Why are books disappearing from Amazon? Also, paper price hikes hit the publishing industry. These are among the topics discussed on Self-Publishing News with ALLi News Editor Dan Holloway and News and Podcast Producer Howard Lovy. Together, they will bring you the latest in indie publishing news.
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Subscribe to our Ask ALLi podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Player.FM, Overcast, Pocket Casts, or Spotify.Why are books disappearing from Amazon? Also, paper price hikes hit the publishing industry. These are among the topics discussed on Self-Publishing News with @agnieszkasshoes and @howard_lovy. Click To Tweet
About the Hosts
Dan Holloway is a novelist, poet and spoken word artist. He is the MC of the performance arts show The New Libertines Earlier this year he competed at the National Poetry Slam final at the Royal Albert Hall. His latest collection, The Transparency of Sutures, is available on Kindle.
Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 30 years, and has spent the last eight years amplifying the voices of independent publishers and authors. He works with authors as a book editor to prepare their work to be published. Howard is also a freelance writer specializing in Jewish issues whose work appears regularly in Publishers Weekly, the Jewish Daily Forward, and Longreads. Find Howard at howardlovy.com, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Read the Transcripts: Books Disappearing from Amazon
Howard Lovy: Hello and welcome to the January 2022 edition of Self-Publishing News from the Alliance of Independent Authors. I'm Howard Lovy in Traverse City, Michigan, and joining me from Oxford University is ALLi news editor Dan Holloway. Hello, Dan, how are you?
Dan Holloway: Hi Howard, happy new year.
Howard Lovy: Oh, thank you. Happy new year to you, too. So, what's going on with you?
Dan Holloway: Not a lot. Still writing about creativity, creative thinking, productivity, innovation, that sort of thing.
And I gather I need to subscribe to you? We talk a lot about subscriptions.
Howard Lovy: I'm trying to practice what I preach here and, as you know, when I'm not producing and hosting ALLi podcasts or editing books, I also work as a journalist who writes about Jewish issues.
So, I launched my Substack newsletter where I write about topics like antisemitism, and I link to my work, and I also throw in some audio interviews with Jewish newsmakers. I'm offering it for free now, but it will eventually experiment with some paid content. I'm hoping to build on my existing social media readership and when the time comes, hopefully they'll buy my books. We'll see. I could fall flat on my face, but I thought I'd try. So, it's called Emet-Truth. Emet being the Hebrew word for truth, and you can find me on Substack. So, we'll see how that goes.
Dan Holloway: So, can I ask you a question that's news-related, because we've talked about Substack a lot. How easy are you finding it to use and put content out?
Howard Lovy: Oh, it's very, very easy. With the limited amount of coding education that I've had, I can easily just add pictures and audio, add links. They make it very easy for a non-technical people like me.
Dan Holloway: Cool. So, you would recommend it for people wanting to do a subscription?
Howard Lovy: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. It's less complicated than other services, like MailChimp, where I think you need an engineering degree to figure that out.
Dan Holloway: Yeah, I use MailChimp and Medium, and I have to say, I stuck with MailChimp because they had all those mergers last year, but it's really unintuitive. It's got less intuitive.
Howard Lovy: Right. Yeah. No, this is intuitive, and they make it easy to go paid as well, if you want to do that. So yes, I recommend it.
Dan Holloway: Cool. Noted.
Howard Lovy: Well, let's get onto the news. First of all, Amazon and Visa got into some fisticuffs in a very public way and indie authors could become collateral damage. Tell us what happened and what it means?
Dan Holloway: Yeah, so Amazon in the UK decided that they were going to stop accepting payments from visa credit cards in the UK from the 19th of January, and that didn't go down very well.
The reason they gave, and we often talk about payment providers and the problems that platforms have as a result of payment providers, and Amazon cited the level of fees that visa were charging them, which was around 3.5 percent per transaction, and Amazon decided this wasn't feasible for their business model. So, they decided to pull the plug.
And they made offers to people. So, they offered people “vouchers”, that's the polite word for bribes, isn't it? They offered people vouchers to change to other forms of payment, and those don't seem to have been very well taken up, and millions and millions of people would have been left, basically not able to use Amazon anymore.
So, two days before it was going to happen, they decided to backtrack on it and sent an email out. Everyone started getting very confused. They were receiving these emails saying this wasn't going ahead, and everyone thought it was spam, and then realised it wasn't spam. The usual sort of Amazon great communications. And so basically now they've decided it's on hold. So, clearly some negotiating is going on behind the scenes, but for the time being, people can carry on using visa, but Amazon are using up Goodwill very quickly, I think, and now with consumers as well as writers.
Howard Lovy: Yeah, exactly, and when two giants like Amazon and Visa are playing a game of chicken, it's not good for consumers, it's not good for authors, especially.
Dan Holloway: It's really not good for authors who are tied into two exclusive packages. The thought that then everyone who only has a Visa credit card would no longer be able to be a customer, that's quite a big incentive and a reminder that going exclusive with the platform as it stands-
Howard Lovy: Exactly. Yeah, another argument for going wide, as we say all the time. So, what's going to be the upshot of this? Is there going to be another round?
Dan Holloway: I doubt it. I sort of imagine it'll be one of those stories that slowly goes away, and everyone will forget about, that's what usually happens when payment providers get into a fight with a platform.
I think the whole issue of fees isn't going to go away. I think people who sell direct from their websites, which is again what ALLi strongly recommends people do, in addition to whatever else they might do, as part of the Author 3.0 way of doing things. People who do that will know that this can eat into your sales, especially if your margins are tight.
And that sort of brings us to the news that broke last night.
Howard Lovy: Which is the cost of paper, right?
Dan Holloway: Yes, which is the cost of paper, as we're talking about tight profit margins. We've been talking for a little while about the fact that the cost of paper has been going up, the cost of printing books has been going up. In part it's to do with paper, and in part it's to do with the problems with global supply chains.
But there was a rather alarming piece in The Bookseller yesterday. It was put together by a group of small presses who had noticed that in the last three months the cost of printing books for the exact same order, the same book printed in the same quantity in the same shipping methods, had gone up by 40% in the last three months.
So, that's a huge amount, and as authors, print is our least profitable way of selling, I think it's fair to say, especially if we sell to booksellers who want to take a large discount. So, on already tight margins, this isn't going to help us to be more competitive.
Howard Lovy: Right, right. Well, is it just going to drive more sales of eBooks and audiobooks?
Dan Holloway: It might do, I think. One of the things that emerged over the last year is that, while eBooks and audiobooks are still growing in popularity, people like paper books. So, it might just be that people buy fewer books.
Howard Lovy: Yeah, fewer books of any kind. Well, that's not good news. This is also tied into the global supply chain issues, so this isn't particular to the publishing industry, is it?
Dan Holloway: The cost of paper has some specific issues for the publishing industry, and supply chains are creaking. So, that's not specific to publishing, but the specific issues around printing are.
I guess it's one of those perfect storms, isn't it? That as an industry we have quite a lot of strikes against us. Our supply chain is ridiculous. I think we spoke after Futurebook; it was our last podcast of last year and we were talking about both the emissions and simply the complexity of the supply chain in publishing. The fact that paper comes from paper mills and then goes to printers, and the printer's over one the side of the world and then it gets shipped to the other side of the world, and then the distribution to shops, and then if you're in retail, there's the whole business of returns on top of that. So, there are a lot of things that all take a little bit of the pie.
Howard Lovy: And add to that another issue that authors have to deal with, which segues to our next topic, which is piracy. I guess, outside of movies and children's books, nobody really likes pirates, especially if they're pirating your own work.
So, Amazon has a vigorous method of fighting piracy. Unfortunately, some law-abiding authors are also identified by Amazon's bots as pirates, and legitimate work has been taken down. You mentioned this in your column this last week.
Dan Holloway: Yes. So, there's actually a really interesting story this week about piracy that will be coming out in what, as we record this, is tomorrow's column, which is around the anti-piracy laws in the EU, which are not being strengthened. Amendments to strengthen them have been withdrawn. So, that's sort of a blow to authors, and publishers aren't happy.
But yes, the Amazon story. So, an author called Ruby Dixon, who is a very successful author of the, let me find title, it's the Ice Planet Barbarians Series, a highly best-selling series. It's got 16 books, I think, in it on Amazon. She noticed that suddenly her books had come down, with no apparent explanation. Other authors started noticing the same thing. I think even in the forums, in ALLi, a couple of people had said, hang on a minute, my books seem to have disappeared.
There was quite a lot of speculation about it, and Amazon have said nothing about why it happened, of course, because Amazon don't tend to tell you why things happen. But the upshot of the speculation is it seems authors think that Amazon's bots think that their books are being pirated, or that they have pirated their own books, because someone else has pirated them elsewhere.
So, what they're actually falling foul of is these Amazon bots that enforce exclusivity. So, Amazon insists on exclusivity, and it gets very, very twitchy with anyone who makes their books available elsewhere. The result of that, and there was some speculation that it's to do with the new Kindle Vella program, which they've put a lot of money into and they're even tighter on exclusivity for, that they have a new bot that scrapes the internet looking for even tiny snippets of books that have been made available through this serialised format on Kindle Vella. And that when people's work has been pirated and put up on download sites, the bots find that and assume that the author is doing the dirty on them, and so they pull all the authors books, and in some cases, they even suspend the authors’ account.
Howard Lovy: Right. So, it sounds like at no time does a human ever enter the equation, and it sounds a little ridiculous.
Dan Holloway: Yeah, and I think it's a problem that we know from social media in general, and big tech companies. That things get done by bots and humans get caught in the crossfire, or innocent people get caught in the crossfire, because the only time humans get involved in the process is when you notice something's happened and you complain, and then the human reviews it. But the actual process of removal happens totally automatically.
Howard Lovy: Well, what can an author do, specifically, if they find their work has been taken down?
Dan Holloway: Well, this is another thing that people were complaining about, because what you do is you get in touch with Amazon customer services, or KDP customer services. They sometimes do and sometimes don't respond, and this is the problem.
It was Tiffany Roberts, another author, who had brought it to Twitter's attention, and it got a lot of attention that Ruby Dixon was having problems getting in touch with customer services to find out, and they even then wouldn't tell her what the problem was. And she pestered and pestered and pestered, with very little joy in getting someone to speak back, and then eventually the books reappeared. So, we can only assume that something had gone on behind the scenes. But it really is a problem getting Amazon's customer services to speak to people.
So, I think the main thing that people can do, and I'm sure you know where this is going, is to join a group like ALLi who will use force of numbers to speak to people at Amazon and try and make sure Amazon understands that this is a problem.
Howard Lovy: Right. Exactly, and I think ALLi is going more and more into advocacy on behalf of the thousands of authors that we represent.
Dan Holloway: Yeah, and this has happened very notably with Audiblegate, and it's happening in other areas, and it's absolutely fabulous, but it's a real shame that it has to happen.
Howard Lovy: Well, another argument for joining ALLi, if you haven't done that already, because we not only answer your questions, but we help get things done for you.
Well, thank you, Dan. As always, we'll follow the latest self-publishing news in your column at selfpublishingadvice.org, and I'll see you next month.
Dan Holloway: I will see you next month, thank you very much indeed.
Howard Lovy: Thanks, Dan.
Dan Holloway: Take care.