Open Letter from Amazon

Hi Writers,
Since there seems to be some problem accessing the link posted below, here’s the letter Amazon posted re: their stance on carrying POD books:

[posted March 31, 2008]
Open letter to interested parties:

We wanted to make sure those who are interested have an opportunity to understand what we’re changing with print on demand and why we’re doing so.

One question that we’ve seen is a simple one. Is Amazon requiring that print-on-demand books be printed inside Amazon’s own fulfillment centers, and if so why?

Yes. Modern POD printing machines can print and bind a book in less than two hours. If the POD printing machines reside inside our own fulfillment centers, we can more quickly ship the POD book to customers — including in those cases where the POD book needs to be married together with another item. If a customer orders a POD item together with an item that we’re holding in inventory — a common case — we can quickly print and bind the POD item, pick the inventoried item, and ship the two together in one box, and we can do so quickly. If the POD item were to be printed at a third party, we’d have to wait for it to be transhipped to our fulfillment center before it could be married together with the inventoried item.

Speed of shipping is a key customer experience focus for us and it has been for many years. Amazon Prime is an example of a successful and growing program that is driving up our speed of shipment with customers. POD items printed inside our own fulfillment centers can make our Amazon Prime cutoff times. POD items printed outside cannot.

Simply put, we can provide a better, more timely customer experience if the POD titles are printed inside our own fulfillment centers. In addition, printing these titles in our own fulfillment centers saves transportation costs and transportation fuel.

Another question we’ve seen: Do I need to switch completely to having my POD titles printed at Amazon?

No, there is no request for exclusivity. Any publisher can use Amazon’s POD service just for those units that ship from Amazon and continue to use a different POD service provider for distribution through other channels.

Alternatively, you can use a different POD service provider for all your units. In that case, we ask that you pre-produce a small number of copies of each title (typically five copies), and send those to us in advance (Amazon Advantage Program-successfully used by thousands of big and small publishers). We will inventory those copies. That small cache of inventory allows us to provide the same rapid fulfillment capability to our customers that we would have if we were printing the titles ourselves on POD printing machines located inside our fulfillment centers. Unlike POD, this alternative is not completely “inventoryless.” However, as a practical matter, five copies is a small enough quantity that it is economically close to an inventoryless model.

Might Amazon reconsider this new policy?

Only if we can find an even better way to serve our customers faster. Over the years we’ve made many improvements to our service level for consumers. Some of these changes have caused consternation at times, but we have always stuck with the change when we believe it’s good for customers. An early example: many years ago we started offering customer reviews on our website. This was a pioneering thing to do at the time. The fact that we allowed *negative* customer reviews confounded many publishers — some were downright angry. One publisher wrote to us asking if we understood our business: “You make money when you sell things! Take down these negative reviews!” Our point of view was that our job was to help customers make purchase decisions. It made sense to us to stick with the customer-centric position of embracing customer reviews, even negative ones.

Another example: a few years ago, we made the decision to offer used books, and to make those used copies available directly alongside the new editions. This caused significant consternation, but we stood by the decision because we were convinced it was right for customers. Sometimes a used book will do and it can sometimes be had at a significant cost savings relative to a new book. We stuck with the customer-friendly decision.

Our decision with POD is the same. Once a book is in digital format, it can be quickly printed on modern POD printing equipment. It isn’t logical or efficient to print a POD book in a third place, and then physically ship the book to our fulfillment centers. It makes more sense to produce the books on site, saving transportation costs and transportation fuel, and significantly speeding the shipment to our customers and Amazon Prime members.

We hope this helps those who are interested understand what we’re working to do and why. We believe our customer-focused approach helps the entire industry in the long term by selling more books.


The Books Team

More on this topic next week…
Keep Writing

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5 thoughts on “Open Letter from Amazon

  1. J. M. D.

    I agree that the decision sounds like a thinly veiled monopoly. Also I’ve read other complaints about BookSurge on other blogs, all as searing, but none as vividly told as Ms. Astle’s. It doesn’t sound like BookSurge is serving its current customers well at all, so how can Amazon say it will serve people "better" by using BookSurge? It almost sounds like they’re trying to dominate the market (because Amazon IS the largest on-line sellers, and one of the largest retail sellers of books in the US)and prop up a failing company (BookSurge)that would otherwise bottom-up because other POD publishers (Lightning Source comes to mind) serve their customers better and create a much better product. Also most POD publishers rely on income from Amazon sales, and without them many, if not most, will go under; which would lead BookSurge to dominate the POD market where the few other POD publishers left would be either tenaciously strong or severly weakened.

    Something doesn’t seem right about Amazon’s decision, and I think there should be a federal investigation; because the more I learn about BookSurge, Amazon, and their decision, and the more I think about it, the fishier everything smells.

  2. Mary

    Regardless of the face they are putting on this, Amazon is trying for total control of the POD market. The question is, why? Obviously, something in the POD market is either attractive to them, or its burgeoning success is threatening. I don’t know which. My worry, both as a writer and an aspiring entrepreneur, is that Amazon will exert absolute control and I will be left with no choices. Sounds like a monopoly to me.

    Until there is further clarification on this issue, and until the government (and no, I don’t think gov’t can solve all our problems) concludes its investigation, I will not be giving Amazon any business. They will have to earn my and a lot of others’ trust back before we will buy from them again.

  3. Cynthia Astle

    I feel I should let writers know that my recent experience with one of Amazon’s POD units, BookSurge, was a very unhappy experience. Last year I helped an international church leader write the story of her life and leadership. I designed and prepared the book myself and we contracted with BookSurge on the basis of a colleague’s recommendation.

    There were troubles from the start. While BookSurge requires instant responses from its customers, its own internal business practices, such as setting up and verifying an account, can take as long as eight weeks. Also, if a writer changes his or her mind about services once the account is set up in BookSurge’s online global publishing system, it’s pretty much impossible to get things removed.

    We had problems with both production and shipping. My co-author received her shipment all right, but mine was not only delivered a day late, UPS left the box on my front porch in the rain, and it was soaked through. When I tried to get some kind of damage assessment through UPS, they told me that if I opened the box it constituted acceptance of the shipment, and my only alternative was to return it to the shipper, which delayed marketing the book in time for Christmas. BookSurge only ships through UPS.

    When the replacements arrived, they were of poor quality. Although I had left nearly twice the amount of margin the specs required, the books were trimmed so tightly that they nearly cut off the title.

    In January it was necessary to reprint because of a correction. The correction process was a nightmare, complicated by the fact that BookSurge’s production head apparently left in January, and didn’t notify anyone of the particulars regarding my account. Although I had both uploaded AND emailed the PDF of the book because of difficulties getting the system to accept the file, it languished in the system, despite my having given online approval, for two months. It was only when a distributor couldn’t get books for a major religion conference was this error discovered. The result was that there wasn’t enough time to order the books for this event, a key part of our marketing plan.

    The final insult was that when the complimentary author’s copy for the reprint arrived this week, the color on the cover came nowhere near the separation that was supplied.

    My experience may be just an unfortunate aberration, but I counsel anyone thinking of using BookSurge to make sure your book will fit its system before signing with them. I’ve left this book with BookSurge because of the Amazon link, but I surely won’t print anything else with them.

  4. Kurt L. Hanson

    If people go to Amazon with the intention of browsing titles before buying a book, I can understand the rational of the open letter. But it makes little difference who distributes if people know what they want before a search of the internet. A specific book title will eventually be found in the search result, and then follow the links until the sale is complete. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Strands, who cares the distributor?

    I’m not commenting on Amazon business priorities. The letter doesn’t detail boardroom talk behind the decisions.