May 21

Allison Randal

Allison Randal

Boycotting Amazon

In light of Amazon's attempts to lock print-on-demand publishers into their own printing services, I've made a personal decision not to buy from Amazon any more. Since the site first launched over a decade ago, I've spent thousands and thousands of dollars on Amazon feeding my addiction to tech books and fiction, on music, DVDs, electronics, and gifts for friends and family. I realize my spending is a tiny drop in the bucket of Amazon's total revenue, but it's a decision I feel good about, the same way I feel good about using low-energy lightbulbs, reusing plastic bags, and buying a car with environmentally friendly fuel economy and emissions ratings. One of the fundamental principles of capitalism is that when one source of goods and services isn't meeting your needs, you switch to another. The power to decide which businesses succeed and which fail lies in the collective hands of millions of individual consumers.

I've mainly switched to Books-A-Million for the prices (fair disclosure: I developed a good portion of the site back in the heady dot-com days), but I shop around at Barnes & Noble, Bookpool, Powell's, Alibris, BookFinder, and here in South Africa Exclusive Books. There's no shortage of alternatives, all over the world.

In my very first order, I bought some Xhosa language learning CDs, and on a whim added a print-on-demand book of Xhosa folk tales. It just goes to show that by restricting print-on-demand publishers, Amazon isn't only damaging the publishing ecosystem, it's also hurting its own business.

tags: amazon, publishing  | comments: 14   | Sphere It

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Comments: 14

  hekim group [05.21.08 02:35 AM]

One of the fundamental principles of capitalism is that when one source of goods and services isn't meeting your needs, you switch to another. thank you very much.

  Korba [05.21.08 05:55 AM]

Here in Europe, I've begun to use Play. The shipping costs and times are prohibitive otherwise.

  Glenn Fleishman [05.21.08 06:30 AM]

I have been very vocally on the record over at against's decision on the basis of them making a poor community choice and justifying it through specious means. It's a choice that's bad for consumers, paid for their publisher partners, ethically murky.

But I would like to play devil's advocate and point out that it's their bully pulpit. While they are the largest online bookseller, they don't exclusively control the market. It should be within their power to make decisions about how to best exploit their brand and marketplace, and how others may participate within it. Where it falls off from being what I would characterize as a poor business decision to being potentially illegal is whether they have a corner on the market and are restricting that corner.

POD publishers aren't being told that they can't sell through Amazon. But they don't get the same placement and fulfillment unless they use BookSurge.

They can:
* Use BookSurge for Amazon and anyone else for all other sales (that increases cost for the POD prep and especially conversion, but it's not an exclusivity arrangement)
* Sell through Marketplace
* Stock via Advantage (which is a pretty silly thing to suggest to PODders, given that you have to stock books with Advantage, given up a huge margin, pay lots of various other fees)
* Not sell through Amazon at all

So we'll see how it plays out. This feels like a bad MBA decision. Instead of providing incentives for people to use BookSurge; instead of improving it technically so that, for instance, Lighting Source files could be used (or even plain PDFs or whatever), so that using BookSurge and other POD publishers wasn't a big deal; instead of informing customers in an open fashion, and putting stuff in writing - Amazon seems to have chosen all the wrong options.

But it may simply be within their rights to make this bad decision.

  Daniel Steinberg [05.21.08 06:45 AM]


Back when Amazon was putting hundreds of local bookstores and music stores out of business you were spending "thousands and thousands of dollars on Amazon feeding my addiction to tech books and fiction, on music, DVDs, electronics, and gifts for friends and family." This is what put Amazon in the predictable position of taking advantage of the monopoly.

Now that they are pushing on POD and positioning themselves to control more of the publishing chain -- now publishers are taking note. I've read a bunch of blogs posts on Radar from folks who are up in arms about this. "How can Amazon go after us this way?" Where were the publishers when Amazon was putting Booksellers and Music of Note on Shaker Square out of business?

I always liked Tim's take that we should buy where we shop. I too have bought plenty of books over the years from Amazon and Borders. I'm conflicted every time I do -- I'm rewarding the people who put my local stores out of business.

But at the same time Tim was telling us to buy where we shop, he was telling us that the Amazon model was a great example of Web 2.0 and we needed to understand that that was where we are headed. If you weren't a publisher -- if you didn't care about POD from a supplier's standpoint -- what would your take be on what Amazon is doing and how is it really different than what Amazon has done? (This is an honest question and not a statement in the guise of a question)

We can't shop at the Walmarts and Amazons and Costcos and then be surprised when the local stores and farms go out of business. We certainly can't buy at these places because it's cheaper and more convenient and then bemoan the fact that they are now cutting into our piece of the pie to make it cheaper and more convenient for others.

  Peter Hayward [05.21.08 08:09 AM]

As David pointed out, you fiddled with your decades of purchases of purchases from Amazon while your local book seller's Rome burned, until, gosh, the fire warmed your on-demand-tootsies tootsies and you bought your Xhosa elsewhere.

How about abandoning large book sellers like B&N and online only booksellers like Albris and Books-A-Million, and how about buying from your local book sellers who make a living from their love of books (some of whom may have web sites)?

  Joe [05.21.08 10:14 AM]

Right said. I think I'm going to boycott too. The locking-people-in approach is the old-school, power-politics way of doing things. Amazon's suppose to be a cool new type of company. They're better than that.

  chromatic [05.21.08 11:51 AM]

I'm still boycotting for abusing their so-called "defensive" patents.

  Ben [05.21.08 12:19 PM]

I've been on both sides of the fence... having sold for Amazon as a distributor and having also published my own business documents through POD services like Lulu.

I know this is really going to hurt the POD market. I also know that Amazon has every right to do this. And finally, I know that I have the right to enjoy the beauty of capitalism and leave Amazon.

I've left Amazon.

  Alex [05.21.08 12:32 PM]

I see here opinions sided with publishers, printers and booksellers, but what about involved group which outnumbers them in orders of magnitude - consumers.
As consumer I don't care AT ALL what businesses are involved into delivery chain.
I do care about prices and speed of delivery.
And if the best bakery is the one which bake the bread than may be it's good for consumers when Amazon will print POD books.
The content of this post just need to be looked in context - why not other ISPs haven't filed class-action against ISP, which hosts Amazon
or why all catering providers don't sue Amazon catering provider?

  Sergio Cardoso [05.21.08 01:43 PM]

I haven't bought anything from Amazon for about an year and a half now. And I don't miss it. But the reason isn't exactly the same.

As a general rule when companies get after a certain size they usually won't care for those who helped them get there.

  Allison Randal [05.22.08 02:44 AM]


The thing I wish I could get across to Amazon is that this is a foolish choice for their business right now. Book retail is a very low-margin business, so to make a profit the retailers depend on a high volume of sales. Ultimately, they win by having the largest possible selection of books, and the best prices. Deciding not to sell one huge category of books hurts their selection, hurts their sales, and hurts their business.

The choices that Amazon is offering to POD publishers are oddly primitive and expensive for the publisher and retailer. What most online retailers do to improve the speed of POD fulfillment is just keep a few copies of the popular books in stock for fast shipping. This is all automated using the same stocking algorithms that they use for non-POD books, from the same distributors as the non-POD books, so it doesn't cost them anything. (I've developed fulfillment and stocking systems, this isn't tough.)

Daniel (& Peter):

I buy at brick-and-mortar stores when I can, but the fact is that my tastes are unusual. Not many stores stock $100 books on compiler theory, or language learning material for anything other than Spanish, French, and German. It just isn't economically viable for a local bookstore to stock things like that. I suspect that the shift from small, local suppliers, to larger, global providers is unavoidable as we move toward a more global economy. The online booksellers are winning because they are able to provide a long-tail service that the local booksellers can't provide.

That said, I do feel better about shopping online at Powell's and Books-A-Million because they're primarily brick-and-mortar stores, but have an online presence to fill the long-tail supply gap.


You've missed the third leg in what consumers care about. Prices and speed of delivery are important, but so is availability. If I can't buy the books I want at a store, I don't care if they offer me other books with low prices and fast delivery. I'll go to the store that sells what I want. Restricting POD publishing is bad for business.

  Laura B [05.24.08 05:35 PM]

I am going to look for my future books first at

New and used books.

Free shipping in the US and less than 3.00 elsewhere.
Part of their profits go to The World Fund and and Room to Read.

If that wasn't enough, their shipping is carbon neutral.

  John [07.07.08 12:31 PM]

I too have boycotted Amazon for years, over a credit card dispute they handled poorly / criminally. Conservatively I have cost them tens of thousands in sales (probably more) to large corporations, talking the procurement groups in several Fortune 100 companies into banning them in favor of better retailers.

But now I am eying the Amazon eReader. I was searching to see if you could use Safari on the thing, which would be awesome.

  Marina Baker [11.10.08 09:09 AM]

I've decided to boycott Amazon for a different reason -- their ban on Michael Hoffman's latest book.

Thanks for the list of alternatives.

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