February 22, 2013
German publishers pull books from Amazon in wake of warehouse scandal
by Claire Kelley
Two independent publishers in Germany have cancelled their contracts with Amazon as a result of revelations of employee intimidation in Amazon warehouses, as reported in a documentary on German television. The publishers of Ch. Shroer Verlag and Verlag André Thiele have both written letters announcing their decision in the past week.
On February 15, publisher Christopher Schroer posted the following letter on the company’s website. Schroer writes (this is a rough translation, with help from Eva Graf’s tweets):
Adieu Amazon: An Open Letter to Jeff Bezos
Dear Jeff Bezos,
Today we say goodbye, we are announcing this to our suppliers, as well as our customer accounts. With immediate effect. No ifs and buts and its consequences.
For years, it was a thorn in our side that you demanded excessive discounts of 55% from small publishers like us. No actually, to conform with the fixed book price law, you called it 50% discount plus a 5% storage fee….
…Furthermore, we accepted that you maximized your margins with accounting tricks, by having small suppliers submit invoices, which must then be sent to another EU country, so you can contractually get extreme discounts. We accepted that new publications surface on your own “Marketplace” as remaindered books. And that you exclude damaged books bought on consignment that you have not treated well, removing them from subsequent sale.
That you use your strong market position against smaller “partners” which should be obvious to everyone. We vividly remember your action against “Independent Publishers” in your home country where you dictated new terms. Anyone who didn’t cooperate, their books were suddenly no longer available.
But we have accepted, not entirely voluntarily, because for a small publishing to be discovered by consumers, it is necessary to be listed by you. Amazon makes products visible, and anyone who isn’t listed by you, well that person can’t be “serious”—or, if it’s not on amazon.de, it’s nowhere.
Economically speaking, your business model was not working for us. It never did. For your demands to be met, we didn’t feel treated as a partner, but felt put in an inferior position, begging please, please, pretty please distribute our books on your platform under terms and contracts that you dictate.
Now, however, the current reporting is the last straw: you treat people like merchandise… We consider respectful practices, fair manners, and mutual respect essential in a business relationship… You aren’t and never will be a company that treats people as people, publishers as partners, and customers as kings and queens. Or a company that devotes itself to the cultural heritage of the “book,” with social and ethical principles.
We can only draw our conclusions and say “Good-bye.” And somehow, we are glad to be rid of such a difficult business partner.
Publisher André Thiele followed suit on February 19th, writing a letter that was published in its entirety in the Frankfurter Allgemeine. In his letter, he said that after a few days of reflecting on the “Amazon scandal” he had decided to sever the contract that his company had with the online retailer since 2008, echoing Christopher Schroer’s frustration with Amazon’s discounting policies. Thiele argued that the discounts are in Amazon’s favor by 65%, leaving him with only 35%. With those kind of agreements, he asked in the letter: “I still have to pay for the printing and the authors? Are you dreaming?”
He signs off, with the last line asking Amazon to “please confirm the receipt of the cancellation in writing.”
Claire Kelley is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House.