Thursday, August 5, 2010

Amazon Enjoys Tossing Bovine Salad

A lot’s been written about the evils of bullying, hateful, baby-barbecuing Amazon (or not).  But lately they’ve been doing something more insidious, and I don’t see a single word about it.  Instead of a retailer, Amazon is becoming a wholesaler.

I’m not talking about the deal Andrew Wiley signed with them for exclusive rights to audio versions of his author’s books, a much-derided (and even parodied) decision which makes them a publisher, or even CreateSpace, their self-publishing arm.  I mean that sometimes at Books & Books, we have to order from the A-Word to make our customers happy.

To clarify for non-bookies, there’s a difference between a publisher and a wholesaler.  Publishers put a variety of authors into print, distributing them to bookstores, retailers, and wholesalers across the world.
Wholesalers carry a variety of publishers.  Let’s say you’re a bookstore, or a retailer that sells books, and you want to carry Heidi Durrow’s The Girl Who Fell from the Sky because it rocks the socks right off your feet.  Basically, you can order it directly from the publisher for a better discount, or from a wholesaler if you need it fast.

Books & Books orders from hundreds of publishers.  Although several warehouses which were operating when I started bookstore life have closed, there are still half a dozen we order with regularly.

In February, Nicholas Sparks published Last Song in paperback on a Tuesday.  Thursday, we couldn’t get it.  Hachette (the publisher) and Ingram (the biggest wholesaler in America) were both sold out.  In fact, none of the wholesalers had it – not Baker & Taylor, not Southern Book Service, not Partners East, Partners West, or Bookazine.

Lately, this is happening more as publishers play it safe with low print runs.  Demand for a new book exceeds what they’ve printed (or an author dies, or wins a Pulitzer) and we end up waiting weeks for a reprint.  But Nicholas Sparks?  Come on.  Hachette would not be caught by surprise that a best-selling author is in demand.

Meanwhile, Amazon had plenty of Last Song in stock.  I had a choice.  I could send my neighbors’ dollars to this online retailer in the Northwest, or I could disappoint the Books & Books customers who had ordered the book.  I tasted bile in my throat when I sent Miami money 2,700 miles from my community.  To add insult to injury, we got a 42% discount and free 2-day shipping, the same terms we’d get from a wholesaler if they had it in stock.

How in holy hell do you compete with that?

Before you start shouting about free market and competition, please understand we pay publishers much more per book than Amazon, so we simply can’t offer the same discounts. Sorry.

Amazon did the same thing with S.C. Gwynne's Empire of the Summer Moon. The New York Times Book Review salivated over it and Amazon bought every printed copy available, effectively making themselves the exclusive distributor. This has happened with two other titles lately, but I can’t remember those titles because we didn’t actually break down and go A-word.

It’s useless, but I can't help getting all bent out of shape about giving our hard-won sales to the biggest online retailer on the planet.  When they’re so proud to buy at their local independent, how would our customers feel if they knew?


  1. In December, Amazon did this with Stacy Schiff's "Cleopatra" but they limited purchases to 3 copies per customer at 45%.

    They also snapped up every copy of Ian Morris’s “Why the West Rules for Now,” offering a 3-copy limit at 34% (currently no else has “Why the West” but Amazon still does; they’re offering 35% with the normal 30-copy limit, asking for an extra day or two to process”).

    Right now Amazon holds all the copies of Timothy Ferriss's "Four Hour Body," also with a 3 copy limit, selling at a whopping 47% discount.

    Since very few individual customers would purchase multiple copies for gifts, limiting purchases to 3 copies means they're even a shitty wholesaler.

    They're choking us off, one hit title at a time.

  2. Amazon has bought every copy of Daniel Rasmussen's "American Uprising." 30 or less, 35% off.

    Damn them.

  3. Want Alice Medrich's "Chew Gooey Crispy Crunchy?" Amazon has them all.

    Can't I even sell cookie cookbooks to my customers without giving you a bite, Amazon?

  4. This one hurts, because I read it as an ARC and loved it, and we can't get it without going A-Word:

    Peggy Orenstein's "Cinderella Ate My Daughter."

    35%, may require an extra day or 2 to process.


  5. Today it's Peter Gruber's "Tell to Win." Amazon limits you to 3 copies, but at a whopping 49% discount.

    This is like a two-hundred ton giant that's three-hundred feet tall and throws twenty punches a second stepping into a boxing ring with an average man and calling it fair competition.

  6. Amazon loves Ashley Judd's "All That is Bitter and Sweet" to the tune of BUYING EVERY COPY THERE IS. 40%, free-second-day shipping.

    Also, "23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism" by Ha Joon Change. 40% and free 2nd-day.

    Books & Books needs to publish something amazing, so Amazon can buy from us for a change.

  7. Another two-fer day, 40% off Annie Jacobsen's "Area 51: an Uncensored History." and 42% off "The Psychopath Test" by Jon Ronson.

    Good luck trying to find an Indie with stock on either of these.

    Amazon, oh, how I hate pressing your order button

  8. This week's Amazon exlusive: Gretchen Morgenson's "Reckless Endangerment." 45% discount, free shipping.

    Seems like Amazon is recklessly endagering independent bookselling, huh? Huh?


  9. Today’s book which came out last week, finds itself in reprint, yet is stocked to the gills at Amazon is Bill O’Reilly’s “Killing Lincoln.” They’re offering 46% and free second-day air, which is better terms than the publisher gives to us for the same book. I can only imagine what they actually paid for it.

    Get it now from the only place you can – Amazon.

  10. I'm trying to order Amy Waldman's "The Submission" for the 2011 Miami International Book Fair. I guess I'll have to order it from Amazon, since they've made themselves the sole distributor.

    I submit that Amazon sucks.

  11. Today's Amazon buyout? Jeffrey Brown's "Darth Vader and Son." At 45% off and free 2nd-day shipping, do I piss my customers off and go without? Or bite the bullet and give the devil our money?