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Dispatches from the Digital Revolution

Amazon yanks 4,000 ebook titles; the publishing world reacts

On Wednesday, February 22, news broke that Amazon had pulled more than 4,000 ebook titles for sale on Amazon.com over a contract dispute with the Independent Publishers Group (IPG). In the week that followed, booksellers and publishers reacted to the move with feelings of anger, disappointment—and perhaps even a little bit of camaraderie.

Occupy Amazon Facebook Image

Source: Facebook.com

Why camaraderie? Amazon has consistently positioned itself at odds with publishers and booksellers in a way that has led to a growing anti-Amazon movement. Examples such as last December’s price-check app marketing promotion, Amazon Publishing’s push for exclusivity contracts with certain publishers and distributors, and the company’s surface support of federal legislation allowing states to collect sales tax from online retailers while at the same time working to gain exemption from the tax, all give new credence to the archetypal David vs. Goliath metaphor.

In an email to clients last Tuesday, IPG President Mark Suchomel expressed his disappointment with Amazon for removing the titles, and assured its publisher clients that IPG will continue to resist pressure from Amazon to accept terms that would cut IPG profit margins. Published in Publishers Lunch on Wednesday, Suchomel writes:

Our electronic book agreement recently came up for renewal, and Amazon took the opportunity to propose new terms for electronic and print purchases that would have substantially changed your revenue from the sale of both. It’s obvious that publishers can’t continue to agree to terms that increasingly reduce already narrow margins. I have spoken directly with many of our clients and every one of them agrees that we need to hold firm with the terms we now offer. I’m not sure what has changed at Amazon over the last few months that they now find it unacceptable to buy from IPG at terms that are acceptable to our other customers.

The New York Times reported that the “muscle-flexing move…is likely to have significant repercussions for the digital book market,” and will “[reignite] fears in some corners about the power Amazon enjoys as the shift to e-books accelerates.” New York Times reporter David Streitfeld cites one agent and former bookseller, Andy Ross, who said, “‘[smaller presses] are being offered a Hobson’s choice of accepting Amazon’s terms, which are unsustainable, or losing the ability to sell Kindle editions of their books, the format that constitutes about 60 percent of all e-books.'”

On Friday Publishers Weekly brought to our attention one bookseller who is taking the lead from IPG and supporting the movement to fight back against the puissance of Amazon. “Matt Norcross, the owner of McLean and Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey, Michigan, is spearheading a campaign to support IPG and its client publishers in the distribution company’s standoff against Amazon.com over terms for the sale of ebooks,” Publishers Weekly reported. Norcross has added a banner to his store’s website that states “M&E Loves IPG.” He also encouraged other booksellers to copy the banner and use it on their own sites in hopes of boosting sales of IPG titles now that they have been dropped from Amazon.com, as well as increase public attention to the dispute. Norcross told Publishers Weekly, “‘McLean and Eakin has never refused to sell a book based on our margin. Clearly, Amazon is only committed to Amazon.'”

What IPG and booksellers are trying to do is come together against their shared foe. But is their resistance alone enough to finally check the actions of the online giant?

6 comments on “Amazon yanks 4,000 ebook titles; the publishing world reacts

  1. Byron Winchell
    March 9, 2012

    Dear Ms. Lyons,

    My first worry is whether the DRM software will erase ebooks from my Kindle in the event a contract with its publisher isn’t renewed. Secondarily, might Amazon refuse to provide ‘cloud’ memory space for an ebook (or any electronic media file) if they have an IPG-type dispute with a publisher.

    An attempt to get an answer from Kindle Help failed. Do I have to worry about ebooks I’ve purchased disappearing from my Kindle?

    Thanks, and kudos for a perceptive article on the larger picture.

    Byron Winchell

  2. Keira Lyons
    March 9, 2012

    Hi Byron,

    That’s a great question. I contacted Amazon customer service, and they assured me that if you purchase an ebook, and it later becomes unavailable for sale, it will remain in your Kindle library. The customer service rep said the only ways a book can be removed from your library are if you ask for a refund on your purchase or you choose the delete permanently option in your Amazon account.

    Personally, I find this hard to believe, given the 1984 debacle back in 2009 (http://news.cnet.com/8301-13860_3-10289983-56.html.) When the publisher of George Orwell’s title, 1984, decided it no longer wanted to sell the e-book on Amazon.com, Amazon not only removed the title for sale, but it wiped copies of the title already purchased by Amazon customers from their Kindles.

    So, to answer your question, can Amazon remove titles you’ve purchased? Yep. Will they? It depends on how they’re feeling that day.

    • Byron Winchell
      March 9, 2012

      Thanks for the reference about Orwell’s 1984 and Amazon (talk about rich irony and the memory hole), that’s what I remembered reading that fed my paranoia about DRM. My emails to Kindle Help were misunderstood to mean that I was inquiring about a specific order published by IPG which they could not find. When a nicely drafted reply cleaning up the question bounced, I didn’t bother to fill out another ticket on the Amazon site. As for phone conversations, particularly to help lines, well, I go to ridiculous lengths nowadays to avoid them. Thank you again for digging this out.

      P.S. My wife is getting her toes wet with XLibris, publishing a short biography about a family friend who died last year. I had urged her to make the work available as an ebook as well as the paper copies that are to be placed in local libraries and in [the institutions of] the small university town where the man lived. I view her work as sort of a literary time capsule designed to preserve his memory.

  3. Keira Lyons
    March 10, 2012

    No problem! Hopefully Amazon chooses to use its power for good, not evil, in the future.

    Best of luck to your wife! An ebook edition is definitely a good idea.

  4. mednhugg
    March 11, 2013

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Comments are closed.

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This entry was posted on February 28, 2012 by in Business, Opinion and tagged , , .

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