Amazon’s POD monopoly

March 28, 2008

I wanted to post this quickly, before it gets lost in the weekend. Authors and publishers who use Print-On-Demand printers in the US have recently been hearing that Amazon will only continue to carry their works if they switch to Amazon’s own POD property, BookSurge. WritersWeekly has the full story.

This is a pretty big deal. Amazon has around 15%-20% of the total book market (in the UK), but the vast majority of the online book market, which is growing all the time. Meanwhile, POD has been turning from a vanity publisher’s niche into a mainstream printing option – Cambridge University Press recently passed the 10,000 title mark (pdf news release) with Lightning Source. Big publishers are increasingly turning to POD to support backlist titles, while new publishers use the technology to bypass the industry’s traditional (and traditionally expensive) high print run, warehousing and return mechanisms (and yes, this is personal: an upcoming project of mine uses POD extensively – and not BookSurge).

Have no doubt that POD is only going to grow. 50% of all books printed are never read – that figure, coupled with the growth of ebooks (another potential monopoly for Amazon), ensures that POD will account for the majority of books published at some not-too-distant point in the future. At the moment, there are price and quality issues, but these are rapidly changing.

What Amazon is attempting to do is build a print/bookseller monopoly as POD enters the mainstream. As Amazon is the largest online bookseller, POD publishers are going to have to use BookSurge even if there books are sold in plenty of other places. And using BookSurge involves higher costs, and being locked into Amazon’s crippling discount rates. Some may say it’s time to boycott Amazon, but most won’t have that option.

It’s an incredibly retrograde step. All our recent talk about mass customisation entirely depends on open, independent manufacturing and distribution platforms – the opposite of what Amazon is trying to force on its suppliers. I have to say that we did see this coming, but it doesn’t excuse a clearly monopolistic and unethical action on Amazon’s part. We’ve yet to hear anything in the UK, but we’re going to be watching developments in the US with a keen interest.

UPDATE: I’ve already heard from one POD publsher who has 30,000 books with Lightning Source, and an exclusive contract. Over a third of their sales are through Amazon, so if this happened to them…

UPDATE 2: The same POD publisher has been back in touch, and according to Lightning Source UK, Amazon hasn’t done anything on this side of the pond yet, and they “don’t think” they will, which isn’t terribly reassuring.

UPDATE 3: Teleread’s up with it’s usual high standard of analysis.

UPDATE 29/3/07: In the comments, an anonymous POD publisher says they’ve had the buy-button removed from their Lightning Sourced books by Amazon UK. Anyone else?


  1. My own books in the UK have had the sell button removed – I print with Lightning Source. I’m sick of Amazon. A while ago we investigated Booksurge and found they have a markedly inferior product at an extortionate price and an equally extortionate discount requirement.
    I suggest we all start boycotting Amazon – don’t buy any Amazon products unless you want to support the mafia, for that’s what they are.

    Comment by POD Publisher — March 28, 2008 @ 11:14 pm

  2. A good case can be made that what Amazon is attempting to do violates anti-trust laws. Waiting for federal anti-trust action would take many years–years to get the Justice Department to act, years of trials, years of fussing over what the court decision means. Notice how long it took to deal with Microsoft’s tactics, despite the fact that the corporations they were bullying were large and powerful. None of us can afford that long a wait.


    Comment by Author — March 31, 2008 @ 5:47 am

  3. Since this debacle hurts or potentially hurts writers, we writers need to do what we do best. Write! Blog posts, articles, letters, emails. Whatever it takes to whomever will listen.

    I have drafted and sent letters (copied to Amazon) to the WA Attorney General, the US Attorney General, the Tennessee (where I live) Consumer Affairs and Attorney General and the Federal Trade Commission. If we all bombard these agencies with well-written, well thought out letters and emails addressing our concerns and keep it in the spotlight through blogs and articles, something will be done.

    Also, I have canceled my Amazon account and am encouraging others to sever ties with them. The best way to get these big companies to listen is to hit them in the pocketbook.

    Comment by Mary — April 13, 2008 @ 7:57 pm

Comments are closed. Feel free to email if you have something to say, or leave a trackback from your own site.