Amazon change could threaten authors’ earnings

Martin Reed

Martin Reed

Martin leads the SoA's Communications team. He oversees our strategic communications and campaign-based activities, including PR, social media, events and partnerships.

Amazon has said that the main ‘buy’ button on any book listing could, in future, be ‘won’ by a second-hand seller so that it links to their copy rather than one sold by the publisher. Authors do not receive royalties on books bought in this way.

When challenged in the US, Amazon said ‘our bookstore now works like the rest of Amazon, where third party sellers compete with Amazon for the sale of new items.’

The SoA joins the Authors Guild of America in expressing our concerns that traditional sales – the ones that pay authors a royalty – would be heavily undermined by such a change, significantly damaging the incomes of publishers, booksellers and authors.

Keeping backlist titles in print may become impractical for many, further diminishing authors’ earnings, and future publications may become unviable, reducing authors’ opportunities.

It is our view that Amazon’s ebook market dominance gives them too much influence over the pricing of books already. As of now we will be campaigning to persuade them to drop this change, and if they don’t then authors will be looking to their publishers to take firm action.

Publishers and ‘Special’ Sales

For a second-hand seller to ‘win’ the right to be listed as the primary seller, the copies they sell have to be in pristine condition. These sellers buy such copies in bulk from publishers at very high discounts, usually authorised when the author signs a contract with clauses like ‘book club and similar’, ‘co-edition’, ‘mail order’, ‘supermarket’, or ‘non-traditional retail outlets’.

Publishers often claim that special sales don’t directly compete with conventional sales. Whether or not one subscribes to that view, Amazon’s proposed change would put them in direct competition. It is our view that, for the sake of individuals and the publishing industry as a whole, publishers should give the author a right to veto any deal that offers an ultra-high discount on copies of their book.

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