owning the vast majority of all car dealerships and blocking sales of non-Ford cars in said dealerships, meaning that despite the fact that the Lexus car may be better consumers won’t be able to get one and therefore have to buy a Ford.

Mark Murphy says:

Filling in some details

Depends on whether Amazon intends to ban them from being listed as dealers, or if they’re merely declining to buy copies wholesale or ship them through Amazon’s own depots

Amazon does not stock every book they list on their site. They stock some, and the rest are fulfilled by Ingram, one of the two leading US book wholesalers. Ingram will drop-ship Amazon orders in Amazon-labeled packages, so orders filled by Ingram don’t go through an Amazon warehouse. LightningSource, pretty much the market leader in print-on-demand (POD), is owned by the same firm that owns Ingram. So, for LightningSource titles, Amazon may stock a handful of titles, and the vast majority are filled by Ingram…pretty much by calling across the street, asking for LightningSource to run off a copy, then putting that book in a wrapper and sending it off to the customer.

print-on-demand is something of a niche market

From the WSJ article: “A spokesman for Lightning Source said the company has printed more than 50 million books for more than 5,000 publishers world-wide since its founding in 1997.” That’s nothing to sneeze at. Furthermore, many major publishers, particularly university presses like Cambridge University Press, have been using LightningSource for their “back catalog”. In other words, the publisher prints current titles for which there should be substantial sales volume, and relies on LightningSource for the balance. While POD is not well-known, it’s an appreciable chunk of the market, and it’s growing at a pretty good clip.

The only way this can work is if Amazon controls a sufficiently large market share in general book retail to leverage it unfairly in this new market space.

From the WSJ article: “Amazon is one of the biggest booksellers in the U.S., with a market share publishing experts estimate to be about 15%.”

This is America.

Well, that depends on where you are when you’re reading this article…

But, more to your point, this probably doesn’t qualify as a monopoly as yet. Though Borders is looking kinda grim, and if they go under Amazon’s market share should jump.

BTW, for more details on how print-on-demand used to work with Amazon, I recommend Aiming at Amazon.

Tristan Phillips says:

Re: Filling in some details

Actually Mike, it doesn’t matter where you’re reading this article. Amazon is a US business and unless Amazon says otherwise this is going to affect their US operations. Which puts it legally under US law. You can read this article from China, but that fact does not change.

Don’t be so obtuse.

Mouse (profile) says:

Amazon

Amazon may be getting too big for it’s britches. We do not have to buy from them. A lot of times I check the prices there and buy elsewhere because it’s cheaper. If they think their clients are that locked in on them they are wrong. And by the way many, many times the prices are higher at Amazon BEFORE you add in the shipping which is not done right. They never combine shipping so they are making a bundle there. We are not as stupid as they think we are. A lot of wise shoppers found Amazon but will leave them just as quick if they start trying to corner the market.

BTR1701 (profile) says:

Sue

> Any bets on how long it takes for another print-on-demand firm
> to sue over this decision?

I’m sure you’re right that someone will sue over it. That’s seems to be how the world works these days. But I have hard time understanding what possible basis such a suit would have in law.

Amazon is perfectly free to sell only the books printed from their own service. There’s no law that requires them to stock their competitor’s products.

It’s no different than movie theaters barring their patrons from bringing food and drink in from outside establishments so that they will have to patronize the theater’s snack bar if they want to eat.

Nasch says:

Re: Sue

It’s no different than movie theaters barring their patrons from bringing food and drink in from outside establishments so that they will have to patronize the theater’s snack bar if they want to eat.

I can’t find a reference to it, but I thought I remembered hearing about a lawsuit about that, too. Anybody have information on it, or am I making stuff up?

Author says:

Contact Washington State Antitrust

A good case can be made that what Amazon is attempting to do violates anti-trust laws. Waiting for federal anti-trust action would take many years–years to get the Justice Department to act, years of trials, years of fussing over what the court decision means. Notice how long it took to deal with Microsoft’s tactics, despite the fact that the corporations they were bullying were large and powerful. None of us can afford that long a wait.

Action at the state level, however, could move much faster, particularly if it involves off-the-record contact and a somber warning from those who can make trouble for Amazon. Amazon is headquartered in Seattle about a ten minute drive from the office of the Antitrust division of the Washington state attorney general. Here’s the contact information:

Office of the Attorney General

Antitrust Division

800 Fifth Avenue, Suite 2000

Seattle, WA 98104-3188

http://www.atg.wa.gov/Antitrust/default.aspx

Telephone: 206-587-5510

Fax: 206-464-6338

Note the remark on that web page that “The Antitrust Division only processes complaints that involve either Washington State residents or businesses located in Washington State.” Amazon is in Washington state, so it matters not where you are. You might also want to raise the issue with your state attorney general’s antitrust office, asking them to get in touch with their colleagues in Seattle. If you’re a publisher, encourage your authors to write. If you’re an author, encourage other writers to contact them.

Stefan Mai says:

I really feel like this was a very poor business move on Amazon’s behalf. POD titles move very slowly, and it defeats the purpose of “on demand” to print them all to stock in Amazon’s warehouse, right. So the deal should be, here’s how much we’re going to charge you to list it (price A), here’s how much we’ll charge to print it (price B), and here’s how much we’ll charge ship it out of our warehouse after you print it (price C). Let the “publishers” decide what makes best business sense for them (instead of pissing them off) and make your fair profit off those who choose C over B. Win-win for Amazon with no whiners.

Patience Prence Author (user link) says:

Thanks for the article. I knew something was up when Amazon quite stocking my book. I emailed them and they said it was it was a special order product. Duh…since when? I also noticed many other books were all 2-3 weeks delivery. Hmmm. They get 55% discount of the sale… they are starting to get very greedy….

Patience Prence
Author SCARS: An End Times Novel ~Bestseller!

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