Elmore Leonard said: I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances ''full of rape and adverbs.''

Friday, 13 June 2008


For the sake of convenience, I buy most of my books from Amazon. Or, I used to. Ever since the ruckus with Reba Belle and the case of the deleted reviews, I haven’t been able to make myself buy from there.

I thought my unease would subside in a few months (and that this would be a great opportunity to make a dent in my tbr pile), but the more I hear about Amazon, the less I’m inclined to throw my money their way.

This morning I woke to a Radio 4 spot recounting a recent dispute over terms between Amazon and Hatchette, Britian’s biggest publishing group.

The story was originally broken by Bookseller last month, when Amazon removed from sale key front and backlist titles from across the Hachette Group (taking away the ‘buy new' button).

According to the radio segment, publishers and retailers split profits on 90% of the price of a book. However, Amazon is pushing "too hard for too great a share." Currently, more than half of the price of the book already goes to the retailer.

Where does this leave the authors? Well, it punishes them - a publisher giving the bookseller a really deep discount effects the author’s share of the pie.

Says bookarazzi,
The ultimate losers are the authors, who get a smaller and smaller slice of the pie. I got 70p per book with a cover price of £10.00. When books are sold at a discount, the author gets significantly less than that (percentages vary according to contract, but they're typically less than 10% of cover price).

In a letter to authors, Hachette C.E.O. Tim Hely Hutchinson stated:
[Despite advantageous terms] “Amazon seems each year to go from one publisher to another making increasing demands in order to achieve richer terms at our expense and sometimes at yours.”

Since then, the agent and author community has come out in support for Hatchette, with one rival publisher stating: “Taking the ‘Buy’ button down is the equivalent of going to a bookseller on the high street and saying, ‘Can I buy that book?’, and them saying, ‘No.’ It’s disgraceful.”


I think it’s time to find myself another online retailer. Listed below are some UK alteratives if, like me, Amazon is beginning to smell a little off.

The Book Depository

Or... I guess I could buy a mantitty emblazoned book over the counter... yikes.


Jace said...

First of all, LOVE the visual. LOL

I've never bought any books from Amazon, and looks like I never will. My brother recently ordered some expensive photography books from them, paid sky-high postage and handling charges ... the package came via ordinary air mail, not registered nor insuranced. If it had gone missing, there was no way we could trace it or make a claim. Not only that. We had to go to the post office warehouse to retrieve the package, as the class of mail that Amazon used didn't include door-to-door delivery. We'll never order anything from Amazon again.

I know my rant has very little to do with your post, but it shows the type of "quality" Amazon subscribes to.

Meriam said...

Hi Jace. That is pretty bad practice on Amazon's part. When I was investigating them on the web, there were plenty of similar points raised against it by angry bloggers.

Other issues included the crazy amount of time they take to ship items if you select the free delivery option. (Even though you are warned your items will arrive a little later than if you paid postage, delaying them by a month is beyond ridiculous).

In all honesty, though, my experience with Amazon as a customer has been largely positive. I order, it comes to my door. In the UK, where I think it's difficult to find bookstores with good romance sections, it's been a real boon.

However, all these little factors add up. I don't want to support a company that doesn't keep its house in order and shows itself to be a bully. My only means of protest is my wallet, so I guess it speaketh.

Jace said...

My only means of protest is my wallet, so I guess it speaketh.

And a significant protest this is. Businesses are crazy to lose customers like this, especially at this time when the cost of living is rising every day (where in most cases, books are relegated to the bottom of the list of daily essentials).

I buy all my books (not just romances) from a superb Japanese bookstore which is well-stocked and up-to-date. I can even ask them to bring in books for me without having to pay a deposit first. Now this is what I call service and quality, and this bookstore has my undivided loyalty.

Meriam said...

You're lucky, Jace. I do not have a superb local bookstore, at least not where romance is concerned. I don't know if it's an English thing, but the bookstores here are a little sniffy about the genre. It's frustrating.

RfP said...

The Reba Belle thing had no effect on my book buying or opinion of Amazon. However, the Hachette situation is infuriating and shows the danger of any seller becoming too monopolistic. I'm actually not that keen on Waterstone's for similar reasons. (I can't find the story right now, but there was a recent article on Waterstone's decreasing books' lifetime on shelves to the point that unless it's an eagerly-awaited sequel like a Harry Potter, it's becoming impossible to sell more than a handful of copies before the next batch is loaded onto the shelves.)

Meriam said...

RfP, I noticed you were entirely neutral over the course of the Reba Belle Affair (and in your excellent post on the subject of Amazon reviews). I think part of the reason I was so annoyed was because, during my novice days on the internet, I bought a great many books on the basis of what I thought were customer reviews. And often, books lauded as the best romance EVER were anything but.

I know it was naive of me, but I spent a lot of money in those early days, before I learnt to filter out the nonsense. When I think about the reviews situation on Amazon (and Amazon's complicity), I feel bad for newbies - like I was - being deceived, essentially. Tricked out of their money. Of course, we're in a more internet savvy age, and as you mention in your post, people are more likely to pay attention to 3 star reviews than gushing 5 stars, but...!

Anyway, I ramble.

The Waterstone's story sounds familiar. I did wonder if they were any better than Amazon, as I added their link to my post.

It does bring up an issue I hadn't given much thought to in the past - the future of publishing houses (or the 'middle man').

Laura Vivanco said...

I had a look at Waterstone's website, and as is the case with their real shops, they don't stock a lot of the books I'd want. They have hardly any Mills & Boons. I emailed them, asking why they had so few romances but despite saying that they like to reply promptly to customers, they haven't replied promptly. This reinforces my feeling that they're not really interested in having romance readers as customers.

Abebooks is great for second-hand books, but if you buy from there, none of the money you pay goes to authors, so I try not to use it for books which are still in print. The postage charges per book can also be quite steep.

As a result of your post I'm trying out the Book Depository and I'll see how that goes.

Carolyn Jean said...

Ah, yes, I went off Amazon this year - there are numberous issues they'r on the wrong side of here in the US, too. I'm still casting around for my perfect new bookseller. I will miss the 4 for price of 3, but that's how it has to be!

Dear Author had a few big posts on this issue. They really aren't playing fair, those Amazon folks!

Meriam said...

this reinforces my feeling that they're not really interested in having romance readers as customers.

Oh, absolutely. I can't believe they don't cater to such a large reading audience. Is it snobbery (seems anti-business) or is it truly that the English public doesn't read as many romances as the rest of the world?! (unlikely)

My experience with the book depositary has been good, if limited. Play.com are okay (free postage), but I think they're selection is limited. Otherwise, I'm buying more ebooks than ever. Once I get my iphone, I think I'll be buying even more...

CJ, I just read Jane's post on the issue. I was going to link some relevant DA articles to this post, but got lazy.

Good luck finding the perfect replacement bookseller (I feel a little sad because Amazon was pretty perfect for me.)

Tumperkin said...

I heard this programme too and reached a similar conclusion. Which is a pity. Cos -as you've pointed out - bookshops in the UK don't really stock romance. (There's a whole post right there about British attitudes to romance and why mantitty covers Just Don't Work here - but I'm not going there tonight).

Meriam said...

Tumperkin - you're back! I was beginning to dislike the sight of Lucifer, whilst wondering darkly who - in this day and age! - goes on holiday for, like - two whole weeks!

Ahem. And yey.

(There's a whole post right there about British attitudes to romance and why mantitty covers Just Don't Work here - but I'm not going there tonight).

Oh, yes. I don't mourn the absence of man-titty (in fact, the only reason I haven't bought and consumed the latest Loretta Chase is because I'm holding out for the UK Piatkus editions, which are gorgeous and pleasant to read).

But, yes: another day, another post.

RfP said...

Amazon buys Abebooks