For authors who use ‘price pulsing' (i.e. vary the price to stimulate sales) or discount their self-published books across multiple online retailers, ALLi recommends caution after several members recently reported receiving letters from Amazon's legal department when their books were priced lower on other sites.
When publishing on multiple platforms, some authors have in the past relied on Amazon's policy of automatic price-matching, particularly when advertising on a site such as Bookbub which requires a promotional price. Notifying Amazon that the price is lower elsewhere has often been enough to get Amazon to drop the price to the same level.
However, Amazon's Terms and Conditions have always stated that authors who publish on other platforms must not price their books lower elsewhere, and authors who do so are in breach. In the past, this rule hasn't been consistently enforced, but it seems that the policy is being tightened. There is now a clear risk for anyone in breach: Amazon will unpublish their books.
Two ALLi members share this alarming experience, which came about through no fault of their own.
“According to our pricing policy, your book should be priced no higher than the list price on Amazon.com on any other sales channel for either the physical or digital edition of the book. Please adjust the list price for the above book(s) within the next 5 business days. If the price isn’t updated within 5 business days, we may remove the book(s) from the Kindle Store, at which point you will need to republish the book with an updated price.”
Jane had already been in contact with Smashwords about the issue when she received Amazon's email. Smashwords had accidently converted Jane's Sterling price into US dollars, price into sterling, effectively undercutting the Amazon price. Smashwords responded to her price-change request within 24 hours, but pointed out that they had no control over how quickly their third party distributors would respond. Jane updated Amazon, who, on receipt of copies of correspondence, were very understanding and advised that they would take no further action. Jane says:
“Like many other authors, I have been told that it's acceptable to rely on Amazon's price-matching policy, but I have always been wary of advice that recommends a breach in terms and conditions of a legal agreement. I would not deliberately jeopardise my relationship with Amazon as over 95% of my income comes from them. I believe that it is worth maintaining a presence on other platforms in order to increase my visibility, but if a conflict arose between the terms and conditions of those other platforms and Amazon's, I would withdraw from Smashwords and Kobo.”
However, when Joe Cawley received a similarly worded email, he ignored it, thinking it was part of the automatic process that preceded price-matching. As a result, his book Even More Ketchup Than Salsa: The Final Dollop was unpublished. Since Amazon allows authors to publish their books again, albeit at a lower price, this was particularly inconvenient because it coincided with a burst of publicity that would have fuelled additional sales. Says Joe:
“I was under the impression that Amazon would just price-match (despite the unauthorised and unexpected price drop by Nook). The book was re-instated but only when I requested that Nook unpublish it. I use ebookpartnership.com to distribute to some channels. Through no fault of their own, they can't guarantee that those channels will make requested changes within a given time frame. It seems that Amazon are getting very strict on this pricing issue as I've since received another email regarding Google's price drop on the same title.”
Amazon is not the only ebook distribution channel to discount books without the prior consent of the author – and price drops are fine if they help you sell more books without denting your profit, but
- only Amazon insists on being the cheapest supplier as part of their terms and conditions
- only Amazon will drop your book if it's cheaper on a different store
The simple answer for authors (and one that may be part of Amazon's plan) would be to drop using other distributors to avoid the risk – but with anecdotal evidence of steadily increasing sales through other ebook retail sites, few authors would find that an acceptable solution.
ALLi's Advice re Amazon Price-matching
- Be vigilant: keep an eye on your books' prices wherever they are listed, as they may change without notice
- If you receive a warning letter from Amazon, respond straight away to resolve the issue
- Even if it's not your fault that the price difference has arisen, you still need to act fast to ensure that your book is not delisted
- As when dealing with bank managers (!), the more promptly you tackle the issue with Amazon, the more likely you are to avert a crisis
- If you're planning to use price-matching for special promotions, e.g. for BookBub listings, make sure you reduce your prices on Amazon first
- Bear in mind that you can change your book's price yourself on Amazon via the KDP dashboard at any time, whether or not it is in KDP Select – ultimately, you are responsible for your book's pricing – that's one of the joys of self-publishing!
Finally, we should make it clear that this post is not a criticism of any only book distribution service. Those mentioned above are simply adhering to the terms and conditions that wa as authors willingly sign up for when agreeing to use their services. As Jane and Joe will be the first to agree that Amazon, for example, offers so many benefits to the author, accounting for the majority of most self-published authors' sales, and offering us a simple-to-use service to reach a huge global audience, with no up-front charge. It's important to remember the benefits to keep a sense of perspective.
Have you had similar issues with Amazon price-matching? Please feel free to share your experience, advice and questions via the comments.