Is Amazon Biased Against Small Publishers?

Seems that dealing with Amazon is hard, or near impossible. I myself do not know if this is the standard with them but as a small publisher, it is near impossible to reach a human being there. I have had several issues with them so far which include:

  • Incorrect listing information for my title. Although they do have a form to submit corrections, 80% of the time the corrections do not get applied.
  • Slow market reaction from Amazon. The title was available from our distributor around mid-January. Amazon already had several pre-orders in place. The first copies from Amazon.com shipped out around Feb 20th.
  • Impossibility to talk to a human being. I understand, the success to run such a large business is automation. But that being said, I have found it near impossible to get in touch with a human being there. Sure, automated forms can solve 90% of the common problems. But what happens when you have an issue which falls in the extra 10%.

But the latest screw-up comes from a total lack of communication, incorrect information and unwillingness from Amazon to cooperate with us. Here is the story...

If you are an Amazon customer, I'm sure you received the occasional "Hey, you bought this. Then title YYY might be interesting to you". These emails mostly come from an Amazon program called the "Single New Product eMails". Amazon lets publishers submit themselves for nomination for this program and if selected a title can be featured in such an email. Of course, this isn't free, at 1500$ it can be fairly expensive to a small publisher. But after doing some math, it should be a positive return on investment for "Practical .NET2 and C#2".

Initial communication indicating our interest didn't yield much information from Amazon except a PDF documentation in regards to the program. Here is a transcript of the relevant information for the email...

"Single New Product e-mails are sent to a highly targeted audience to announce newly released products. By using a list of ISBNs that you suggest, we will create a recipient pool who will receive an email highlighting your book. [...] Titles for this program must be within 3 months of publication date in order to qualify. The cost for small vendors is $1500 per title per SNP mailing."

This is essentially the content of the PDF file, no real information about the process, mailing size, ... Ok, the key point here for now is the "within 3 months of publication". The official book publication date was for Jan 2006 (although it only started shipping late Feb). Meaning that we had until April to get the ball rolling (or at least based on our understanding of the email). I decided it made sense to wait until the 2nd month or so before getting things going on this so we could build reviews and get the word out there before such an email campaign hit to maximize our return.

Well, late March, I contacted them indicating that we were ready to start moving forward. I also asked about the size of the mailing, which is essentially what would decide if it was a worthwhile investment. Now that Amazon was seeing a potential source of income, someone responded quickly but interestingly part of the answer was they do not release information in regards to the size of their mailings...

Eh... Well, I am not going to spend 1500$ without some knowledge of how many emails you are going to send!!

Finally they said they generally target 5,000 to 10,000 recipients per mailing, which was reasonable for me. The next step, yet another surprise. You have to nominate your title for  a specific month. And the only months I could submit for were May and June. Ok, so I send a nomination form for the month of May. And wait for a response.

About 4 days later, I hear back. To my surprise... "Nomination Rejected"... Turns out that the month of May is more than 3 months after the initial sale date. Ok, but there is no mention of a nomination period in the information they provided me earlier, and based on what they sent me, my impression is that I had three months to apply. But interestingly, in my correspondence they used the wording "3 months after sale date". So if you REALLY want to get technical, the first copies of the title shipped out late Feb, meaning that May DOES fall within 3 months!

All they said is that I might want to consider the "Buy XX get YY" program (which at 750$/title/month, seems like a big waste of money to me). Tried reasoning with them and ask them to reconsider. But now that they do not see me as a source of income, my emails have returned to falling into the bottomless pit that is the Amazon customer support...

This is totally unfair, and has essentially cost us a few hundred potential sales. The information I was provided was incomplete and inaccurate. Now, the problem may be more generalized than this, but not being a large publisher with millions in advertising budget, I am sure I fall pretty low in the Amazon. If I was bigger and not so dependant on sales originating from them, I would more likely put alot of pressure on them.

But being a small press, what can I do?!?!