Amazon’s at it again

Before I go any further, my heart and my prayers go out to the victims (and their friends and family) of the tragic bombing at the Ariana Grande concern in Manchester last night.

Now, to get to the post. Of course, that means I have to have a post. Hmmm, what’s lurking in my head? I hear rattling up there but that might just be my brain waiting for the coffee to kick in.

There are actually a couple of things I’d like to discuss today. The first is a new feature from Amazon that has some authors and traditional publishers in a tizzy. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if there aren’t more than a few suits in the vaunted towers of NYC publishing that are having to change their pants. Why? Because Amazon has taken a swipe at the NYT Best Sellers List and similar lists and started what it calls “Amazon Charts“.

Why has this new list caused such an uproar? Because it shakes things up, mainly (I presume) because it will be easier for indies and small presses to be listed. There’s something else that probably upsets them as well. Not only does the list show the most sold books (Top 20 right now) but it also shows the most read books. These lists include Audible downloads and downloads/reads through the different Amazon subscription services. So, those titles enrolled in the KU program can and will be recognized if they hit high enough.


Now, let’s face it, this really isn’t much different form what Amazon has been doing with its various best sellers lists. But now they have the Top 20 books and the look and feel of it is so similar to the Best Sellers lists of the NYT and others that they don’t like it. People might actually pay attention and see that the books Amazon is listing aren’t what they are listing.

There’s another reason they might be panicking as well. These lists are promulgated by actual numbers — numbers of purchases, numbers of downloads, number of page reads. That’s not quite the same as the various best seller lists that rely on the handwavium that is Bookscan, the Neilsen rankings of books. In other words, Amazon is removing the blindfold from authors when it comes to their sales slowly but surely and that scares most of traditional publishing witless.

Of course, that’s not the only thing publishers are upset about. Amazon has instituted new rules about their “buy” button. These rules allow 3rd party vendors, if they meet certain requirements, to win the “buy” button. In the past, when it came to books, the buy button automatically meant a purchase from the publisher. Oh, you could look at what other sellers were offering by clicking the right link on the page — something most readers I know do, especially for a book that’s been out for awhile. But now, that’s not automatically the case. You see, one of the criteria for winning the buy button is price.


That means it is possible for a reseller to be the “preferred” seller using a lower price than the publisher offers. Oh, it’s not that simple. There are other requirements as well. But just the possibility of it happening has publishers and some authors up in arms. I even get it. No one wants to see a revenue stream drying up. But publishers have to understand that readers have been looking at price for a long time.

One of the arguments I’ve seen against allowing this is that those resellers aren’t paying royalties on the sales. According to one thread in social media, the authors involved were trying to convince the naysayers that all these resellers are selling returns and books that should have been pulped because there was something wrong with them. Nope. Sure, some of the books were books they received as advanced copies or should have been trashed but the vast majority of them were purchased legally and are now being resold. That means the royalties have been paid and, as long as our laws are what they are, royalties are paid on only the first sale.

Instead of raising hell about allowing someone to undercut the publishers and win the buy button, these authors ought to be asking the hard questions of their agents and their publishers. Why are they pricing books so high people are looking for alternative sources? Yes, print books have a certain cost threshold they have to meet just to make money. But when you see retailers, both in brick and mortar stores and online, discounting books by 25% or so on a regular basis, you know the markup is huge. Believe me, these retailers wouldn’t be discounting new releases that much unless it was. After all, the retailers have to make money as well.

What else?

I’m sure there’s more but the coffee hasn’t kicked in yet. Besides, Amazon always gives us enough fodder to think about not only how it will impact traditional publishing but our own nook in indie publishing as well. What do you guys think? Is Amazon wrong to allow third-party vendors the access to the buy button? And what about the Amazon Charts?

Oh yeah, don’t forget I’ve a new short story out.  😉

Battle Wounds is the third short story set in the Honor and Duty universe. The stories all take place before the events of the first book, Vengeance from Ashes. The short stories came about because some of you wanted to know what happened to make Ashlyn Shaw into the women we meet in Vengeance. They’ve been fun to write and there is at least one more planned.


  1. People might actually pay attention and see that the books Amazon is listing aren’t what they are listing.

    Yup. This will be just one more way that the not so well kept secret of the manipulation of the Best Seller’s lists will be exposed.

    I bet that there will be attempts to explained this away by arguing that a significant number of books are purchased from outlets other than Amazon.

    1. Oh, no doubt. But then how are they going to explain away all their chest pounding about how much of the market Amazon has stolen from brick and mortar stores? Not that they will see the contradiction in their stance.

  2. This is the same NYT who, just a few months ago, eliminated several bestseller lists and categories, thereby annoying authors, publishers, and readers?

  3. I’d think Big5 Authors should be more concerned about the fact that some of the re-sellers purchased the books after they’d been remaindered and returned, then re-sold by the publisher! But no, it’s safer to go after Amazon and people who don’t keep (or burn) review copies.

    1. Yep, just as it is easier not to ask the hard questions — and demand answers — from their agents and publishers.

      1. Demanding answers is risky. Somebody might decide you are inconvenient, and dump you.

        Big Five authors by this point are very well trained in avoiding risk, I would surmise. They avoid it in their writing, after all. They keep the SJW checklist handy and update it diligently from the Aparat daily downloads. AKA Twitter.

        1. Which is why publishers have been able to get away with the one-sided contracts, attempts to grab rights and relying solely on the handwavium that is Bookscan (disclaimer, not all publishers are as bad about this as others).

  4. Amazon – Will take care of people in this order:
    Regulators and legal threats
    Vendors in any order that comports with the first three.
    If you don’t realize they don’t exist for your benefit, grow up.

    1. Amazon makes money when people buy books from them. Therefore, making it easy for them to choose and purchase books is profitable.

      The NYT does it for… who knows? Not from sales figures, given how many times they’ve listed “best sellers” that hadn’t actually shipped yet. And maybe some virtue signaling.

      If I cared about anyone else’s opinion, I’d follow the money.

      1. Same here. Funny how following the money so often provides a reward when following someone else’s opinion — especially if they expect you to adopt and adhere to that opinion — does not.

        1. And more likely than not , the money will point to the full-page ads for hacky mc spewstory’s latest ‘bestseller’

  5. PG had a very interesting link the other day… The money quote:

    Just by chance I spoke to the print broker who actually worked on the exact bid for that famous book. And he told me precisely: that super amazing cookbook that I truly loved, which at the time retailed for $50 and had won every award imaginable, cost $3.83 per book to print, shrink wrap, and ship to the US. I thought he must be mistaken and I said so. “No way.” He replied, “well that was the first edition, I’m sure the cost has gone down since then.” He thought I was implying that $3.83 per book was too high!

    You only get so-so volume production savings on cookbooks. They are just about always hardcover, on gloss stock, frequently not a standard trim size, and include a lot of six-color separations.

    1. Anyone who hasn’t clicked through to the original by Kokonas, and to some of the other things on Kokonas’ blog maybe should. I’m weak enough at business that I found it valuable.

    2. But they have all those expenses they have to cover. That’s why they can’t pay authors more and why they have to charge so much — NOT!

    3. Yes, I saw that link. It’s a good read-through. And cookbooks are food porn, these days; if people need a recipe, like as not they’ll just head online, so if you have a thing of beauty it’s more likely to sell.

    4. I think the takeaway I got from it is that the Big 5 advance you money and then charge you for their printing costs + Profit for themselves. So I think the best way to call it is Vanity Press on steroids.

  6. I do not care about the NYT’s list of top sellers. Some years ago, though, I was pleased to see that an old acquaintance’s book was on it. Nor do I care about Amazon’s list, as I do not expect to see anything of interest to me. But, I’m just an old fuddy-duddy, so don’t mind me.

  7. When the latest series I’ve been helping with went live in print on Amazon we observed with both interest and puzzlement that someone was immediately offering new and used versions at a fairly significant discount.
    Since there was no way that they actually had physical possession of any copies I thought this rather odd and had to cogitate for a bit to figure out what was happening.
    The books are full indie, but the author insisted on a print version as she typically sells her works at cons in addition to her main venue of Amazon. So we went with a print on demand service, Ingram Spark, which also allows you to offer your work through them to resellers at a wholesale discount. I believe the same arrangement holds for createspace and any other POD outlets, but can only speak from personal experience for Ingram.
    What some enterprising folks have apparently done is create virtual book stores with no inventory, just a wholesale account with the POD services. They offer a book at a significant discount from list, and when they get an order place their own order with the POD who prints and ships the book not to the reseller, but to the customer. With no storefront and no inventory they can operate like this on a very small margin of profit.
    If you do buy through one of these resellers make sure to check the bottom line as some will cleverly attempt to make up some of their discount by adding a shipping fee to the total.
    As for the impact of this practice on the author, you get your cut from the POD company just as though they had sold your book to any legitimate bookstore. My hunch is that it may cost you a few pennies selling this way as opposed to through Amazon directly, but don’t have the hard numbers to back that feeling up as yet.

  8. Interesting comment about alternatives to original retailers. Reminds me of a very good paper I read concerning analysis of the black market in regards to software, cigarettes, and various other items. All comes down to value perceived by the customer (significantly less than the seller wants), probability of being caught (very low), and cost of being caught (anywhere from a slap on the wrist to multi-millions.)

    1. Yep. People want to get the most for their money. If they can find the same product at the same or almost the same product at a lower price, that’s what they are going to buy. It’s why we use coupons or shops the sales. Publishers need to understand that.

      1. Not always. I buy my favorite authors in hard cover. It is SO hard to find a fun book these days, and they turn up so seldom, I’m happy to pay hard cover price.

        Remember when the spinner rack at the corner store had the newest SF books, and you could pick pretty near anything and it would be fun?

        I miss that a lot.

        1. I miss that but I also miss being able to walk into the bookstore and finding a real sf section and not something dominated by media tie-ins and bad Twilight ripoffs.

          1. I miss the SF section being two racks. Now it is one side of one rack.

            Its funny, I don’t even see the media tie-in books. I know they are there, but my brain skips over them.

            1. The best media tie-in books, I’ve discovered, are the RPG ones. You know, the ones that tie into something that’s designed to allow freedom and creativity.

            1. If the plot and the characters are ~ the same ~ and you changed the names a bit, its a rip-off.

              If you steal ideas and give credit to the originator, then its an homage. ~:D

  9. When I released my first novel I did a Goodreads giveaway for the print edition, and shortly thereafter I noticed that the Amazon page listed a reseller. I wrote an e-mail to the reseller and he replied that he bought my book along with a box of others as new at a local fleamarket. I also noticed that the zip code of the reseller was very close to the zip code of one of the winners. It seemed likely that the Goodreads user was entering lots of contests and then just selling the books that they received.

    However, that’s not my point (although it did convince me not to do any more Goodreads giveaways). My point is that I am almost certain that the reseller was listed as the first option on my Amazon page, and this was about five or six years ago. His price was a dollar or so less than what Amazon was asking.

    So I’m a bit confused about this kerfuffle–I thought Amazon always ranked sellers by price. Are they now doing it for big publishers and that’s what the fuss is about?

  10. I’m new to your site and you may have already discussed this, but I’m becoming increasingly fed up by the review sites – or what’s being offered for review. I’ve been a reader of a certain online site since its inception. At first it was great. In fact it was advertised as not following the publishers like sheep, but providing books that people might actually want to read. Now they’ve turned into another shill for the publishers. I fell for one of the reviews and wound up buying a dud – in hard copy! This last monthly review didn’t contain one book I’d be interested in reading; and since I’ve always been an avid reader, that’s just sad. What I’ve gotten in the habit of doing is reading Amazon’s reader reviews – the good and the bad – and then I make up my mind.

    1. First of all, welcome to MGC.

      I agree with you about review sites. So many of them seem to have changed course over the last year or three. I stopped following a number of them after getting burned by following their recommendations. I, too, look at Amazon reviews. I might not always agree with them, and there are times when you can see a book or author being attacked not because of what’s in the book but because of something the author has said or done, but they are at least a decent tool to help decide if I have any interest in the book. Add in the preview function on Amazon and, well, they are my go-to now.

  11. Go, Amazon! I love that company.

    Oh, and as to the idiocy and rapaciousness of publishers, there’s the new tactic of pricing ebooks ABOVE that real-world paperback price. I’ve probably passed up $1,000 worth of books for that reason. Idiots.

    1. Or pricing it at or very near the price of the hard back. Back in the early days of Amazon allowing indies to publish for the Kindle and the Big 5 (then the Big 6) doing their best to not crush indies but to also pull Amazon to heel, one of the CEOs of a Big 6 publisher tried telling everyone it cost as much to produce an e-book as it did a print book. He even tried convincing people that they had to do new covers, re-edit the books for digital format, etc. All stuff indies were doing on their own, using free programs and never re-editing or pulling together new art for the digital as opposed to print versions. It became clear then that all too many in NYC publishing thought their customers too dumb to spot the lie. Now, with their e-book prices out of line and their e-book profits going flat or actually declining, they crow about how it proves e-books are dying. Riiiiight.

  12. This will toss out the scams by which NYT bestseller list ignores Christian publishers, but I’m looking forward to finding out, if you can from the new system, the discrepancy between, say, how many buy “The Handmaid’s Tale” and how many actually read it. Everyone I’ve informed about the basic geography of the world of THT is astonished to find out that Gilead is New England and the center of Christian fundamentalism in Atwood’s world is Cambridge Mass.

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