IBPA’s Fall 2017 Update on the Amazon Buy Button Policy Change
Thursday, October 5, 2017
Read Also: "Amazon’s 'Buy Button' Policy Change Hurts Publishers and Authors" (May 9, 2017)
Read Also: "An Amazon 'Buy Button' Call to Action" (June 20, 2017)
Dear IBPA Community,
In May 2017, IBPA issued a statement expressing concern about Amazon’s recently enacted buy button policy allowing third-party vendors to price-compete and "win" the main buy button on a given book’s primary "Add to Cart" link.
EXAMPLE OF A THIRD-PARTY VENDOR CONTROLLING THE BUY BUTTON
|The buy button above has been won by a third-party vendor selling a book retail-priced at $35.00 for $11.20. This third-party vendor now holds Amazon’s main buy button, and the publisher’s buy link is pushed down to third place under "Other Sellers on Amazon."
To qualify to win the main buy button, third-party vendors are required to sell only "new" books. "New" is defined by Amazon as:
New: Just like it sounds. A brand-new, unused, unopened item in its original packaging, with all original packaging materials included. Original protective wrapping, if any, is intact. Original manufacturer's warranty, if any, still applies, with warranty details included in the listing comments.
Despite this mandate, however, Amazon has not yet put quality control measures in place to ensure that third-party vendors are, in fact, selling only "new" books via the main buy button. In fact, we have evidence that used and other not "new" books are being sold to consumers in this way.
In June 2017, IBPA launched a campaign encouraging publishers and authors to post images of books purchased from third-party vendors via the main buy button that looked less than "new." We also conducted our own research (meaning we bought books from third-party vendors via the main buy button to assess the condition of the books) with varying results. In some cases, the books were indeed in new condition; in other cases, books had scuffed covers and bent or crunched corners; in a few cases, the books were notably "used," to the extent that one IBPA member received a "new" book from a third-party vendor that contained her own inscription to the original buyer on the title page (see image below). This author told us:
"I noticed Amazon was using my local library to sell my book and I know that the library only sells used books. As a consumer, it looked like I would be getting a new book. I ordered the book and indeed it is used."
|Photo of a "new" book bought through a third-party vendor on Amazon which contained the author’s inscription to the original buyer on the title page.
In addition, many IBPA members have inquired about – and speculated on – where third-party vendors acquire books that they’re able to sell at well below retail price. We know it is possible for third-party vendors to acquire books below retail price in the following ways:
- Free books are often given away during bookseller conventions, some handed out as advance reading copies (ARCs). ARCs are very popular at BookExpo and other trade shows. The books are typically softbound and not yet proofread. Royalties are not paid on ARCs and – most importantly – they are not intended for sale.
- When publishers have a substantial degree of overstock, they habitually sell books at remaindered prices (i.e., below cost) in large quantities to third-party vendors. Royalties are typically not paid on these remaindered books, but third-party vendors do have the right to resell them.
- Third-party vendors may receive media copies of books. Royalties are not paid on media copies and – again – they are not intended for sale.
Exacerbating the problem of third-party vendors having access to free and/or cheap books is the fact that customers are unlikely to help stop the practice of selling "not new" books via the main buy button on Amazon: they have little incentive to complain about scuffing or bent corners on books they purchase at 60%-plus off the list price. All of this points to legitimate concern about whether authors are being compensated when a third-party vendor sells a book via the main buy button.
In email exchanges between IBPA and Amazon, as well as during conversations between IBPA and other trade associations, we have learned that although Amazon acknowledges push-back on this issue, they have not yet taken action. Instead, they have argued that they have allowed third parties to win the main buy button on other products for years, so books were an eventuality.
Amazon’s lack of response to push-back suggests that publishers must police third-party vendors themselves. If you discover, for example, that a used book was sold via the main buy button, you can file a complaint with Amazon by sending a message to ‘email@example.com,’ this being the portion of Amazon that deals with third-party vendors.
As of October 5, 2017, Amazon requires the following information be sent to ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’ along with the complaint:
- The ASIN/ISBN of the item's detail page and the product title
- The store or business name of the seller you are reporting
- A concise explanation of the violation
- Proof of the violation, including:
- Amazon.com Order ID of a test buy that confirms the violation
- Copy of your trademark registration certificate
- Proof of purchase for the product’s UPC bar code
- Photos of the item(s) you received in the test buy
- Your address, telephone number, and e-mail address
- A statement by you, made under penalty of perjury, that the information in your notice is accurate, and that you are the trademark owner or authorized to act on the trademark owner's behalf.
We are investigating whether the trademark registration request is boilerplate intended for toy makers, etc., and if it will be enforced for book publishers. It doesn’t make sense to enforce this for publishers, of course, as publishers generally don’t file trademark registrations for books.
In the end, challenges like this are part of bookselling today. As such, it is critical that the independent publishing community adjust and share what we learn in order to help us all adapt to this changing marketplace. To start this process, below are some strategies we believe publishers can use to combat the buy button issue at Amazon.
Carefully control stock and prices you release to the market
- Stripe your remainders (i.e., unsold copies of printed books that you liquidate at greatly reduced prices – see image below).
- Avoid remaindering altogether; donate or destroy overstock.
- Mark "Advance Reading Copy, Not For Resale" on the cover of your ARCs.
- Mark or stripe copies sent to the media.
|Stack of striped remainders.
Actively police the buy button
- Watch your titles carefully to see if the main buy button is won by a third-party vendor.
- Encourage your authors to do the same and alert you when they see that their buy button is taken over.
Act when a third-party vendor wins the buy button
- Purchase copies suspected to be used and return them if they are used.
- File complaints with Amazon on each used or otherwise not "new" book obtained via the main buy button (email ‘email@example.com’ with the information listed above).
- If you control stock at the vendor, have them return or destroy it.
- Contact the vendor, and ask where they got the stock. In our experience, most don’t answer, but some do and that information is important at this stage.
Share what you learn
IBPA's Advocacy Committee: mission and contact information
It is the mission of IBPA’s Advocacy Committee to educate, inform, and effect change in the publishing industry. We encourage you to keep this issue alive by continuing to report to the Advocacy Committee (as well as to Amazon) when a third-party vendor is selling a "new" book that is not new condition. You can report to IBPA's Advocacy Committee by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Since IBPA’s last communication on this topic, six new members were added to the Advocacy Committee. As a newly forming group, the Advocacy Committee is working hard to identify those issues most impacting our community of independent publishers. We will continue to inform you and bring you up to speed on industry problems that still need solutions. We also welcome you bringing your issues to us.
Thank you for your attention and participation. We look forward to continuing to hear about what you find and learn about this issue.
The members of IBPA's Advocacy Committee:
- Angela Bole, Chief Executive Officer, IBPA
- Brooke Warner, Publisher, She Writes Press (IBPA Advocacy Committee Chair)
- Stephanie Andrea Allen, Founder & Publisher, BLF Press
- Alexa Bigwarfe, Publisher, Kat Biggie Press
- Lee Klancher, CEO & Founder, Octane Press
- Maggie Langrick, CEO & Publisher, LifeTree Media Ltd.
- Karla Olson, Director, Patagonia Books
- Teri Rider, Principal, Top Reads Publishing
- Janica Smith, Publishing Navigator, Publishing Smith
- Elizabeth Turnbull, Senior Editor & Partner, Light Messages Publishing