IBPA Response to Amazon Cutting Book Orders to Publishers
Friday, November 15, 2019
(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.