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Self-publishing News: Bookshop’s Disappearing Books

Self-publishing News: Bookshop’s Disappearing Books

In this week’s Self-Publishing News Special, ALLi News Editor Dan Holloway looks at Bookshop.org’s efforts to get indie books back on their shelves and ACX’s “climbdown”.

Dan Holloway head and shoulders

ALLi’s News Editor Dan Holloway

Last week, Howard and I took part in the first dedicated self-publishing news session on the ALLi podcast. We talked about bookstores and the launch of Bookshop.org, as well as AI. Don’t forget that tonight at 8pm GMT (3pm EST) we have #indieauthorchat over on Twitter, where Tim will be talking to Kristina Admas about creating believable characters.

Why Did Indie Books Disappear from Bookshop.org UK?

Wow, this feels like one of those really substantial news weeks. So much so that I am going to spend the whole time on two massive stories so as not to eclipse everything else. Next week I’ll catch you up with other things. One story has been taking the lion share of our attention though. That is the disappearance of many indies’ books from the Bookshop.org UK app. Bookshop.org launched in the UK at the start of the month. Its app allows people to order paper books online and have a percentage of the price go to an indie bookstore of their choice. This is obviously something many indie authors are keen to get behind, and I know a lot of ALLi authors have set up pages there. And then, suddenly, many people’s books were gone. This only applied to the UK version of the app. And it led to both confusion and heated feelings.

Bookshop.org were very quick to put out an apology, and have been very willing to extend an invitation to me to talk, for which I am very grateful. Here is what I can say following that conversation by way of an update.

What Happened?

First, this is indeed a UK-only issue. This is because of the way that Bookshop uses Ingram as a fulfilment partner in the US and Gardners in the UK. The upshot is that the way Bookshop’s interface interacts with those partners has created a situation in the UK but not the US.

The issue that sparked the disappearance came from some unfortunate customer experiences down to the way that Bookshop.org displayed its catalogue. This had led to some books that were out of print being listed as available, in particular some old hardbacks. The upshot of this was that customers were ordering books that could not then be delivered. Bookshop took the decision to resolve this by pulling a set of books from their catalogue. Unfortunately the code that was used to do this meant that print on demand titles also got cut. It should be added that there were some issues with print on demand books, with accurate delivery times not displaying, leading again to a confusing customer experience.

Where Now?

Bookshop are working on an urgent coding fix, which they think they have found, which will enable them to create a catalogue that is fully transparent for customers in regard to availability and lead times, and which includes indies’ print on demand books.

They hope to have an announcement by the end of the week, and are confident that the issue should be resolved in order for relevant books to be able to be ordered print on demand in time for Christmas.

I was impressed by the company’s commitment to working with a whole range of authors from across the publishing spectrum, and am confident they are working all out to resolve this and have a long and productive relationship with indies.

Audible/ACX Back Down. Kind of

In any other week this would be the big news. The campaign around Audible Plus wooing subscribers by offering unlimited returns has been escalating all week. The Authors Guild created an open letter. ALLi has been working to support their efforts, and those of Susan May, who first blew the whistle.

And yesterday those efforts paid off. In part. Audible/ACX rights holders received an email which read:

“Effective January 1, 2021, Audible will pay royalties for any title returned more than 7 days following purchase.”

ACX has issued a full statement here.

It is good that the company has made a concession but authors point out that: they still are not receiving transaction information, and there is still no limit on how far through a book a reader can get in those 7 days and still get a refund. Depending on how the maths is done, this may cost Audible less and authors more. The point is, we don’t know because there is no transparency around how payments are calculated.

And, most egregiously, the email assumes that clawing back the costs of promotional deals from monies due to authors and creators is acceptable.

On behalf of ALLi, Orna Ross says it is not, not when the royalty rates are so low at ACX and when the “return/exchange” deal is so heavily pushed with listeners.

It’s shocking to all of us at the Alliance of Independent Authors that Audible/ACX/Amazon feels it can cavalierly admit to dipping into creators’ payments and hiding transactional information. This sets a precedent which is alarming to every indie author publishing on an Amazon platform.
Our request to Amazon Audible/ACX remains unchanged. We want to see the ACX agreement amended to ensure the company:
  • Ceases the practice of clawing back payments from authors’ accounts when a return/exchange is received. This should never come from the author’s (already v low) percentage
  • Makes transparent the total number of purchases/returns on author payment dashboards (not net sales silently adjusted for returns).
And the income already taken from authors, publishers and narrators under this egregious practice must be refunded. 

If there’s one thing that’s absolutely for sure, it’s that as subscription becomes more and more the dominant model, authors need to ensure that their business partners run clear, transparent, and honest transaction statements. When in doubt, don’t sign.

Audible/ACX’s rating remains at “Caution” until this issue is resolved.

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Upcoming Conferences and Events

Help us fill this with great online events in the coming weeks and months.

Bay Area Independent Publishers Association (BAIPA) – Zoom meetings the 2nd Saturday of each month

NOVEMBER 2020

Cove Park Winter & Spring Writing Residencies, 30 Nov application deadline

Over to You

Let us know about online events of interest to indies in the comments below.

Dan Holloway

Dan Holloway is a novelist, poet and spoken word artist. He is the MC of the performance arts show The New Libertines, which has appeared at festivals and fringes from Manchester to Stoke Newington. In 2010 he was the winner of the 100th episode of the international spoken prose event Literary Death Match, and 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 for Kindle at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Transparency-Sutures-Dan-Holloway-ebook/dp/B01A6YAA40

This Post Has 8 Comments
  1. Thank you for sharing the latest news with us, Dan, regarding Bookshop.org and Audible. There are so many pitfalls in the business side of what we do, it’s terrifying. (shudders) I keep trying to find the fun in it but this can be a real challenge at times! (wry grin)

  2. I was under the impression I couldn’t add my novels to bookshop.org because they are only published on KDP (ebook and POD). I thought this meant they had the wrong kind of ISBN. However, in the above article there’s a reference to stocking POD books (albeit with glitches!) so would I be able to sell on bookshop.org after all? I would very much like to offer customers an alternative to Amazon as I know a lot of people would prefer not to shop there.

    1. You can’t really add them to Bookshop, as far as I can tell – they either list them or they don’t. Most of my print books are printed by both KDP Print and Ingram Spark. They are all listed on Bookshop in the US and were listed in the UK, but later got removed (checking now, they appear to be back again).

      I have one book that is only printed by KDP Print, not Ingram Spark. That one is listed on Bookshop in the US, but it has one of my ISBNs, not a free one from KDP. If your books have your own ISBNs and are in expanded distribution, I suspect they’ll be listed by Bookshop. If they’re not in expanded distribution they definitely won’t be on Bookshop, and if they have free KDP ISBNs, they might not be.

    2. Sorry, this was meant to be a response to you!
      The main reference was to print on demand books published through Ingram Spark. Where those books are listed by Gardners they would absolutely be eligible

  3. Thanks for the info regarding Bookshop UK. I thought it was just me! I must say though they responded to you, my email is still waiting for a response. I must also add there were gremlins before this debacle. Bookshop kept telling me no such EAN/ISBN could be found even though it was right there on the Gardners catalogue open in my next tab on my browser.

    Great work with ACX too. It’s a start.

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