Blogger: Rachelle Gardner
By now you’ve probably heard about Amazon’s latest affront to authors and publishers—the fact that they’re allowing third-party sellers to own the “buy button” on new books. This article explains it.
I’ve spent some time checking Amazon listings for books we represent. I found that some of our clients’ backlist books published in 2015 or earlier are affected by this decision. The buy button you see for these books now belongs to a third-party seller rather than the publisher, which means those copies will not generate royalties for the author. (A consumer needs to dig deeply to locate the place to click to purchase from the publisher.) I’ll try to answer some of the questions I’m getting from authors.
Where are the third-party sellers getting the books they’re selling as new?
There could be a lot of answers. They might be remainders, or in many cases, the books represented as new probably aren’t actually new. The sellers could be buying slightly damaged books or overstock from wholesalers, or they could be outright counterfeit copies. There are a variety of possibilities.
Doesn’t Amazon prohibit selling used goods as new?
Yes, they explicitly prohibit this. But selling used items as new can be a lucrative business, so the practice is widespread among many product categories, not just books.
Didn’t the author already receive a royalty on those books?
Maybe, maybe not. In some cases, as in high-discount or remainder sales, the author got a reduced royalty or none at all. However, even if the original sale was royalty-bearing for the author, these third-party sellers are taking away from the author’s future royalties by selling used books as new.
Can’t the big publishers do something about this?
Past experience shows that trying to work directly with Amazon can be frustrating at best; it’s often fruitless, and it can even backfire. But publishers are aware they can do a few things to prevent used or remaindered books being sold as new. They can be more intentional about marking remaindered books so they’re obviously not new; they can make sure reviewer copies and galleys are also clearly distinguished.
According to Publishers Lunch, Penguin Random House has been corresponding directly with third-party booksellers, informing them that their actions may be in violation of various laws and statutes, asking them to “cease and desist” any illegal activities (implying that the publisher will take action if necessary). We at Books & Such will be keeping an eye on developments, especially any actions taken by the Big 5 publishers.
Why is this such a big deal for authors?
In reality, it won’t matter for some authors. But others make a significant portion of their income from royalties on backlist books. For example, if you’re a novelist with 30 backlist titles, it’s possible you could be making more from the aggregate of all your backlist books than you’re making on your latest 1 or 2 titles. If that backlist income were to suddenly drop because people are no longer buying from the publisher, you’d notice the difference. But again, many authors don’t have that many backlist books, or their backlist books don’t generate significant income anyway, so they don’t need to be overly anxious about this.
What can authors do?
Authors are not powerless. One of the best things you can do is make sure your website lists several buying links in addition to Amazon, especially for your backlist books. (Perhaps you could list the Amazon link last.) You can find ways to gently encourage readers, friends, and family members to buy books from other vendors. You can occasionally blog or write a Facebook post that highlights other retailers who carry your books, subtly reminding people that Amazon is not the only option.
I’m truly hoping something will cause Amazon to reverse this decision. But as always, Amazon will decide what is a good business decision for them.
Let me know if you have any questions, and I’ll do my best to answer.
Image copyright: limonzest / 123RF Stock Photo