Has Anybody Actually Read Amazon.com's Letter To The Publishing Industry?

by M. David Peterson

As per the title, I'm wondering how many of you have taken the time to read through the letter Amazon.com sent to publishers on March 31st of this year? If you have not, it's probably worth your time to read through to gain a better understanding of what is seemingly taking place.

A couple of highlights,

One question that we've seen is a simple one. Is Amazon requiring that print-on-demand books be printed inside Amazon's own fulfillment centers, and if so why?

Yes. <snip/> (for a reason... reason to follow)

The reason: If the above is all that you read, outrage I believe would be the only sensible response. However, from what I have read thus far from both the blogosphere and professional journalists alike, I have yet to stumble upon anything that provides a sensible overview of the reasoning behind Amazon.com's new policy. I'm not here to judge nor really even make attempt to change your opinion. Instead, I just want to be sure that both sides of this story have been properly propagated.

With the above in mind, a Q and A style summary follows, and below that, a copy of the entire letter.


2008-04-11 06:44:17
Shakespeare: "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears"
Translated: "Has Anybody Actually Read Amazon.com's Letter To The Publishing Industry?" [Read my blog]

Shakespeare: "I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him;"
Translated: "I’m not here to judge nor really even make attempt to change your opinion."

Shakespeare: "The evil that men do lives after them, The good is oft interred with their bones,"
Translated: Just because Amazon is still holding on to that One Click patent does not mean this new publishing requirements is bad.

Shakespeare: So let it be with Caesar ... The noble Brutus Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
Translated: 'A list' bloggers are calling Jeff Bezos a greedy bastard

Shakespeare: If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
Translated: Amazon is only as bad as other companies with Monopolistic tendencies (like eBay now requiring paypal)

Shakespeare: And grievously hath Caesar answered it ...
Translated: Perhaps Amazon may loose a little sales,

Bottom line: You can dress it up in pretty prose, but this was a dumb move by Amazon.

2008-04-11 09:28:04
Thank you for posting Amazon's letter. I had already formed a negative opinion of Amazon's decision, without reading the letter. Now the decision seems much more reasonable.
M. David Peterson
2008-04-11 16:34:55

Couple of points,

1) Capitalism without control is the equivalent of freedom without laws.
1.1) Capitalism can not survive without controls to protect a free economy from spiraling out of control in either direction.
1.2) Freedom can not survive without rules, regulations, and laws to protect a free society from spiraling out of control in either direction.

2) We live at a very strange moment in time, a period in which Mass Production of the 20th Century is slowly but surely being replaced by Production by the Masses in the 21st.

3) A common misconception in recent years, in my opinion, is that real capitalism and real freedom can not and should not be controlled, allowing the masses to run free and rampant amongst the lush and rolling hills they pass along the way while traveling the highways an byways of the Internet.

It seems to me that everyone believes that point two and point three go together like peas and carrots whereas point one is more like asparagus; better when left on it's own, and even better yet when it's left off the plate entirely.

Unfortunately that's not the way it works. Of course you have RIAA on one side of the argument in which has taken things to such an extreme it seems the only logical reaction is to take the exact opposite position, the peas and carrots position if you will: Take what you want, the masses will just make more.

There's a problem with this however: How do those who want to make a living in these industries separate themselves from those who simply want to play around?

From a writers perspective, there's Print On Demand. No massive upfront costs are required, so no risk is involved. While a publisher (like O'Reilly, for example) can offer an author much more than what they could gain on their own via POD (distribution channels, promotions, consumer brand loyalty, etc.), the fact of the matter is that not everyone who writes a book (or better said, wants to write a book) does so to make money. While there's more reasons than this, many do it such that they can say that they did. And that's great!

But at some point in the process there needs to be an understanding that while "Jane Doe" may only be interested in the gratification that comes from the accomplishment of writing a book, free market economies are driven by balance sheets: Profit and Loss. That's not a bad thing. Nor is it going to change.

In fact, it's a necessary thing. It's how our economy works. And to compete in this economy of ours, we have to be constantly looking for ways to reduce costs while increasing customer satisfaction. Faster, more reliable service coupled with reduced prices allow for businesses to compete more aggressively, the end result of which is a stronger relationship with your customers and a market in which is now forced to work even harder such that they can compete more aggressively.

So here in exists the dilemma: If Amazon is being faced with one order after another in which is delayed due to the latency of manufacturing and shipping a POD title, they have at least two choices: Let the competition provide better service, or find ways in which they themselves can provide that same level of service while at the same time not getting in the way of the "little guy/gal" having the ability to choose her/his POD service provider.

The compromise? They need at least five copies of your title on hand if manufactured and shipped from an external POD. If this is not something you have interest in, they will be happy to provide you with these same services. Capitalism is the key. A reasonable minimum requirement the control. Amazon can increase their response time to an ever demanding base of "gotta-have-it-now" customers, and the writer/author/publisher maintains control over their own destiny. It might cost them(meaning the writers/authors/publishers) a little bit more at first, but then again here in lies the opportunity for the POD service providers,

FInd ways to reduce the cost of an authors first five titles, and guarantee them to keep Amazon's stock level of this title within the acceptable range. As a POD service provider, you can save money by shipping groups of titles together as one shipment, a savings that can then be used to offset any incentives initially provided to the author to entice them to use your services.

Call it capitalism with controls to help maintain balance and order within our economy if you'd like. Or call it freedom with rules, regulations, and laws to help maintain this same balance and order as it relates to our society. But contrary to your own bottom line, this isn't about pretty prose, or attempting to defend that in which is indefensible. Instead, the bottom line is this,

Regardless of whether it's Mass Production, or Production by the Masses, the controls of capitalism and laws, rules and regulations placed upon a free society must still exist if we are ever to find hope in striking a balance between the ever clashing "Freedom Segments" of our combined societies.

Free Economy and Free Culture *CAN* coexist if we are both willing to make compromises. Five titles is not an unreasonable request and it's certainly not something that should be seen as a compromise.

For some, maybe it is. But give it some time... There will be other choices. Of course, each of them will have to maintain their own levels of rules, regulations, and controls to stay both profitable and competitive. But that's the way the system works. And that's not going to change, no matter how outraged people feel they need to be.

M. David Peterson
2008-04-11 16:45:17

Thanks for the follow-up! I agree, when taken into context, I believe this move by Amazon is something that many will still not like, but should certainly recognize that this isn't about using bullish monopolistic-"marketing" tactics, and instead a way to become more efficient, and better able to compete in the constantly growing and changing world of ecommerce without sticking it to the little guy in the process.

It was the right move for Amazon.com to make. I'm glad they made it. And I hope they don't succumb to pressures to reverse their decision based on negative responses from the blogosphere. Too much power is placed into the hands of few too many. And that's never a good thing.

2008-04-17 19:18:31
I'm sorry, but anyone naive enough to think Amazon is not going for the monopoly on POD publishing needs to really read that letter. And, from what I have read, Booksurge not only charges up front fees, but produces a shoddy end product. No thanks. I am cutting all ties with Amazon and believe most writers would be wise to take a stand on this. Do we ultimately want Amazon to tell us what is and is not publishable? What we can and cannot write? Dictatorships start with small, seemingly harmless inroads as well....food for thought.
M. David Peterson
2008-04-18 02:38:08

>> I'm sorry, but anyone naive enough to think Amazon is not going for the monopoly on POD publishing needs to really read that letter.

I _really did_ read that letter, so I guess I'm just going to have to deal with being passed off by you as naive.

>> And, from what I have read, Booksurge not only charges up front fees, but produces a shoddy end product.

Can you provide links to back things up? Or is this just from hearsay?

>> No thanks.

Fair enough. Are you a writer, consumer, or both?

>> I am cutting all ties with Amazon and believe most writers would be wise to take a stand on this.

So I assume then yes, you are a writer?

>> Do we ultimately want Amazon to tell us what is and is not publishable?

How'd we go from "they charge up front fees and create shoddy products" to "they perform censorship."? Kind of a big jump from one criticism to the next, don't ya think?

>> What we can and cannot write?

How would they do that?

>> Dictatorships start with small, seemingly harmless inroads as well.....

They're now dictators too?

>> food for thought

I've thought about it, and I'm just not sure how we went from one extreme to another, and now to another w/o any explanation as to how and/or why we got there. Monopolist is one charge, and while I completely disagree (see my follow-up to Ric from above for my reasoning) with this argument, I believe it's certainly fair to ask the question "Is Amazon using monopolistic tendencies to corner to POD market?". But it's a far stretch to make attempt at adding "censors" and now "dictators" to the accusation mix. Care to explain/justify further?

2008-07-14 21:22:51
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