March 30, 2009

Amazon UK refuses to renegotiate blackmail of British indie presses

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Is Amazon.co.uk targeting Britain’s indie publishers with an offer they have little choice but to accept? That’s what the trade group the Independent Publisher’s Guild is saying after a Friday meeting with Amazon in which the American internet retail giant refused to negotiate a new demand for greater discounts from the indies. As originally reported by Catherine Neilan for The Bookseller, Amazon was demanding a greater discount from publishers of another 2%, in return for which it would offer publishers an “early payment” of 15 days. Publishers who refused, reported Neilan, “will see their payments made on Amazon’s ‘standard terms’—effectively 60 days. This means a publisher who sells a book through Amazon in April would not be paid until the end of June. Under the revised terms, a publisher would be paid on 15th May—a full 45 days earlier.”

More simply put, publishers either accept a discount they can’t really afford (Amazon already gets higher discounts than all other retailers) and that gives Amazon an advantage over other retailers friendlier to independent publishers (such as independent bookstores); or they wait a month longer for Amazon to pay them. That permits Amazon to behave like a bank and have more time to earn income off that money belong to the publishers, while wreaking havoc “on the most cash-flow vulnerable publishers,” as IPG director Bridget Shine complained.

In a new Bookseller report on Friday’s meeting between IPG and Amazon, Neilan reports that IPG also complained that Amazon gave little publishers extremely short notice of its demands: “Publishers were told by email that they had until 1st April to pick one of the options available to them.”

The complaints seem to be falling on deaf ears, however. At Friday’s meeting, according to Neilan, Amazon’s “director of books” Gordon Willoughby told IPG reps that the demans were part of “a global programme” and that Amazon “would not be able to alter the terms.”

Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House. Follow him on Twitter at @mobylives

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