In last week’s newsletter we profiled an independent press, McFarland & Co., and its struggle with Amazon, reported by Amy Martinez in a Seattle Times headline article. Martinez described how numerous small presses and distribution companies throughout the country have locked horns with Amazon, after the company demanded greater discounts on book sales and no room for negotiation.
Amazon’s grasp on the publishing world reaches further than their squeeze on small presses. According to Martinez, in 2009, the mega-company branched into the world of publishing by launching its first imprint, AmazonEncore, for “publishing overlooked books and authors.” Soon after followed a number of other imprints focused on niche books, and finally Amazon established a New York office dedicated to publishing books of general interest.
So Amazon’s little secret is out, even though it has downplayed its presence in thepublishing world. Jeff Belle, vice president of Amazon Publishing, called the imprints an “in-house laboratory where authors and editors and marketers can test new ideas.” Paired with their pressure on independent presses, however, and their attempts to undercut the prices of other companies, especially in the digital book realm, it is clear that Amazon’s intentions have moved well beyond those of a simple experiment. It seems that if there is a way to encroach on the competition, even the small players trying to give voice to unheard authors overlooked by mainstream publishing, they proceed full throttle.
Can Fuze withstand Amazon’s power grab? Fortunately we are under their radar. We have elected not to use a book distributor—an expensive endeavor which produces truckloads of books returned from bookstores in unsalable condition, both a financial and environmental bad move. Still we continue to grow despite Amazon’s significant demands for a large discount from our titles: they take a whopping 55% cut from every sale!
Our experience communicating with Amazon has been as frustrating as that of McFarland & Co. There have been numerous “glitches” over the three years we have engaged with Amazon, from repeated missing book cover images to announcements that our titles are “out of stock.” These glitches then take days or even weeks to sort out, as discussion is restricted to anonymous email communications, leaving us to wonder how many sales have been lost. Along with other small presses, we continue to evaluate the question: should the visibility and easy access we gain from an account with Amazon override its business practices, which display at best an indifference toward helping emerging small presses?