May 30, 2012
3 Questions for IPG president Mark Suchomel about surviving the Amazon boycott
by Dennis Johnson
As a MobyLives report detailed yesterday, Amazon.com has ended its boycott of ebooks from the more than 500 independent publishers distributed by the Independent Publishers Group (IPG) by finally coming to agreement with the scrappy distributor, which had resisted new and reportedly drastic demands from Amazon — so drastic that the country’s biggest publishers have yet to sign an agreement with Amazon, either … leading to speculation that IPG was used by Amazon to send a message to the rest of the industry.
While terms of IPG’s agreement with Amazon were not disclosed — Amazon typically requires publishers to sign non-disclosure agreements about contractual matters — one of the more notable aspects of the deal was that IPG announced it would waive fees from its client publishers for Kindle sales through the end of the summer.
We asked IPG president Mark Suchomel why he did that, and about the significance of the agreement …
MobyLives: What prompted you to waive fees for your publishers on their Kindle sales for the rest of the summer?
Mark Suchomel: We felt this was a way to give back to our publishers who were very loyal and supportive. Those publishers that depend a lot on Kindle sales experienced a significant dip in revenue. As a percentage, it was much more than IPG, so we felt it made sense to absorb a little more of the pain. Hanging in there was not an easy thing for them to do. Forgoing our Kindle distribution fee is also not easy, but we take seriously the notion that we are partners with our publishers and felt that they were shouldering too much of the loss of business. None of our publishers asked us to do this.
ML: What kind of feedback did you get during the boycott from other people in the industry, including booksellers and publishers?
MS: It was tremendous. Accounts approached us asking how they could work more closely with us. Others did special displays of our titles or highlighted them on their websites. Messages came in from all over the world. It was nice to hear from so many people who value the role of independent publishers. From someone who has worked for almost 30 years trying to convince people to buy books, it was a nice change to have accounts contact us and ask what they should order.
ML: This must have been a very stressful time for IPG and its client publishers. Was it worth it?
MS: As far as being stressful, it was and it wasn’t. Yes, there were stressful moments, but when you know you’re doing what is important and right for your clients and you have their strong support, the stress is easier to handle. Was it worth it? I don’t want people to take an answer to this out of context so I have to be careful. But what I will say is that I think we did our job well. And I should add that our sales are up 26% YTD, so it obviously didn’t hurt IPG a great deal in the short term.
Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.