February 24, 2012

Reaction to Amazon retribution against IPG spreads quickly, but Big Six remain silent


The news that Amazon.com has removed thousands of ebooks from the Independent Publishers Group (IPG) — the distributor for hundreds of small presses — in retribution after IPG refused to give Amazon as big a discount as they demanded exploded yesterday, and drew concern from around the world. (See yesterday’s MobyLives report.)

“I am shocked at this use of power and monopoly and I am afraid they will try to do the same here too,” says Alessandro Gallenzi, managing director of British publisher Alma Books, in a Bookseller report headlined, “UK publishers’ ‘concern’ over Amazon e-book removals.”

“It’s obviously something that’s really concerning us,” says David Carson, co-publisher of Canada’s ECW Press, in a Toronto Star report.

The story was reported as far off as Italy, Ukraine and Russia.

And it wasn’t only publishers sounding appalled. In a BoingBoing report headlined “Amazon strong-arms Independent Publishers’ Group,” Cory Doctorow quotes sci-fi author Eileen Gunn: 

Amazon, seeking to force independent book distributor IPG to accept a new, less favorable contract, has struck out at all the publishers and authors whose books are distributed by IPG. Not to mention all the readers with Kindles: You want a Kindle version of the American Cancer Society Nutrition Guide? You’re out of luck at Amazon. Maybe you should have bought a Nook.

(Doctorow takes the occasion to observe that offering ebooks DRM-free would have thwarted Amazon by providing a work-around for Kindle owners, who could have then bought IPG’s books elsewhere and still been able to read them.)

Author — and Kindle owner — Jim Hanas, whose book Why They Cried was one of the IPG titles vaporized from Amazon, writes on his blog that while “I have not been an Amazon-hater in the past” he is now urging people to get his book elsewhere, he has removed all Amazon buttons from his own website, and

“I blew my entire Amazon gift card balance on — and this is the delicious part — a Kobo Touch eReader. That’s right. Amazon doesn’t handle these directly, of course, but you can spend gift card balances with Amazon merchants, which is how I was able to buy the Kobo. It should arrive in a week and then, as a reader at least, I’ll be Amazon-free.”

(See Ellie Robins‘ MobyLives report for more.)

Alma’s Gallenzi is also fighting back, and predicts resistance might get some results. In a Guardian report by Alison Flood, he noted,

“The Amazon myth is one of almost endless availability. They have built their success on an illusion that you can get any book there, and cheaper than from their competitors. Throwing a spanner in the works with a big dispute like this one, when 4,000 books are not available to buy, will create a huge disruption. The consequences, even though the publishers are small, can hurt it very badly. I think that even a smallish distribution group can, and I hope will, stand up to them and fight. What is at stake is the ability of independent publishers to hold their own ground, and to still have a bit of control over pricing and their own margins.”

As to how it went down in New York, where as I said in yesterday’s report, I believe this was meant to be heard by the Big Six, most of whom are at an impasse with Amazon themselves over their own annual contracts, even though it’s nearly March ….

Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg observes in a Wall Street Journal report that …

Amazon’s latest actions are significant because they send a message to distributors and publishers that it is willing to delist digital books at a time when e-books are the fastest growing segment of the publishing business. “It wouldn’t seem that the aggregate revenue of the publishers involved could add up to a significant amount of volume,” said Amy Rhodes, a partner at Market Partners International Inc., a consultancy. “It would seem to be more about message sending than actual economics.”

While that observation, and the fact that Amazon’s stock was down yesterday, may indicate Wall Street is watching this one closely (and as David Streitfeld noted in a New York Times report Wednesday, “Amazon is under pressure from Wall Street to improve its anemic margins”) there was no sign yesterday that the message had been heard by the people it was intended for — that is, no one from the Big Six commented.

Nonetheless I’m sure they have heard it; they may not be responding publicly for the same reason that IPG president Mark Suchomel stopped making detailed public statements yesterday. As he explained in a report from IPG’s hometown newspaper, the Chicago Tribune, “Amazon has issues with us talking too much.”


Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.