Amazon Deals Blow to POD Companies

Amazon won’t carry any print-on-demand books unless they are produced by Booksurge, the online site’s own POD printer.  This is clearly an attempt by Amazon’s Booksurge to steal market share from their arch rival Lightning Source, which produces the majority of POD titles for companies like iUniverse and PublishAmerica.

This news has, of course, rocked the vanity press industry. POD "publisher" Angela Hoy’s Writer’s Weekly blog was the first to break the story, which has since been picked up by Publishers Weekly, The Wall Street Journal, Writer Beware, and many other publications and blogs. Hoy reports:

Amazon/BookSurge representatives have been approaching some Lightning Source customers, first by email introduction and then by phone (nobody at BookSurge seems to want to put anything in writing). When Lightning Source customers speak with the BookSurge representative, the reports say, they are basically told they can either have BookSurge start printing their books or the "buy" button on their book pages will be "turned off."

The book information would remain on Amazon, and people could still order the book from resellers (companies that list new and used books in Amazon’s Marketplace section), but customers would not be able to buy the book from Amazon directly, nor qualify for the coveted "free shipping" that Amazon offers.

Amazon confirmed the story to Publishers Weekly:

An Amazon spokesperson explained that the new policy will allow the company to "marry" books with other products that a customer might buy at Amazon, which would be combined in the same package. She said for publishers that don’t use BookSurge for pod, they can still use Amazon’s Advantage Program (which works on a consignment model) or third party vendors to sell their pod books.

This could have a devastating impact on scams like PublishAmerica. Hoy reports:

As of Thursday, the "buy" buttons for the vast majority of PublishAmerica books were removed from The books can now only be purchased by resellers.

PublishAmerica issued a press release today that states, "PublishAmerica will not comply with Amazon’s ultimatum, and will not allow that company to dictate who will print PublishAmerica’s books, and at what conditions."

I can’t say I’m shedding any tears over Amazon’s attempt to corner the POD market…especially if it cuts into the profits of scammers like PublishAmerica. If the POD scammers can’t promise suckers that their books will be listed on Amazon, this will seriously undercut their ability to lure gullible, aspiring authors into the fold. Why? Because "resellers" are highly unlikely to stock POD vanity press titles…which means only the vanity press websites will be selling them. Why is this a problem for POD titles? Well, how often do you visit the PublishAmerica bookstore when you are looking for books? There’s your answer.

(Thanks to Joshua James for the heads-up).

UPDATE: Predictably, the vanity presses are screaming about this, accusing Amazon of attempting to create a "monopoly" and engaging in "restraint of trade" and "anti-trust" activities.

I don’t get it. Sure, it’s a strong-arm move to boost Booksurge’s business…but how has Amazon created a "monopoly" or engaged in "anti-trust"
activity with this policy?

There are many other book retailers on the
web — like Barnes & Noble, Chapters, Wal-Mart and Borders — that
will continue to "stock" and sell POD titles produced by Lightning
Source, Lulu, etc.

Besides, Amazon will still list titles produced by other POD
companies…they just won’t sell them directly any longer or include
them in their free shipping program.

The POD outfits also have their own websites where they can offer
their list of titles directly to consumers…though I would argue there
aren’t that many consumers of POD books to begin with.

Granted, there are some reputable companies that rely on POD
to produce their books (Point Blank is a good example of one) but "self-publishing"/vanity press companies
like Authorhouse and PublishAmerica account for the majority
of the POD business — and their "consumers" are primarily authors, not

I can see how companies utilizing POD to print their books might be
irked by this news, but the vast majority of Amazon’s customers won’t
notice or care.


40 thoughts on “Amazon Deals Blow to POD Companies”

  1. Lee:
    If you consider POD to be inherently scammy, then this should in no way really delight you. Yes, it will probably put all the non-Amazon companies out of business, thereby concentrating all POD-based self-publishing and the revenue gained in the hands of Amazon. So lots of little scams are replaced by one giant scam. It doesn’t change anything.

  2. I smiled when I saw this in Publishers Lunch. Say what you might about Amazon’s business practices…I prefer them to Publish America.

  3. Peter’s right. Since POD publishing relies heavily on internet sales, basically Amazon is strong-arming any legitimate publishers who use POD (going to try to tell me James Reasoner’s DUST DEVILS isn’t a real book and damn worth the price just because it was published POD by Point Blank?) into using Booksurge.
    Basically, they just created a monopoly, and you gave them the thumbs up. What happens when they start pressuring these POD authors to just self publish through the self publishing program which they also run? In the end they may put some scams out of business, but they’ll also kill some legitimate small outfits like Point Blank, and the numbers of self published authors will ultimately rise.
    I fail to see how this is good for anyone, short term or long term, other than Amazon, and as a consumer I’m worried about ANY business that’s monopolized by one company.

  4. Lee,
    I have a few books on Amazon through Lightning Source. We make the bulk of our cash through WOWIO, but I would hate to lose the AMAZON listing or ignore any revenue stream. How is kicking my book off of AMAZON good for anybody but AMAZON’s POD printer?

  5. Well Peter, this will be an improvement in my view. Over at the forever unpublished are throwing rose petals in the river. Of course, they could they could either go to the river with Angela Hoy et al, or yanno, try to get “traditonally published.”
    I guess “listed on Amazon” will have a new connotation!

  6. Lee,
    Doesn’t this smack of antitrust on Amazon’s part? As Sandra pointed out, you have respected small publishers like Point Blank which uses Lightning Source (and btw. which published my first book, Fast Lane). So yes, it will hurt the vanity POD presses, but also legitimate small presses.
    –Dave Z.

  7. It’s only an antitrust issue if has a monopoly in online book sales, which, as far as I know, they do not.
    Trying to drive competitors out of business, however, is not an antitrust issue in and of itself. It’s a business issue.

  8. One comment, the online Borders presence is really just Amazon.
    If you go to you end up at “Borders teamed with Amazon”.

  9. I don’t believe antitrust suits require a monopoly as much as a dominant position, and business practices that are considered “anti-competitive” practices can fall under an antitrust suit.

  10. First of all, POD is a technology, not a business model. The vanity presses like PublishAmerica co-opted the term to make themselves sound more legitimate.
    The entire publishing industry is moving in the print-on-demand direction.
    Because the print-on-demand model means just that. The retailer can wait until it receives an order to print the book from a digitized file. With the new devices available, they can print a book in minutes.
    Sure, bookstores will continue to carry the best-sellers, but they can move to carrying much smaller amounts of stock with a digital press on site.
    Every major publishing house is building its digital warehouse of books.
    Digitization and the Internet has offered new life to small, independent presses as well as e-publishers. I’m not talking about self-published crap; I’m talking about quality small presses.
    The majors have dominated the publishing industry for years because they owned the means of production. Now Amazon is moving to position itself as the heir to that legacy.
    And you think that’s a great idea????

  11. Maya,
    You wrote: “The entire publishing industry is moving in the print-on-demand direction.”
    Sorry, Maya, but this is wishful thinking, not fact. While it’s true that the major publishing companies are experimenting with POD for some of their galleys/advance reading copies and are tinkering with putting their back-list titles on POD, there hasn’t been a major move in this direction yet. The majors haven’t adopted POD for their new, trade paperback titles. The vast majority of trade paperback books are still printed the old-fashioned way and sold primarily through brick-and-mortar stores…and I don’t see that changing in the near future.
    As PW reported in January:
    “For years, print-on-demand has held out the promise of a new business model […]publishers contacted for this article maintain that offset printing remains more cost effective for print runs over about 1,000 copies.”
    [..]While Moore says Hachette uses POD primarily for backlist, it also uses POD for limited runs of seasonal titles. First printings of large-run books are done on offset, says Moore, while the reorders are shifted to POD.
    […]Over at S&S, Dennis Eulau, executive v-p for operations, doesn’t believe POD is cost-effective for prime-time frontlist printing. “The cost is still up,” he says, about $4–$5 a book, compared to roughly a little more than a $1 per book for offset. “Most people want POD for the long-tail effect. Most of our authors just want their books to be available.”

  12. Lee: Thanks for responding.
    I said publishing was moving in that direction, not that they were there yet. The Book Industry Study Group meets in New York on May 9. They are going to have a presentation by the company that manufactures the Espresso Book Machine. That’s NOT wishful thinking. That’s the direction the industry is creeping. Why else do you think every major publisher is investing huge sums in digital warehouses? And why did Simon & Schuster pull their rights grab less than a year ago (they were forced to back down, but they weren’t doing that for grins).
    The current system of printing, warehousing, shipping and dealing with returns is inefficient and expensive. It is also not eco-friendly. It is a dying system.
    More to the point of my email, Amazon owns BookSurge. Ingram’s owns Lightning Source. Small independent houses (not necessarily vanity presses) use Ingram’s and Lightning Source to put their books in bookstores. Up to this point, they have advertised their books on Amazon for online sales.
    Amazon’s move will mean that these tiny operations (including e-publishers) will face double setup and printing fees if they want to have their books in both places because Amazon is disabling the “buy” button for any book not printed by BookSurge. And, by the way, Amazon is more expensive.
    The important thing about the Amazon action is the impact it will have on small independents and e-publishing outfits.
    I, too, would be happy to see PublishAmerica and the other sleazy operations that prey on writers’ dreams put out of business. I’m published by one of the majors so this doesn’t impact me. But it will impact lots of small operations.
    Everyone complains about independent bookstores going out of business, but they continue to buy bestsellers at Wal-Mart, which cuts into the margins of the independent booksellers. Standing by and letting Amazon do this will drive independent operations out of business in the same way.

  13. “Everyone complains about independent bookstores going out of business, but they continue to buy bestsellers at Wal-Mart, which cuts into the margins of the independent booksellers.”
    Most people DON’T care, and certainly don’t complain about independent bookstores going out of business, which is a large part of why it happens. A vocal, but small minority of people — usually authors, booksellers and certain loyal customers — care. But the people who, as you say, buy bestsellers at Wal-Mart, couldn’t care less.
    By the same token, the only ones who will care about Amazon’s actions are POD publishers and authors and perhaps a few supporters. Their complaints will have the same effect as those of the few lamenting the closing of bookstores.

  14. Amazon’s move barely registered in today’s issue of Publishers Weekly…meriting only a tiny, two paragraph news-brief at the bottom of a page. On the other hand, talk of a merger between B&N and Borders took up a full page. That indicates just how important (or, rather, unimportant) the industry sees POD vs traditional, off-set printing and brick-and-mortar sales. The POD presses simply aren’t much of a factor in the book industry, and certainly not with the reading public, and represent only a miniscule percentage of books sold. For now, anyway, the biggest users of POD printers are by far the self-publishing/vanity press companies, which is why I don’t think you’re going to see a big out-cry over Amazon’s tactics.

  15. Maya wrote:
    “Amazon’s move will mean that these tiny operations (including e-publishers) will face double setup and printing fees if they want to have their books in both places because Amazon is disabling the “buy” button for any book not printed by BookSurge. And, by the way, Amazon is more expensive.”
    1. E-publishers shouldn’t be affected at all, since their whole raison d’etre is paperless publishing.
    2. As I understand it, Ingram is a distributor. A publisher could still have their books distributed through Ingram even if the printing is performed by BookSurge. I don’t see where a double fee comes in, unless Ingram starts requiring use of Lightning as a prerequisite for their distribution.
    3. Since 90% of book sales are made through brick and mortar stores, it seems independent publishers could forego Amazon without missing much.

  16. Maya,
    Thank you for pointing me to the PW Online article. I did miss it. But you’ll notice they say:
    “Amazon has caused a major stir in the pod field with its decision to have publishers who want to sell pod titles directly through its Web site use its BookSurge pod subsidiary.”
    Notice their choice of words… “a major stir in the POD field,” not the publishing industry. It’s a key distinction and speaks volumes (no pun intended!).
    PW notes: “Amazon further notes that if publishers do not want to use BookSurge for pod, they can still sell their titles through the e-tailer as part of it Advantage Program, provided they pre-produce five copies of each title that Amazon will stock in its warehouse. Publishers can also use Amazon’s third party marketplace option to list titles. Amazon is not requiring that pod titles be printed exclusively through BookSurge.”
    If a “small” publisher can’t supply a mere five copies of each book on their list for Amazon to warehouse they hardly qualify as publishers…more like hobbyists.

  17. I’ll say one thing, Amazon delivered a death blow to PA. Those buy buttons are DOA. Mine are still live, but who cares if they do go dead? I don’t since POD=DOA by design. Print-non-demand. Big deal in POD land, nothing in bookworld.

  18. Lee: Thank you for printing the actual online bookseller numbers to correct Peter’s “gut instinct” number. I was about to do the same.
    Peter: This impacts e-publishers in a huge way. One of the challenges for e-publishers is to meet their writers’ needs. Let’s face it, most writers want to be print published. So e-publishers use POD to print publish their most popular titles. Most e-publishers operate on very thin margins.
    And, because I can almost hear someone muttering it’s the survival of the fittest, let’s remember that e-books are still in their infancy industry-wise.
    Mark: Yes, I said earlier that this does not impact me personally. But–gosh
    –guess I just believe in having a broader focus than my own personal well-being. Imagine that.

  19. Two interesting items to add to the discussion.
    An interview with Jerry Simmons speculating on the outcome of Amazon’s move:
    Also, yesterday’s top story in Publishers Weekly reported that Ingram has signed a deal with On Demand Books–the manufacturer of the Espresso Book Machine, which I mentioned previously in this thread.
    The industry, it is a-changin’. Not today, not tomorrow, but it IS evolving.

  20. Hard to say what Simmons is up to. He uploads books already POD’d for promotion, I guess. Well, this is hardly revolutionary. As long as they aren’t printed and vying for shelf space it’s a useless endeavor. They won’t sell. When the machine prints edited books from authors we’ve heard of it will mean something. Now it means printed slush.

  21. Mark: I’ve said it before, but apparently you weren’t listening. POD is a technology, not a business model.
    ALL types of publishers (including the big six) are using it, not just the self-publishing presses. With digitization, it’s a way to keep books in print on virtual bookshelves forever.
    That’s why Simon & Schuster made that rights grab last year. They claimed that, because digitization and POD technology could keep their backlist alive indefinitely, they should retain rights indefinitely.
    By the way, according to Shelf Awareness, the Independent Book Publishers Association is now protesting against Amazon. Their statement included
    “. . .we urge Amazon to reconsider its position. Over the years, Jeff Bezos and his company have given small and independent publishers a level playing field to compete with the largest of companies. Suddenly, this magnificent playing field has been converted into a ‘members only’ club, to the detriment of those very publishers who have contributed to Amazon’s success.”

  22. Dear Maya:
    “ALL types of publishers (including the big six) are using it, not just the self-publishing presses.”
    To what extent, though? Major trade publishers like HarperCollins, the Bertlesmann group, etc. are currently making use of it only for things like backlist titles with limited demand, ARCs and galleys.
    POD is great for printing books for which there is a limited, sporadic demand. Once you get into a book for which the publisher anticipates even a modest demand, you are just as well off using offset printing.

  23. The Authors Guild is jumping into the fray. In a letter to its members (of which I am one), they write, in part:
    “Once Amazon owns the supply chain, it has effective control of much of the “long tail” of publishing — the enormous number of titles that sell in low volumes but which, in aggregate, make a lot of money for the aggregator. Since Amazon has a firm grip on the retailing of these books (it’s uneconomic for physical book stores to stock many of these titles), owning the supply chain would allow it to easily increase its profit margins on these books: it need only insist on buying at a deeper discount — or it can choose to charge more for its printing of the books — to increase its profits. Most publishers could do little but grumble and comply.
    We suspect this maneuver by Amazon is far more about profit margin than it is about customer service or fossil fuels. The potential big losers (other than Ingram) if Amazon does impose greater discounts on the industry, are authors — since many are paid for on-demand sales based on the publisher’s gross revenues — and publishers.
    We’re reviewing the antitrust and other legal implications of Amazon’s bold move. If you have any information on this matter that you think could be helpful to us, please call us at (212) 563-5904 and ask for the legal services department, or send an e-mail to”

  24. “Since Amazon has a firm grip on the retailing of these books (it’s uneconomic for physical book stores to stock many of these titles)”
    In other words, if Amazon doesn’t sell them, no one will? If that’s true, then authors should be pleased to have the sales, even if Amazon does impose some purely hypothetical discounts. (The alternative would be no sales of those books at all.) If it’s not true, then what Amazon does isn’t really that important.
    Whenever groups start sending out warning messages filled with doom and gloom scenarios of what people MIGHT do to screw you over, I always look askance at their Cassandra-like warnings. (“We suspect this maneuver by Amazon is far more about profit margin” — Wait a minute… Amazon is trying to MAKE MONEY? And these geniuses are only starting to suspect that now?)
    If people don’t like the way Amazon does business, then don’t do business with them. What could be simpler than that? The idea that Amazon dominates the book selling industry is pure myth.

  25. Lee: Thanks for posting the Authors Guild letter.
    The Authors Guild is absolutely correct. This is about vertical integration. Amazon now owns a piece of every link in the publishing supply chain to the consumer:
    Manufacturer => Wholesaler=> Retailer => Consumer
    They can now use one part of the supply chain to advantage another. And, when you own a part of every link, you profit–no matter what the outcome.
    If publishers move to BookSurge, Amazon gets more revenue. If prices go up as the result of publishers having to pay Amazon more, Amazon gets more revenue. If readers move to used books when prices go up, Amazon gets more revenue because they also sell used books alongside the new. If readers switch to e-books when prices go up, Amazon gets more revenue because they sell e-books (and the Kindle).
    They can also influence outcomes by squeezing one part of the chain to the detriment of their competitors in another part of the chain.
    And–thank God–more groups are finally catching on. Publishers Marketplace reports the ASJA (American Society of Journalists and Authors) says it “will urge the Washington state attorney general’s office to investigate whether Amazon’s move constitutes restraint of trade or otherwise violates anti-trust laws.”

  26. Well when they use it on the front end to keep shelves empty, Maya, let us know. Or we could go down and look at the empty shelves because everything is sold online only.
    The deal is these books aren’t commercially viable. Amazon is about commerce. Also for $29 per year anyone can list them. Why is this a problem for people who pay $500 to print the things?

  27. This whole “we’re going to sue Amazon!” stance strikes me as being poorly thought-out. If a particular e-publisher becomes a nuisance, all Amazon has to do is delete that company’s books from their database. After all, Amazon is under no obligation to sell any particular book. If that happens, the company loses even the chance of sales, which (assuming they really do rely on Amazon) will hurt them far more than it does the retailer.

  28. Hi, everybody. I must say I’m learning a lot from this spirited discussion, and that all of you know much more about the details of this subject (Amazon’s POD move: good or bad?) than I do. It seems like Maya is against Amazon while Peter, David, Mark and Lee are at least neutral or okay with it. Maya sees Amazon as becoming more monopolistic if Amazon isn’t already there, while Peter, David, Mark and Lee see any move to undermine the POD (scammers??) people as not a bad thing, and as basically a small thing within the publishing world.
    To add to the discussion, I have three points which are less about the details (which I don’t know) and more about the big picture (which I’m speculating about.)
    First, I feel a lot of anger towards Amazon. The move restricts my choice as a consumer. If I want to buy a POD book, why must I use Amazon’s service? For Amazon to force me into it is maddening. For Amazon to dictate terms to the POD people and to the readers out there makes me want to see the Big Six Publishing Houses set up their own “amazon marketing website” with the kicker being that Amazon can’t sell any of their books at all. I’m not saying we need to start the war, but I surely almost feel like saying it.
    Second, POD seems to me to be an intermediate technology. Remember 8-tracks, 5 inch floppy disks, 3 inch floppy disks, Sony walkmans? It seems to me they were steps towards a total digital music industry. And that seems to me where the book industry is going, also. So Amazon’s move may hurt some POD Houses but POD is not the answer and will fade away. Why? People will want e-books once a great e-book reader comes along. Why? Less lugging, less cost. When an e-book of a bestseller costs only $3.99 then millions more copies will be sold. And with an e-book, the buyer can make notes, cut and paste, and interact with the text in ways that can’t now be done with printed books, off-set or POD. So POD is just a phase. DVD’s even look like they’re a phase once Blu-Ray starts taking off.
    Third, e-books, assuming they take off as the dominant technology, can be sold without any help from NYC. Perhaps NYC will always generate a Bestseller List and create the push behind sales in the millions but independent publishing will surely arise, just as independent film-making has risen over the last 30 years or so. If Mr. Robert B. Parker wanted to sell his new books and back-list from his website, than I for one would have no problem ordering the entire Spenser series on e-book if the price per book was something of an incredible value like $1.99 each. And why not? The cost is pennies, and Mr. Parker would get all the revenue and sales would surely quadruple from what they are now considering what the current price is. And all of us could publish in this same manner.
    Anyway, I sure appreciate the details you guys are teaching me. Maya has my support for her arguments against Amazon. E-books have my vote over POD for the future of the publishing business. But how is it all going to play out?

  29. It’s true, David, sometimes I do misunderstand and sometimes I don’t express myself with full clarity.
    Lee wrote: “Amazon won’t carry any print-on-demand books unless they are produced by Booksurge, the online site’s own POD printer. This is clearly an attempt by Amazon’s Booksurge to steal market share from their arch rival Lightning Source, which produces the majority of POD titles for companies like iUniverse and PublishAmerica.”
    So I understand from this that Amazon is saying “if you want to shop here, get your POD book printed by Booksurge or go someplace else.” And Amazon gets the profit for printing the book, taking it away from another POD printer.
    This attitude from Amazon (and I admit it’s my own interpretation) is really ticking me off. It makes me want to say to Amazon, “You can’t sell anymore books published by NY, because NY is now setting up it’s own book-selling website.” My reaction may not be entirely rational, and may be somewhat emotional, but when the bully starts picking on the little guys, I start getting angry.
    Anyway, you and Peter and Mark and Lee and Maya understand this issue much better than I do. You are suppying the light and I am suppying the heat, this time around, I think. 🙂

  30. Lightning source is the printer almost all of the vanity presses use. Publishing is still very old fashioned. That’s why many of the atop agent require hard copy queries, and printed sample pages. Stores need hard copies on shelves. POD’s can’t get on shelves. Do the math.

  31. “That’s why many of the atop agent require hard copy queries, and printed sample pages.”
    This is off-topic… But in my experience, most agents are fine with electronic queries and submissions — many prefer them.

  32. Some David. I do both. e-queries have been abused by mass mailings and so they’re real easy to reject. Of course a good query has a chance anywhere. A POD book does not.

  33. Lee: I appreciated your treating me with courtesy on this matter although some of your readers were more patronizing.
    I don’t know whether you have continued to follow this story. Amazon is still throwing its weight around–and, as I anticipated, now it’s not the small presses or POD presses that are being squeezed.
    Amazon and Hachette, the UK’s largest publisher, are now arguing terms. And guess what?
    Amazon used the same tactics: shutting off the “buy button” for new books.
    Check my blog out for the story.

  34. >>Well when they use it on the front end to keep shelves empty, Maya, let us know. Or we could go down and look at the empty shelves because everything is sold online only.
    Why should we wait until it gets to that point? What is with this attitude that “If it doesn’t affect me then it’s not important”? And if it does get to that point, then how are we going to fight it, with all our power as consumers removed? Haven’t gas price increases taught us to take measures BEFORE things get that out of control?
    I’m not trying to be be doom and gloom here (in fact, I don’t think Amazon has the potential to be the end all, putting all publishers out of business). But I do see Maya’s point (from her blog) that if the legitimate small, micro and medium presses that authors are using as a stepping stones up into the big houses are put out of business then how many more people are going to end up self publishing instead? Increasing the desperation will increase the number of scammers out there preying on it.
    Please keep in mind that not all presses using POD technologies are scams, or even self publishers. In fact a small press title, I Will Rise by Michael Calvillo (Lachesis) competed for the Stoker award this year.

  35. I learned a lot from reading this discussion, and would like to thank Lee for providing this forum and Maya for being an informative voice against (what seems to be) a rising tide.
    I have a query for those who are making such a strong effort to sneer at POD publishers, what’s in it for you to be so condescending? That’s one thing I really dislike about the internet – and “comments” sections – that there are so many people whose motives we know nothing about. Remember, Amazon started out by accepting $$$ for favorable reviews of books they sold. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if some of the peeps on here arguing Amazon’s case were on their dime.


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