Big, rich Amazon now gouging independent publishers -- and writers, most of all

The American Society of Journalists and Authors, the nation’s trade association for freelance nonfiction writers, is disgusted with Amazon’s announced move requiring that all print-on-demand (POD) books sold on Amazon’s site be printed by their own print-on-demand house, BookSurge.

As of April 1, Amazon is requiring small publishers to sign a contract agreeing to such demands.

At first, Amazon representatives denied they were threatening small booksellers with having the “buy it” buttons for their books turned off if they didn’t sign on the dotted line. Later this week, Amazon admitted the move, as reported in Writer’s Weekly and The Wall Street Journal. The contract being offered to print-on-demand publishers, which ASJA officers have seen, also includes a confidentiality clause forbidding disclosure of not just specific contract terms, as is typical, but any discussion at all. Thus, small publishers who have signed the contract may not say so, much less reveal the pressure they were under.

In addition, Amazon is punishing publishers who sell their books at a discount from cover price directly on their publisher’s websites. It is taking that discounted price as the book’s “cover price” and then applying their own discounts accordingly.

“We applauded when Jeff Bezos and Amazon gave small publishers and even writers who self-published a way to get their books before the public,” observed ASJA President Russell Wild. “With these grabby, strong-arm tactics, Amazon negates all that — and the years of goodwill it has built up with writers, who ultimately will bear the brunt of any price increases in the printing of independently published books.”

ASJA joins PMA, the independent book publishers association, which also has spoken out against Amazon’s move to forcibly get business for its own BookSurge subsidiary. The writer’s group also will urge the Washington state attorney general’s office to investigate whether Amazon’s move constitutes restraint of trade or otherwise violates anti-trust laws.