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IBPA Response to Amazon Cutting Book Orders to Publishers

Friday, November 15, 2019   (9 Comments)
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(Manhattan Beach, California - November 15, 2019) -- During its November 14th meeting, the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) Advocacy Committee discussed a November 11th Publishers Weekly report about Amazon cutting book orders to publishers over the last several weeks. The report suggests Amazon is doing so because of space issues in its warehouses. Publishers noted the effects when Amazon stopped stocking up in the way it normally does, especially at this time of year when publishers often expect higher buy-ins from the retail giant in anticipation of a holiday spike.

According to sources close to IBPA, it appears that this year Amazon has chosen to focus on bigger-ticket items for Black Friday and Cyber Monday and made a unilateral decision to cut buys to publishers for lower margin items like books. One IBPA member noted that its sales to Amazon are down 50% compared to this period last year, and IBPA’s sources suggest it’s this bad or worse across multiple publishers, large and small.

Amazon’s decision to cut orders to publishers to such a degree has largely flown under the radar for the past couple weeks, first noted by PW in the report referenced above, and anecdotally reported to IBPA by members leading up to PW’s report and since. Nearly every publisher IBPA has spoken to in the past several days has felt the impact of Amazon’s lower buys, resulting in Amazon running out of inventory and not being able to retain stock, even on publication day and week. Third party sellers are taking advantage of the chaos by snapping up buy buttons for these out-of-stock books, claiming to sell “new” copies though it has been proven this isn’t always the case. Several IBPA members have purchased their own “new” books from third-party sellers in the past only to discover used copies, and sometimes striped books and Advance Reader Copies (ARCs). Amazon has no mechanisms in place to monitor or police third party sellers other than customers reporting that these third parties did not deliver the product “new” as promised, and few consumers are incentivized to report a slightly scuffed book or an ARC if they already received a decent discount and the book is in hand.

While IBPA has been assured by our sources that Amazon’s current stocking issues are not a long-term policy, this incident should be a cause of concern for indie publishers, especially those who rely heavily, or only, on Amazon to sell their books. Placing all bets on a single vendor is bound to have consequences, and Amazon, in particular, is accountable to no one. A sales rep for one IBPA publisher suggested trying to push buyers to Walmart, Target, or B&N, and while this is a good suggestion, it’s a sorry solution for those publishers who don’t have effective distribution into those markets. And, of course, the loyalty consumers have to Amazon—for its free shipping and immediate delivery capacity—is of paramount concern when a publisher’s titles are not available through that channel.

Amazon’s decision to focus on big-ticket products as opposed to books this holiday season will affect publishers’ bottom lines for months to come. The reality is that publishers are at Amazon’s mercy, and for those publishers who do 30%, 60%, or 100% of their business with Amazon, the retail giant’s top-down decision to cut some of its most dependent vendors off at the knees shows its complete lack of regard or loyalty to the book industry.

Publishing needs better alternatives to Amazon, we’ve known this for a long time. In the meantime, this event should be a wake-up call for publishers to diversify their sales channels, to push consumers to other retailers, to advocate on behalf of local independent bookstores, and to be mindful about their own purchasing decisions as we approach the holiday season and beyond. While Amazon’s warehouse may well open back up to books en masse, allowing publishers to breathe easier come Christmas or the New Year, this type of decision-making, with no warning to publishers, shows us what Amazon is capable of, and how helpless publishers can be without diversification.

    

Do you know how to find the Amazon stocking levels for your titles? As a publisher, you have access to the Amazon stocking levels for your titles. There are two ways to access this information. One is from Amazon Advantage and the other is from your Vendor Central account. Once inside one or the other account, look under REPORTS. In REPORTS, look under ARA BASIC. Under ARA BASIC, look under INVENTORY HEALTH. The information under INVENTORY HEALTH will let you see what the inventory stocking numbers are for all your titles.

    

About the Independent Book Publishers Association

The Independent Book Publishers Association's (IBPA's) mission is to lead and serve the independent publishing community through advocacy, education, and tools for success. Its vision is a world where every independent publisher has the access, knowledge, and tools needed to professionally engage in all aspects of an inclusive publishing industry. Read more here.


About the IBPA Advocacy Committee

The IBPA Advocacy Committee is a standing committee tasked with identifying, prioritizing, and developing strategies to address issues of concern to independent publishers. The objectives of the Advocacy Committee are to: (1) identify and prioritize issues of concern to independent publishers, (2) establish campaigns and take actions to address these concerns, (3) and ensure that IBPA members are informed of these concerns, and the steps taken to address them. Read more here.

Comments...

Gary Bono, International Publishers says...
Posted Thursday, November 28, 2019
Overall our sales to Amazon are way down from last year. For one particular item we used to do several thousand per month now we’re lucky if it’s even a hundred and for several months it was nothing! In the big scheme of things this maybe is not very big to Amazon but it’s huge to a small operation like ours. There are many other problems but basically, I would like to see if you, or anybody, can help - What do you advise / recommend in this case?
Puja A. Thomson, Roots & Wings Publishing says...
Posted Thursday, November 21, 2019
Thank you! My experience matches exactly those who find they are talking to a wall at Amazon. They returned books that they had ordered at my expense this summer and thereafter ordered several more.
Gary Bono, International Publishers says...
Posted Tuesday, November 19, 2019
I think the response was excellent, let's see if it gets any results. I've found that trying to talk to Amazon is like trying to talk to a wall - worse even because in tell you realize that their responses to Vendors are, basically, "boiler plate" you can be fooled into thinking that someone is listening to you.I can tell you that my recent experiences with Amazon confirm what you have said, Our sales were WAY down. Then they improved a little but they are still way off from last year and all I get from them is some BS about their algorithm and customer demand and so forth. BTW I see that somebody mentioned Una Mulzac. We hold the copyright to the autobiography of her father, Hugh Mulzac, the first man of African descent to be licensed as a ships captain by the USCG.,and how he managed to do that in the Jim Crow 1920's is a story in itself!
Wendy Jones, Ida Bell Publishing, L L C says...
Posted Sunday, November 17, 2019
I am saddened but not surprised about the latest blow to the book industry from A. Here are some ideas that came to me: 1) send out a bookmobile to the outer edges of your local territory with books for sale, 2) enlist your customers in collecting lists of "books I want for the holidays" from friends, co-workers, and family for purchase in the store, 3) use your biggest asset--the love that communities have for their local independent bookstore. I remember when Una Mulzac of Liberation Bookstore in Harlem put out the word that the store was in trouble. People rushed in to buy books to save the beloved store. Find out what ideas your customers have. 4) keep your spirits up "this too, shall pass." the Struggle Continues, Wendy Jones
John McKinney, The Trailmaster says...
Posted Saturday, November 16, 2019
Thank you IBPA and add our voice to the chorus of Amazon critics who note the online giant is ordering and selling far fewer books this year than last. Even worse for The Trailmaster (we recently launched a new series of a dozen hiking books) is that our company was/is using Amazon to print some of our titles, 100 or so copies at a time. Since September, there has been a precipitous decline in the speed at which Amazon prints and ships our books. It’s common for Amazon to print 100 books at 3 different East Coast outlets and ship them to our West Coast office; the books are packed in different sized cartons in odd quantities: 3, 11, 27…Amazon shipped our last order of 100 “Hike Santa Barbara” 2,700 miles via UPS in 25 boxes of 4 books! Amazon could use a print facility (San Bernardino) located 100 miles away from our publishing company but apparently profits, not its customer service or carbon footprint are all that matter.
Reid A. Ashbaucher, Reid Ashbaucher Publications says...
Posted Friday, November 15, 2019
My alternative is AERIO BOOK SALES PLATFORM (POWERED BY INGRAM CONTENT GROUP). Authors or small publishers can place a bookstore on their own websites and sell their books. I can discount my books and the books ship from my distributor Ingram. It's a great tool. This is one reason I am not an Amazon only author. Something to think about.
Joan Webster, Parendi Press LLC says...
Posted Friday, November 15, 2019
Ironic, considering Amazon started life as an online bookseller.
Terry A. Tegnazian, Aquila Polonica Publishing says...
Posted Friday, November 15, 2019
Excellent position paper, kudos to IBPA! Should be sent to Congress or whoever is looking into anti-competitive practices at Amazon.
Brian Feinblum, Media Connect says...
Posted Friday, November 15, 2019
IBPA is always fighting for authors and their books. Amazon should heed their call.

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