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Telling the 900-pound Gorilla Where not to Sit

Having read the news at The Wild Hunt of Amazon's heavy-handed bullying of small-house publishers, I had to do something. I know many of my readers will already have made the decision not to buy from Amazon, based on our support for small bookstores. I guess I've always figured that my book-buying budget was big enough to support an entire industry anyhow! But this latest move is too much for my conscience. I'm going cold turkey on Amazon, at least until and unless they abandon their monopolistic moves on small POD efforts.

Here's the "Dear John" letter I just sent them. Feel like sending one of your own? I'd encourage it--it's easy. Tell 'em Cat sent ya. Feel like being part of a Blog Swarm? Given how many books most readers of this blog read, I'd guess the message will get through. Leave a comment if you write to them or blog on the subject. Let's see if we can get that 900-pound gorilla to quit standing on our collective foot...

Dear Amazon,

If you'll look over my account history, you'll know that I'm one of your best customers. Given a choice between clothes and books, between cable TV and books, or probably between food and books--though it hasn't yet come to that--I'm likely to choose the books.

And you guys are my besetting sin. I love your rapid delivery, your customer service, and, above all, your selection.

So why do I call you a sin? Because I'm a Pagan, and a Quaker--a member of two religious minorities at once, and both halves of my equation read a lot of books. But they're not mass-market titles, and they probably never will be--only beginner books have much mass-market appeal. The small publishers who create and the small bookstores who carry my books deserve my support.

Until recently, though, I comforted myself that, if you were in competition with independent book-sellers, you also brought a market to book resellers that is enormous, and that you so often carried the books of small presses that you surely made it possible for many of them to find markets they might otherwise never have found.

Now, however, I hear that you are pressuring small publishers, like Asphodel, Waning Moon, and Immanion Press, to switch to your in-house Print-on-Demand service, Booksurge, instead of other POD services, or you'll remove the option to buy these books directly from you, or to qualify for that highly-motivating free shipping.

But Booksurge is more expensive, and publishing the high-quality titles that target the small audience for religious books is not very profitable already.

What I'm looking at, as a book-lover, is the scary prospect of the online bookstore I love putting the small-house publishers I need between a rock and a hard place. Some will probably shut down. The niche they fill will not be replaced by any of the big players--the profit margins are just too small.

I can't accept that. Amazon, this is wrong. You're already the 900-pound gorilla who sits anywhere he wants to in the world of book selling. But if you keep throwing that weight around, there are going to be fewer books for readers like me.

So I'm putting my foot down, Amazon. Until you make it clear that this "strategic decision" has been reversed, I'll be buying my used books from the Advanced Book Exchange, and my new titles either locally or from online services like Quaker Books, Barnes and Noble, or one of the dozens of online Pagan booksellers serving my community.

Honestly? You guys are the best at customer service. But it does none of us any good if you destroy--or even damage--the small publishers that crazy book-addicts like me need to make it through the night.

Formerly Yours,

Cat Chapin-Bishop
Quaker Pagan Reflections
http://quakerpagan.blogspot.com/


In addition to the convenient link for email, snail mail correspondence with the giant is possible. Write them at:
Amazon.com, Inc.
P.O. Box 81226
Seattle, WA 98108-1226

Comments

Amazon has responded to my email, but I'm pretty sure no actual human has read it--or not read it carefully.

Amazon writes:
Thanks for your e-mail regarding Amazon's print-on-demand offerings.

I sincerely apologize for any inconvenience caused. I do understand your concern.

We think Amazon's print-on-demand is a great option for both publishers and customers as it allows us to offer more titles and keep those titles perpetually in stock. We know customers love this, and we think that it's great for authors and publishers, too.

In addition, when we can print the titles right in our own fulfillment centers, we can marry the on-demand book together with a regular book and quickly ship both titles the same day in a single box--something that is very important to our customers. And of course, these titles are all eligible for Free Super Saver Shipping and Amazon Prime.

In all cases and for any title, any publisher or author can always use the Amazon Advantage program to list their titles. With Amazon Advantage, publishers send us their titles on consignment, and those titles are also eligible for Free Super Saver Shipping and Amazon Prime. The Advantage program has been in place for many years and thousands of publishers have sold hundreds of thousands of titles using Advantage. For more information, go to www.amazon.com/advantage.

By offering our publishers a variety of options for selling on Amazon, we can continue to provide our customers with the broadest possible selection of titles available.

I hope this information has been helpful.

Apart from providing a customer oriented service, one of our aim is to gratify our esteemed customer setting aside our policies and bearing in mind the expectations of our valued customers from us. I regret if we failed to provide a service up to your satisfaction level.

Again, we are very sorry for any inconvenience you have experienced. We value your business and hope to see you again at Amazon.com.

Thank you for your interest in Amazon.com.

Please let us know if this e-mail resolved your question:

If yes, click here:
http://www.amazon.com/rsvp-y?c=bywufcwd3221887891
If not, click here:
http://www.amazon.com/rsvp-n?c=bywufcwd3221887891

Please note: this e-mail was sent from an address that cannot accept incoming e-mail.

To contact us about an unrelated issue, please visit the Help section of our web site.


Best regards,

Sathya V.
Amazon.com Customer Service
http://www.amazon.com
So, unsatisfied that Amazon had actually read my letter, much less that the response addressed my concerns, I decided to take advantage of their kind invitation (above) to give them feedback on the response. I wrote:

Dear Amazon,

In your response to my email, you asked whether your response was helpful to me. It was not. In fact, from the email, it is quite clear that you did not actually read my complaint, so I'm resending it.

Your response is appended after a second sending of my initial email. You can also follow the progress of our dialog on my blog, at http://quakerpagan.blogspot.com/2008/03/telling-900-pound-gorilla-where-not-to.html .

I think my readers will be as interested as I am to receive a real response from you. I think we're all curious what you might say that actually addresses the concern: that Amazon is endangering the small publishing houses that serve the niche market we are part of.
Erynn Laurie said…
I got essentially an identical response to my emails yesterday. I've blogged about it on my LJ and have urged all my readers to write to Amazon as well. This is utterly unacceptable!

You're very likely to get the same second response I did as well, which is a whine for the small publishers to use Amazon's crap quality POD that would take a huge chunk of what little profits Immanion/Megalithica and the other small occult presses get.

Go you for continuing to spread the word. I've moved over to Powells and taken my 300+ item wishlist with me.
Bright Crow said…
Dearie,

I never use Amazon... except as a librarian, when I'm trying to figure out what in the world my patrons are asking for when they don't know the author or title—or at least don't know the spelling. (Our online catalog is utterly unforgiving about spelling.)

I don't use Amazon for the same reason I avoid Walmart: I don't want anyone telling me what's good for me—especially in order to make a profit while driving independent competitors out of business.

I do confess to regularly patronizing "Buns and Noodles" (as Alison Bechnel calls it), just as I patronize "Tenbucks."

But that's because all my weird friends hang out in these places, I like the ambiance of both, and I don't have to buy anything—except over-roasted, over-priced coffee which tries to make me feel like a socially responsible yuppie while I'm walking past the panhandlers.

When I actually want to buy books, I go to Chamlin's Bookmine, the fabulous local used book maze (where you need to pack a sleeping bag and a lunch, because there are miles of aisles. :-)

I'm writing to support your campaign anyway.

You go girl!

Bright Crow

BTW, you might wonder why I'm up at 3:11 AM writing comments on blogs. So do I....
Erinn Laurie, Bright Crow, thanks for your comments! It's good to know that others are out there, listening.

You can read more about this issue by going to Pagan author Lupa's Live Journal entry, or to Writer's Weekly's coverage of the story.

If my readers will send me links, either as comments or email to quakerpagan AT mac DOT com, I will see about putting up a notice of a Blog Carnival/Blog Swarm via Metapagan, and its hundreds of sidebar widgets. (Found on the best of Pagan blogs and web pages everywhere!)

So share your tales of Amazonia here--and with Amazon itself, of course.
So here is this morning's missive from Amazon:

Thank you for writing back to us at Amazon.com.

I understand that you are upset, and I regret that we have not been able to address your concerns to your satisfaction. Unfortunately, we will not be able to offer any additional insight or action on these matters.

However, this is something that we need to take serious consideration. To ensure the utmost attention, I've also passed your message on to the appropriate people in our company. We value customer feedback such as yours as it helps us continue to improve the service and selection we provide.

We've appreciated your business and hope to have the opportunity to serve you again in the future.

Please let us know if this e-mail resolved your question:

If yes, click here:
http://www.amazon.com/rsvp-y?c=bxrutfwd3236109259
If not, click here:
http://www.amazon.com/rsvp-n?c=bxrutfwd3236109259

Please note: this e-mail was sent from an address that cannot accept incoming e-mail.

To contact us about an unrelated issue, please visit the Help section of our web site.


Best regards,

Reena
Amazon.com Customer Service
http://www.amazon.com


To me, this is a sign of improvement. At least they are admitting they're not going to make me happy.

I'll compose another e-mail response later, as well as one to their snail mail address:

Amazon.com, Inc.
P.O. Box 81226
Seattle, WA 98108-1226


It's time to cancel the Amazon credit card, too. (Yes, I am that big a geek--the turn on, of course, was the frequent-reader miles, er, points toward book discounts.)

I'll keep you posted...
Writer Beware Blogs is also covering the story.

Don't forget to send me your links. As soon as I get enough together, I'll post a Carnival/Swarm over at Metapagan on the front page. (No point in doing it just yet--I'm not interested in a vanity promotion of my own page, after all!)
pitch313 said…
I suspect that Amazon's insistence on small press publishers using it's in-house publish on demand service will succeed--from Amazon's point of view.

The financial loss to Amazon of giving up even a bunch of POD outfits, and the lost retail sales from us not shopping with Amazon, is slight. The advantages to having the dominant POD operation are probably, in Amazon's view, more important.

Now I believe that we benefit from small press publishers and from a diversity of presses and modes of access. But I don't think that Amazon does.
Jessica said…
Hi Cat Chapin-Bishop,

Understand your situation. I have same concern. I already change to other online bookstore. For example, I buy all my textbooks for this semester from online bookstore Cocomartini.com
http://www.cocomartini.com

50% off discount textbooks and all brand new textbooks. Save me more than $300. Wish you can use other online bookstore. ^_^
Erynn Rowan said…
Cat -- I read about this initially on Lupa's LJ. She's with my publisher, Immanion/Megalithica. My own LJ has a few comments about this at http://erynn999.livejournal.com and others are picking up the story as well.

Your most recent response from Amazon was after the one they sent to me:

Thank you for writing back to us at Amazon.com.

I understand that you are upset, and I regret that we have not been able to address your concerns to your satisfaction. Unfortunately, we will not be able to offer any additional insight or action on these matters.

We've appreciated your business and hope to have the opportunity to serve you again in the future.


It seems they're already getting a lot of "feedback" from disgruntled small presses and authors. Mine felt a lot like "don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out." But the fact that their tactics and response have already changed in those few hours says to me that they are probably hearing from a lot more people than they thought.

If that trend continues, and if they are approached by attorneys from the larger POD publishers, I suspect that this gambit will be stopped in its tracks, at least for the time being. In all likelihood, even if this attempt doesn't succeed, it'll be tried again later when the waters have settled.
dmiley said…
Hi Cat,
I've already referenced you and erynn in my own "I'm leaving now" Amazon abandonment post. http://dmiley.livejournal.com/17204.html

If you do start a swarm, I suggest that we go positive - how will the post-Amazon universe operate - what new structure will support the authors representing true diversity when we can no longer trust a capitalist system to make this happen.

Also, you should lay hands on Erynn's "Ogam: Weaving Word Wisdom" - absolutely the best and most useful book I've read on the subject.

blessings,
david
/|\
Erynn Rowan said…
One of my friends, RoseWelsh on LJ, posted this as a comment to one of my Amazon posts:

Erynn:

After looking through your posts on this outrageous tactic and realizing that one letter or 10 *saying* that you will buy elsewhere isn't going to hit home. I'm thinking that for the next month or so every time I buy a book elsewhere, I'll let Amazon know: send them a brief letter why I bought elsewhere with a copy of the receipt :-) If enough people do this maybe the bean counters will have something interesting to say at the next staff meeting *wink*.

Rose


I think this is a fantastic idea that should be noised about far and wide.
Anonymous said…
Pretty sad. I just learned about this action in your blog.

Evidently, I must have just placed what may be my last Amazon order three days ago. I love their service and their "no shipping and handling" fee policy. I actually started early enough on Amazon that I have four coffee travel mugs from the days when they were young and fresh and brilliant and a big hope for the future, and would send these things out yearly to their regular customers.

I found books there that no one else could provide, including an obscure and out-of-print book written by one of my dad's relatives everyone had lost track of, which Dad was dying to find and was not obtainable from any other source. I loved (still love, to be honest -- parting from them will be hard, but there is indeed the matter of principle) Amazon. This was the ideal of what the Internet could develop into. And to be honest, all the other things they try to sell there now: I've never once looked at ANYTHING but their books, beyond an occasional CD of music.

I don't mind if a company is big. They just need to remember their origins, and the variety of customers who've made them who they are.

-- Jehana

PS, Cat & Peter, I just love your blog, which I've just discovered.
celestialabyss said…
All right, I didn't realize LJ members can post here in blogspot as LJ members. Gonna try. (previously replied in this blog as Anonymous/Jehana)

Anyhow, I will let you know what sort of responses I get when I mail Amazon about this situation. I plan to send both e-mail and snail mail responses.

Anything to turn this around. Amazon has been great in the past, and I hate to see them fumble this now.


-- Jehana
Jehana! Thanks for stopping by, and I'm so glad you like the blog. Woo-hoo!

I notice you don't often post to your own--if that changes, or you write something you're really happy with, drop me a note, OK? I do have a section of my blogroll just for buddies who blog, but, because it's public, I reserve it for those who post on a semi-regular basis. (That section of the blog is on The Back Page, in case you were wondering. You might find a few other folks you know, from COG or elsewhere in the Pagan world, if you check it out.

Anti-Amazonians--I have not forgotten my promise to pull together a list of blog entries taking on the giant. It's on the list: hopefully tomorrow.

The competition is the flu, minutes for the last meeting of Ministry and Worship, a peace organization I'm working with, and about forty freshman essays I've got to grade. The freshman essays are actually a good sign--I'll do almost any work to avoid grading freshman essays...

Blessings!

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