Dear Amazon, if you wish to dominate indie publishing, please do it right

I got into indie publishing about 5 years ago with my debut novel, Kingdom of Ashes. Back then, Amazon was already trying to dominate the industry, offering small presses and indie publishers all sorts of benefits if they published exclusively through Amazon and didn’t make their book available on any other platform.

I never used this option because I wanted to give readers a choice where to buy my books. I know many people are boycotting Amazon for ethical reasons, and I didn’t want to exclude them. Amazon’s exclusivity policies were mildly annoying, but I could live with them. But then, Amazon’s reach grew longer, and so did its ability to mess up indie authors’ publishing plans.

When I first started publishing, Amazon already owned the print-on-demand service CreateSpace and the book cataloging space Goodreads. In the following years, Amazon absorbed them completely and tried to take over every aspect of book publishing, marketing, and distribution.

My issue is that Amazon is taking over indie publishing without putting in the effort to become good at this. They are very bad at printing and distribution, and they are destroying other platforms that did a better job.

Throne of Blood will be the first of my books published entirely through Amazon. It will also be the first time I will have no author copy before publication and will have no option to see and approve the paperback before it hits the markets.

But let’s start at the beginning…

My first books were printed through CreateSpace and looked pretty good:

The print was decent, and the different copies were reasonably consistent. Overall, nothing major to complain about, apart from one thing.

The books were only printed in the US, while, at the time, I lived in Germany. That meant that every time I ordered author copies, I had to pay not only insane shipping fees, but also import tax (on my own books!) I often sent signed copies to readers located in the US, which meant the book was printed over there, then shipped to Germany where I signed it, packed it nicely, and shipped it back. And I was ordering many author copies since I loved running giveaways (back then Amazon hadn’t absorbed Goodreads yet and it was actually possible to run giveaways). It seemed like such a waste. A couple of times I ran giveaways for unsigned books where I had the copy shipped directly to the winner, but I didn’t enjoy it. I like to add personal touches to my signed books and to include gifts and chocolates:

That’s why, when Amazon announced they are taking over CreateSpace, I was worried, but I was also hopeful. Amazon claimed it would be possible to print-on-demand from their major marketplaces (Amazon.co.uk, .de, .it, .es, .fr) Finally, I would be able to order books from Europe!

Amazon claimed their service, KDP print, would use the same printers as CreateSpace, and books would look exactly the same as before, so there was no need to order new proof copies. Nevertheless, I was so excited to be able to order books without paying import tax, that I decided it was time for a new Giveaway!

I ordered two Kingdom of Ashes copies. I was lucky I didn’t order more:

Okay, the color schemes are very different even though these are two copies printed presumably on the same printer, one after the other. But, more importantly, notice the thing at the top right corner?

That thing.

The cover image is printed at an angle, leaving some white space at the top.

Men and Monsters was a different story. The print book was already set up, and I already had some beautiful copies from CreateSpace. However, since this was before publication date, I was not allowed to order “author copies,” but had to order “proof copies” instead. I thought it would be the same thing:

CreateSpace proof copy on the left, Amazon’s KPD print on the right

Notice the difference?

For starters, we get an ugly watermark right across the cover, which makes it very unsuited for giveaways. But that’s not the only difference.

Notice the colors? The CreateSpace version is bright and golden and has warm red hues, mostly visible in Myra’s hair and the dress. The KDP one is dull and has a weird green undertone.

I contacted KDP support, and, after some back-and-forth, we concluded the following:

  • The weird green undertone was because KDP printers couldn’t handle an RGB color scheme and did an automated conversion. Apparently, this one was my fault for sending an RGB file even though it was never an issue with CreateSpace in the past and Amazon claimed they are using the same printing setup. Anyway, at least I knew how to modify the image on my side for the future
  • The white space was a temporary glitch with a specific printer, they promised it won’t happen again. And I hope it hasn’t. If anyone has ordered books and has an issue with the print, let me know
  • The ugly watermark, was, infortunately, here to stay

The problems were partially resolved, or at least clarified, and I was stuck with these ugly copies and didn’t know what to do with them. It felt disrespectful to send them to readers.

After this experience, I didn’t trust Amazon’s printing consistency all that much. That’s why, after I finished setting up my files for the Throne of Blood paperback, I decided to order a proof copy to make sure everything is fine. I didn’t really want one since I knew it would come with the ugly watermark, but it was the only way to see if everything was fine with the print. In general, I need a couple of paperback copies for myself and for the preorder giveaway, as well as for several other giveaways I’ve planned in the future. However, I had always planned to order these as author copies after publication, so that I don’t send watermarked books to the giveaway winners.

I wanted just one proof copy to make sure the colors and placement are fine. One thing had changed since last time—I had relocated from Germany to Denmark—but I didn’t think it would be a big deal. I could still order from Amazon.de without import tax… or so I thought.

Hmm, they can’t ship the proof copy to my address? But… that’s where I live. It’s the only address I have.

I started wondering, was it possible that the problem was I’ve ordered it from Amazon.de? Should I have used another marketplace? But that would have made no sense—Germany is right around the corner and is definitely the most logical place to ship books from. I contacted KDP support and got this response:

Please be advised that the corresponding market for Denmark is Amazon.com, so this is the market you will need to use to be able to request your proof copies of the book with ISBN 9798517915788.

Ermmmm…. okay, I think I need to draw what I want to say because I’m at a loss of words:

What

Why

And it’s likely similar rules apply for other regions outside the main marketplaces. This means that all authors located in Europe, as well as nearby regions (such as North Africa and the Middle East), who don’t live in Germany, France, Spain, Italy, or the UK, need to order their proof copies from the US.

Just imagine how many authors we are talking about.

Imagine how many books.

Imagine the carbon footprint.

Again, why?

Also, we really don’t have enough printing locations around the world. It’d be ideal to have at least one per continent. And, honestly, I don’t think we need four distinct printing marketplaces within the EU. One would have been perfectly sufficient, as long as everyone in the EU, or, preferably, anywhere in Europe and the nearby regions, can use it. And, better yet, why not remove the restrictions and allow every author to order proof copies from whatever marketplace they please?

This already works for every other Amazon product. Just a recent example: as I mentioned, I recently moved to Denmark. I had just settled in when my landlord decided to sell the apartment and kick me out. Suddenly, I had to move from a furnished to an unfurnished apartment in the middle of the lockdown when all shops were closed. I had to order everything online, and a lot of my orders came from Amazon. These included orders from Amazon.de, Amazon.co.uk, and Amazon.com depending on where I found the items I was looking for. Everything was ordered and shipped without issues. Then why is it different for books?

And it’s not just author copies. Books are often restricted across marketplaces, and many readers are unable to buy the books they want depending on their location. This also applies to ebooks, which require no physical shipment. I understand some big publishers have restrictions in terms of rights in specific territories, but this is not the case for indies, and there is no explanation.

I especially hated it when Amazon started imposing artificial geographical borders on Goodreads giveaways for no reason. I wrote about it at the time, and the giveaway setup only got worse after that. Now I am not able to run a Goodreads giveaway even if I want to.

But let’s get back to the issue at hand. I needed to order a Throne of Blood copy and was just told I could only do it from Amazon.com. Honestly, it would be cheaper for me to just buy my own book from Amazon.de and pay the normal price, instead of use the author discount from Amazon.com and pay for shipping and import tax, but that’s, unfortunately, not an option at the moment. If I want to see the book before publication, I need to use the proof copy option. And, given Amazon’s track record with printing my books, it made sense to check it.

So I decided to go for it and order a proof copy shipped from the US. I sent the request, got the approval, followed the link to make the order and got:

“Sorry, this item can’t be shipped to your selected address.

Are. You. Kidding. Me.

I contacted support again, and got a long reply which boiled down to “We don’t know why, but probably because of Covid.” Hmmm… It might have been understandable, but, as mentioned above, I’ve ordered multiple items from various Amazon marketplaces in the middle of the strictest lockdowns and this issue didn’t exist. Seems to be something uniquely affecting author copies. And they should know what’s going on—the moment I click to proceed with the order, I get a message that my address isn’t eligible, so it’s an automated check happening in the system. It’s not like they try to print and deliver the book and face unexpected issues later; I am not even allowed to place an order.

So not did Amazon set up an inefficient and illogical system for ordering author copies, but it doesn’t even work.

On top of that, Customer Support has no idea what the issue is and how to fix it. I suppose it probably works for authors living in the US and maybe in the other large marketplaces, but there are many authors living in territories with no dedicated Amazon marketplace. There were no such marketplace restrictions on CreateSpace—authors place an order and they ship it. Done.

Now I guess I have no choice but to wait for my book to be published before I order any copies and hope for the best. But I keep thinking… if CreateSpace still existed independently, I probably still would have needed to order the copies from the US… but at least I would have been able to order them and receive them, and I could have expected them to be of good quality on the first try.

So, dear Amazon, next time you replace a platform that works well, please make sure you have something to replace it with and don’t leave authors with nothing. Thanks 🤨

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