Amazon Advantage - The Truth about How They Really Treat Authors
When we think of ‘Amazon’ some think of a vast wilderness, full of wildlife and harmony, whilst others think of the black and yellow conglomerate that, rather sadly dominates so many of people’s lives. That is, of course, Amazon.
As an author and Children’s Book illustrator I’m often asked about how I managed to publish my books and get them onto Amazon’s website – what a fantastic achievement! One that even I was proud of for a short while, despite my thoughts of the company itself. This, however, was very short-lived.
I wanted to share my personal experiences here with you, as I’m sure many other authors of books would like an honest opinion of their service 'from the other side of the company' just to show you how badly they truly treat those who they work with. And remember, this doesn’t just cover the sale of books and support of authors – it can be any product/service. They create a minefield to navigate, have you do ALL the work and they want ALL the profit, whilst treating you or your company like something they’ve trodden in whilst taking a walk through the park.
AMAZON proudly states on its website:
“Amazon started as a book store, and taking care of authors is at the heart of our company. We’re committed to supporting independent authors by helping them find readers and grow their revenues with services like Kindle Direct Publishing. KDP enables authors to self-publish and distribute their books to millions of readers around the world, and earn up to 70% of every sale in royalties.”
Can this be true? Well, from my personal experience, NO! And I find it quite an insult to read.
So, before I continue, I want to stress that I don’t use their ‘KDP’ service. The quality is quite simply very poor! The cover curls up as soon as its cold and many times some of the pages are bound upside down. I don’t and never have used this service. So I can’t comment directly on KDP itself, but the product is poor! I have, however, used their other services for resale, such as Amazon Advantage.
I have outlined some of the troubles that I’ve encountered with Amazon from day one, but this really only scrapes the surface. These are my personal experiences – yours may be very different and it would be interesting to know, but I won’t hold my breath!
Back in July 2019 my first book, Hornbeam Hollow: The Hunt for the Halloween Pumpkin was published. It went into the number 1 best seller for its category on Amazon, but due to technical ‘glitch’, it took months to attempt to have the book categorised correctly again. Naturally, I brought this to their attention via their support hub – and this was their response….
“Thank you for writing back to us.
We have made the below requested changes in our internal tool. Please allow 5-6 working days for the complete changes to be live.
If you have any additional questions or concerns please contact us again by opening a new case.
Have a nice day.”
Six working days passed many times over the whole situation repeated and went on and on and on…..
After multiple months and empty promises by Amazon, I was met with this response –
Thank you for your continued patience. We are currently researching your issue in partnership with the responsible team and will provide an update as soon as any additional information becomes available.”
And now, nearly two years later this is the only response that I receive. I eventually gave up trying to categorise the book as it should be. I didn’t think their service could get worse, but how wrong I was!
So, my book has never been categorised as it should be, but I persevered and promoted the book nonetheless. Sales were strong, but Amazon wanted a greater slice of the pie. I originally offered them a large chunk to help the business relationship going forward. Big mistake!!!
Amazon won’t allow their percentage to be changed down the line, despite there being no mention of this. It was presented to me in a way that I could simply change this and subject to approval we could continue working together. But no, they refused this, and failed to supply me with any details of this in their ‘terms and conditions’ - they simply requested that I falsy inflate my price to get myself a better deal because they won’t budge on their share. It gets worse.
Most retailers will buy several books from their supplier, and usually have them sent to one distribution centre. But not Amazon.
Amazon won’t stock up as they promise. They would prefer to have you send a single book (occasionally a couple of books) to all of their distribution centres most days. So, if they order 50 books, expect to pay 50 lots of postage and 50 lots of packaging. But that’s not it! Oh no…… They also demand that the books arrive on a specific day and if they don’t they won’t accept them!
Realisctly, nobody can afford a guaranteed posting service (per book) which would cost nearly twice the face value of the book itself. Using even the cheapest method of dispatch, the costs would be more than the measly margin they allow an author. When the books arrive a day late, or even early, they simply refuse them and return to sender – pretty much a big F-YOU as the cost of shipping goes down the drain. You will then be asked to resend them again.
Can it get worse? Yes, it can.
My books are seasonal (Halloween, Christmas, Guy Fawkes Night). So it’s only natural that my sales increase dramatically around this time. No problem says Amazon! Just let them know and they will stock up in advance! Great! But, they won’t do this, and in fact, they order LESS at these times!!! So the book becomes out of stock for almost the entire period of when it will sell the most!
So, after missing the best time to sell a seasonal book (in this case my second book: Hornbeam Hollow: The Legend of Jack the Squeaker), what does Amazon do? They buy in large volume the moment that season passes! Great thinking, Amazon! So I send off hundreds of more books – knowing full-well they’d messed up again. Can’t get worse, right? Of course, it can!
Realising their mistake via their magic ‘Amazon Algorithm’ they decided they’d return about 30 books to me, which all arrived damaged! So they can’t be sold on to anywhere else. Thanks, Amazon.
I’ve reported this to them, and this is their response:
"According to the Agreement you entered into as part of the Advantage program, we have the right to return copies to you, or if the copies are damaged, or if they do not comply with the representations and warranties in the Agreement.
As per the Agreement, the cost of return is at your expense and such delivery charges may be withheld from payments due to you.
As per the Agreement, these returns are valid."
Again, I should point out that when they took delivery of the books they were in fine condition. They took delivery some month's ago, but it is only now that they realise they have ordered too many as the season has passed. They damaged the books returning them to me, and now to add insult to injury, expect me to pay for the return cost (god only knows what they deem this cost to be).
I should also point out that if you rely on cash flow, you may want to consider other options. Amazon doesn’t pay for goods within the industry standard of 30 days! Amazon will cream off as much profit on your turnover before paying out a penny – expect 60-90 days before you see anything! Not a bad earner for a company that pays little or no tax in some countries.
Does Amazon Truly Care about Authors?
In my experience, NO, they certainly don’t. As you’d expect, Amazon is essentially a huge automated drone that couldn’t give two hoots about anyone, or anything apart from how much money it is banking.
My advice to new and established authors (especially if self-publishing) would be to stay well away from Amazon or use it purely as a marketing tool like I do. All of my books can be purchased from other book shops, or better yet, directly from me where I will always make sure that you’re sent a signed edition at no extra cost. In the coming months I will have my books show as 'inactive' or 'suspended' on Amazon (unless they change drastically or I’m using them to my benefit in another way) - it's simply not a fair or nice environment and their working practices leave a lot to be desired, especially when you see the damage it has caused to traditional shops and independant traders.
Lastly, just as another kick in the teeth, they also removed about 10-20 genuine reviews of my books for no valid reason at all.
Please, consider selling your books or other goods via different platforms - and when shopping consider shopping locally or from non-Amazon related stores. It's not always more expensive, in fact, it's often cheaper!!!
I'd love to hear your experiences with Amazon - please leave comments below, and please share this blog post to help spread the word, thank you.