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Amazon's Physical vs. Digital Dissonance

In March of 2008, I wrote about the frustrating experience of trying to get this blog added to Kindle. Fourteen months later, apparently that “rather large ingestion queue” is still full, because the blog never showed up, and I never heard another peep about it. (There is now a self-publishing feature for blogs, but as with their self-publishing book feature (known as DTP), the standard terms of service you must accept to participate aren’t something many commercial publishers will be willing or eager to swallow.)

As you might expect, Amazon is one of our biggest customers, and our relationship with them is an important one. They give us far more (virtual of course) “shelf space” than most retailers could possibly provide, and their lean ordering systems mean much less exposure to the risk of significant returns. But much of the efficiency and innovation that is the hallmark of their physical-goods business doesn’t seem to be translating into their newer digital programs.

Cory Doctorow has a post over on boing-boing venting his own frustrations with trying to get answers from Amazon:

I love Amazon’s physical-goods business. I buy everything from them, from my coffee-maker to my DVDs. I love their consumer-friendly policies, and their innovative business practices. I just wish their electronic delivery business was as good as their physical goods side.

(For the record, we’re the “major publisher” Cory references — I passed his questions along to my own contacts on the Kindle team, and despite repeated attempts haven’t been able to get a response either.)

I do understand that many of these are new products and systems, and it’s inevitable that there will be glitches and problems; it’s often important to be willing to be “good enough” in order to move quickly. But some of these things are bordering on the absurd (like the 14-month wait for ingestion of this blog…). For example,  while we were thrilled they worked quickly to help us get The Twitter Book up for sale on Kindle, for more than two weeks (until just last Friday) the product page for the print version not only didn’t show the Kindle version as available, it actually included a link saying “Tell the Publisher! I’d like to read this book on Kindle.” Sigh.

In the wake of releasing about 200 of our books onto Kindle, more than one customer complained that the Preview wasn’t up to par:

@timoreilly I love how the Kindle sample of the Twitter book doesn’t even get past the preface for the book. Not much of a sample.

Turns out the default preview percentage is 5% of the book, so we asked if we could dial that up to 20% (in line with the amount included in a preview of one of our books on Google Book Search). The response? Since we’re the only publisher that’s asked for it, it’s not a high priority change they’re prepared to make right now. (Note to other publishers: please let Amazon know you’d like the option to increase the preview percentage on your Kindle books.)

Amazon is a business like any other, and they’re entitled to prioritize as they see fit. And I hope that all of the new vendors, sites, and services popping up (or ramping up) to sell ebooks create some urgency for Amazon to improve their own programs so they’re as efficient in the digital supply chain as they are in the physical one.

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  • http://www.weberbooks.com/publish.htm Steve Weber

    Amazon’s support is pathetic. When I notified them of some suspected pirated material submitted via their Kindle DTP system, they took about a month to reply. Then, the reply was a non-answer (please contact our legal office).

    Sure, it’s smart for Amazon to automate as much as possible. But to the point of ignoring messages about a new business of theirs? They could get some really valuable insights if they would pay attention to what people are saying.

    Plus, you would think this would be the one topic that would get their attention. When I discovered a pirated copy of one of my titles on eBay, I reported it and the listing was taken down within hours.

  • bowerbird

    oh, poor baby.

    that darn amazon is _frustrating_ you again.

    bad amazon. bad, bad amazon.

    the very idea that they would try to make you
    “swallow” their “standard terms of service”…
    i mean, really, don’t they know who you are?

    and their gall, telling you that your request is
    “not a high priority” for them. how infuriating!
    it’s as if they were actively trying to anger you!

    anyway, i hope you can persevere through these
    annoying developments. i’ll be praying for you…

    -bowerbird

    p.s. if you really need the money for this blog,
    let me know where to send my $1.99 per month.
    i want you to know that i am standing with you
    in these trying times. stay strong, my friends…

  • http://www.benbellabooks.com/blog/ Glenn Yeffeth

    Amazon decided early on to be have the best customer experience and the most reliable online store and largely succeeded. (Their customer service when something goes wrong is not strong – I could give many examples). This is on the physical side.

    From the publisher perspective, there is a lot of reasonable complaining about Amazon’s pushy approach (i.e. forced co-op) but there’s no real question Amazon is the highest margin big customer the publishers have (including cost of returns, etc.)

    On the digital side, their strategy seems to be to create a proprietary universe (a la Apple). Of course there are start-up problems with digital delivery. But the real issue is will customers be willing to put up with gated community, as Apple, Google, B&N, etc. come up with alternatives.

    Amazon is trying to push the publishers to a $9.99 price for ebooks as they kick and scream (see Sunday’s NYT article (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/17/weekinreview/17rich.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=ebook%20pricing&st=cse). My math shows this price is actually pretty reasonable (details on my blog).

  • bowerbird

    glenn said:
    > My math shows this price is actually pretty reasonable

    my math shows that the mammals can do it even cheaper (by
    making clever use of the marginal-cost that approaches zero),
    and that the dinosaurs (with their high fixed-costs) will die…

    -bowerbird