A Technical Thing re: Amazon and My Tor Books

Every couple of hours someone sends an e-mail or post saying “Your book is back up on Amazon!” and point to the same thing, so I want to post this to clear up the confusion. The one physical version of Old Man’s War that’s up on Amazon is “Bargain Price Paperback,” which is to say the remaindered trade paperback edition; as far as I know Amazon never stopped selling it.

The thing to know about this is that the remaindered books aren’t royalty-bearing books, i.e., I don’t get a cut when Amazon sells them. Amazon likely bought the books in bulk when they were first remaindered, for a substantially lower cost than “new” books, and my contract states that the cut I get for such bulk buying is very tiny indeed.

All of which is to say at the moment Amazon is happy to sell you OMW  directly, just not a version I get any real payment for. All my other Tor books — the versions I receive royalties for, anyway — still appear to be down across the board. You’ll know when Amazon is no longer screwing with me when all my Tor books once again have “Buy Now” buttons in their mass market paperback (or in the case of Agent and Hate Mail, trade paperback) versions. Those are the versions of my Tor books currently in print. And, of course, when the Kindle versions re-appear.

Likewise, to address other similar posts and e-mails, only Amazon.com is doing this, so all the international affiliates have books, and Amazon’s Audible division is also still selling my audio book versions.

Finally, my non-Macmillan titles are still in Amazon (including The God Engines) and always have been, so their presence doesn’t mean Amazon’s delisting has lifted, it’s just that the book isn’t one of those affected.

I do think all these e-mails and posts make a point about how arbitrary and random this delisting of Amazon’s appears on the consumer side. I mean, heck, all of you here have been aware of this from day one. Imagine what it looks like to normal humans trying to shop on Amazon. The longer this plays out, the worse it is for Amazon’s reputation as a place where you can get anything.

Anyway. That’s the update on that today.

57 Comments on “A Technical Thing re: Amazon and My Tor Books”

  1. Please forgive me if this is slightly orthogonal to the topic, but I wanted to mention I’m going to be hosting a live call-in podcast talkshow on the subject of the Amazon/Macmillan feud Saturday afternoon at 4 Eastern.

    All viewpoints will be welcome, and I’d really like to have some folks from here come in to balance out the pro-Amazon people I expect to call in from elsewhere. (I invited John, but he couldn’t make it.) I’ll be moderating the show so nobody gets too out of hand.

    Details and how to listen, chat, or join here:


  2. I’m wondering what the delay is, as the other publishers (Hachette, HarperCollins) start also going agency. If they don’t pull their Buy buttons, then why haven’t they restored Macmillan’s? What’s the point?

  3. While The God Engines appears on Amazon, it has an absurd shipping time (1 to 2 months.) My wife placed an order for it and Judge Sn Goes Golfing for my birthday. But because of the delay for the God Engines, she is going to cancel that part of the order and let the rest ship now. Then we are going to order direct from the publisher, costs more but I might actually get the book before I die.

  4. The Audible store has seriously variable pricing, so clearly, Amazon isn’t trying to hammer audiobook producers into being loss leaders they way they are ebook producers. But then Amazon isn’t selling it’s own version of the iPod the way it is the Kindle.

  5. I find it amusing to see that books that I’ve previously purchased for my Kindle, now have the “Tell the Publisher! I’d like to read this on Kindle!” — per Old Man’s War, etc… I was actually looking to pick up Android’s Dream, but alas, no linky for my Kindle.

    I hope Amazon opens up sales again soon. As much as I love my Kindle and $10 books, not being able to Kindle the books I want at all is not cool. :(

  6. What these details mean to me is that Amazon is deliberately targeting the authors, even more than the publishers.

    I will never buy anything from Amazon again. Ever.

  7. I have an acquaintance in the somewhat-above-middle ranks of Amazon. His/her/its information is that Something Bad Happened while the Macmillan books were being delisted. More books than expected were removed, and there are technical issues preventing many from being restored. The workaround is manual, and appropriate resources have not been dedicated. She/he/it does not have an estimated timeframe for completion of this process.

  8. You can see some puzzled threads on amazon discussion forums, with people going ‘wtf, why can’t I buy this?’ or ‘why have all the books I want disappeared?’ Quite often, they get a bunch of misguided answers like ‘oh, it’s because Macmillan wants to sell their books for 50 bucks’ or ‘Apple did it’.

  9. Chas C:

    If that rumor is true, then what a mess, and even more reason to believe this was an impulsive act on Amazon’s part, not some thought-out action. If the rumor is false, they’re still being dicks to authors.

  10. Also, John, if that rumor is true, then Amazon has some deeply incompetent database people, and therefore some deeply incompetent management. Which is yet another reason to refuse to buy from them, ever.

  11. John, have you seen the followup letter from Macmillan’s CEO in which he says “we” are continuing to negotiate with Amazon, and then goes on to talk (rather vaguely) about Macmillan’s new business model for “our intellectual property”?

    Lynn Abbey has posted on her blog about how she is deeply disturbed by the way Macmillan seems to be assuming that the books it publishes belong to it rather than to Macmillan’s authors.

    Just wondering what your thoughts were.

  12. Josh Jasper@4: One guesses the fact that Audible already pretty much owns the for-pay audiobook market also has something to do with that.

    I went into a Borders for the first time in a while yesterday on the way to the airport. I needed a bathroom and figured while I was there I’d pick up “Sly Mongoose”, which is unfortunately not available as an ebook. Sadly, it’s absence, and the general crap selection reminded me of why I’d become so dependent on Amazon. :-/ At least the bathroom worked.

  13. This whole deal seems terribly unfair. I have already begun my boycott of Amazon, and started visiting a real bookseller. I may pay more, but I get personalized service in a place where they remember my name, and REALLY appreciate my business. Amazon won’t care if I buy or not, just like they don’t care about all the authors getting screwed.

    When I was at the bookstore, I brought my selections to the counter. The clerk was commenting on my copy of Ender in Exile, when he saw my copy of Old Mans War. I told him, “John Scalzi sent me,” and pointed to your name. He laughed, and said, “You know, that’s the second person this week who’s said that to me.”

    The word is spreading.

  14. Well, I did my bit to keep the Scalzi kitties in kibble – I ordered ‘Hate Mail’ from Amazon UK. Hopefully it will ship on Monday. (I’ve got a gift cetificate balance with them and the chances of me finding the book locally are about zip, so it made sense to get it there).

  15. The thing I worry about is that rather than Amazon losing its reputation as “a place where you can get anything,” people will think all of these Macmillan books are actually out of print. That would really screw over a lot of writers that really don’t deserve to be screwed over.

  16. Steve Burnap@12 unfortunately the poor selection in the bookstore you visited is probably a result of more and more people shopping at Amazon so that the bricks and mortar store (which does not have the space anyway) has to concentrate on the larger volume sellers to survive. I work in a bookstore and we are definitely buying in less to enable us to manage our inventory in an effort to survive. Our suppliers are also buying in less so more titles are order only and take a minimum of 2 weeks to get to us.

    I talk about this here on our shops blog http://midletonbooks.blogspot.com/2010/01/support-your-local-bookshop.html

    Maybe if more peole shopped at their local bookstore the selection would improve, also if customers talk to the staff about what they would like to see stocked in the shop then things would improve.

    I do think that this issue of Amazon v Macmillan, for me anyway, has brought into sharp relief questions about the society and main street I want in the future. Do I want the author/artist/maker of what I buy to be paid a proper price for the item I buy which reflects the time and attention which has gone into the creation/making of the item, as opposed to a price I have been trained to consider as all it’s worth – the two are not the same.

    In 10 years I would like to walk down the main street in my town and be able to browse in a bookshop where the selection reflects the local area and be able to talk to staff who can recommend that book for my 6 yr old or good books for my bookgroup or my next read because I so enjoyed the book i just finished.

    I think there are broader issues at stake here as opposed to just Amazon v Macmillan which I am only just beginning to consider.

  17. Ok, I have gone on record that I support Amazon and think they are wonderful. I still do, however this certainly has gone on long enough.

    I know people are upset and saying they wont buy from Amazon again to which I would ask, who really cares, you are but one person after all. The bottom line is that Amazon is a who force in the marketplace and will remain so for a long time. They should be more responsible that this.

  18. Steve – almost every bookstore will special order books for you if they aren’t in stock now. Which doesn’t let you browse and buy, sure, but it’s also not going to take longer than non-Prime Amazon ordering.

  19. I buy my SF/F books at Bakka-Phoenix in Toronto (and have since 1975). A slight detour on the way home from work puts me at their door. My other books come from amazon.ca. I have MS and on-line shopping is becoming more important as “real” bookshops tend to be less accessible. If anyone can suggest another on-line business (that is not Indigo/Chapters) available to Canucks, I’d appreciate it. Note that cross border shipping charges are often nutty.

  20. @ Eric, Will: Great link! And kudos to the Author’s Guild for this brilliant mix of snark and service.

  21. Irregardless of Amazon, a retailer should be able to sell the goods they purchased at whatever price they want while respecting anti-dumping laws. Unless a manufacturer should not be able to dictate the final price of goods unless they are selling directly.

  22. Hi, Bought “Hate Mail” yesterday at Borders, and they seemed unaware electronic buying trouble had been had by “so internet-savvy an author”
    (clerks words)
    In support, we who buy books at brick shops say
    “Go man GO”…………and, also, like GOD Engines
    is GREAT (so far…will finish tonite)

  23. Steve @ #12- One guesses the fact that Audible already pretty much owns the for-pay audiobook market also has something to do with that.

    Eh, not quite. They’re the one place you can buy books from Amazon and iTunes, but there are competitors. I get my audiobooks as DRM free MP3 files from eMusic, which has a decent selection and much better pricing.

    I went into a Borders for the first time in a while yesterday on the way to the airport. I needed a bathroom and figured while I was there I’d pick up “Sly Mongoose”, which is unfortunately not available as an ebook. Sadly, it’s absence, and the general crap selection reminded me of why I’d become so dependent on Amazon. :-/ At least the bathroom worked.

    You could have ordered it. I’m a amazed at how impatient people are with bookstores, but they’ll patiently wait if they can click a few buttons and get something shipped. The bookstore offers free shipping. You could even call in advance, and only take one trip to pick it up

    But what bookstores are actually good for is exploring. I find things in bookstores I’d never find at Amazon.

  24. @Carole:
    “In 10 years I would like to walk down the main street in my town and be able to browse in a bookshop where the selection reflects the local area and be able to talk to staff who can recommend that book for my 6 yr old or good books for my bookgroup or my next read because I so enjoyed the book i just finished.”

    I wish there had been more than about 10 years in my life that this was true. Grew up in smallish town in the South: nothing. Moved to Pittsburgh: there was a local independent, but it closed at 5 every day, and wasn’t open on Sunday. Moved to the Bay Area: hurray! book store heaven! for about 10 years, by which time they had mostly died out. Moved to Redmond: nearest independent is a 30 minute drive away, Borders is only bookstore in town.

    When we’re waxing nostalgic for a past we think is fading away, let’s not forget that past didn’t exist for many people. Go ahead, call Amazon evil, but remember, they brought a lot of books to a lot of people, too, and not just bestsellers.

  25. Bryan@23: There are currently no plans to make THE GOD ENGINES or JUDGE SN available for Kindle. (I should know, as, with John, I control the e-rights.)

    JUDGE SN, in particular, wouldn’t make sense, as it’s an 8700 word story.



  26. Howye@3–

    TGE isn’t available new from B&N.com either. I’m suspecting a distributor issue. Amazon may be dickish, but they’re not to blame for this particular problem.

  27. Actually Amazon.co.uk has The God Engine in stock, which suggests that the reason Amazon.com doesn’t is because they really are just being dicks…

  28. Looks like all the books are back up now, except Kindle editions. Of course, I don’t know which books were on Kindle to fully check.

  29. @19

    In the words of the Onion: “‘What will throwing away one plastic bottle do?’ Six million people wonder.”

  30. Guess@37: Remaindered books are the books that are left over after sales of a title have slowed to a trickle or stopped. The publisher sells them in bulk very cheaply to get rid of them because they take up valuable warehouse space. A bookseller can buy them and re-sell them at a heavily discounted price, with the understanding that any that don’t sell can’t be returned to the publisher for credit.

    It’s sort of the publishing term for overstock.

    This reminds me of a question I’ve been meaning to ask the group. My impression is that a bookseller can return unsold copies of a title to the publisher. Is this correct? And does it apply to e-books?

  31. OK, the “buy it now” links at Amazon for print books are back online for Macmillan authors, as far as I can tell. No kindle editions though.

  32. Bits Blog wonders what Amazon and Macmillan agreed to.

    Also it doesn’t appear that there are any of Mr. Scalzi’s e-book available on Amazon right now. Only the physical books.

  33. John, do you get royalties when someone buys New on Amazon through one of “these sellers”?

  34. Maybe this was Amazon and their incompetence at restoring these books for sale. Get the damn Kindle books back up! I saw that the physical copies are back up for sale too.

  35. I’ve been less and less interested in Amazon since the Kindle came out. Sure, the thing looks cool and the e-books have been a good price, but I can’t afford the darn reader and that means the e-books are no good to me. (It also makes me mad at the pricing system for e-book readers. Way to market to the masses…)

    Besides, I much prefer e-books in a format that can be used with various readers. None of this proprietary crap.

    The latest Amazon debacle just makes me sure that I’m not missing anything by giving my loyalty to local bookstores and a Canadian online store.

  36. @William Schafer #33
    Thanks. I don’t know what sense these things make from the author/publisher side. I can say as an interested reader, if they were available as e-content, I’d buy (at any sane price). Have bought shorter works before, authored by Nancy Kress and others.

  37. Josh Jasper@30: Yeah, I may still order it that way, but I was out of town and so not at a local store.

  38. Sherri@31, I hope I’m not old enough to pine for a nostalgic past! The situation you describe is very much what the situation is here in Ireland now, most towns would not support a local bookstore. My own store now opens at 10 rather than 9 as there is not enough custom before 10 to justify paying my wages. The point I was trying to make is that this is a real economic issue, particularly now. I have no figures for the numbers employed in small firms in Ireland (let alone the US) but by not buying locally it is local jobs that are lost. By all means shop at Borders, whilst they are a chain they will also employ local people. Borders in the UK has closed with the loss of 1,100 jobs.

    Also, by paying a proper price for a book you remunerate properly those who have produced the book, not just the author. Amazon is not evil per se but using it’s economic muscle to strongarm huge discounts is killing the publishing industry, an industry which authors seem to be saying they find of value.

    I have no answers but think the debated is wider than just Amazon v Macmillan and it’s a debate worth having.

    I apologise John if this has strayed to far of topic.

  39. @ Bryan #51: Seconded! And that’s one thing I like about Fictionwise, the opportunity to buy short stories and novellas as e-texts, at very reasonable prices, in a variety of non-DRM formats. And they have a large SFF selection!

  40. @Carole: The problem is, I am old enough. Most of the time I was referring to happened long before Amazon. I’m 47; I remember when Amazon was just a text list of a fairly small number of books. Neither Amazon nor big chain bookstores nor warehouse stores nor Walmart were responsible for the lack of local bookstores during much of them time I referred to. That’s what I meant about being nostalgic for a past that didn’t exist.

  41. @Sherri. 47’s not old! I think I’m nostalgic for a future. The question is do the book buying public want bricks and mortar stores in their town. I do, but the way things are going there may not be any in 10 years at which point Amazon may rule the book buying world – certainly that’s what it wants to do. Not only am I pessimistic but cynical as well, I don’t believe Amazon are in it for the good of their customers but for the good of Amazon, I just want people to consider the book buying future if we put all our eggs in the Amazon basket.

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