Cyber Monday–and a Note about Amazon’s Stocking Practices

Happy Cyber Monday!

We’re offering a crazy discount today for Stevan Allred’s debut linked short story collection, A Simplified Map of the Real World–$5 off the $18 book if you buy it on our Gumroad page, plus the free ebook version (ePub, mobi, and PDF all in one immediately downloadable document). Shipping for the paperback is $3. Just use the code cybermonday in the special offer field, and you’ll get the discount. Amazon is offering A Simplified Map for $14.46, so we’ll sell it for $13 just for this one day.

Or you can buy the three ebooks as one package direct from us and download them immediately here. Use the offer code cybermonday for $1 off just for today.

Amazon has been playing games with distribution, keeping us out of stock, despite our title being print-on-demand, which means it should always be available. Apparently this has been happening to numerous publishers who choose Lightning Source over Amazon’s own CreateSpace. I have written a whole rant about this strong-arming tactic, including copies of the help desk responses that a) told me to join Author Central b) told me to call CreateSpace and set up an account and c) told me to stop using Lightning Source. Lightning Source has been great, checking in on their end and confirming that all the other channels are flowing normally; this is an Amazon issue, and countless publishers have blogged about this problem starting in 2011. One solution that has been advocated is joining CreateSpace in addition to Lightning Source, but I really don’t want to play that game, because it’ll encourage Amazon to continue freezing out the little guys like us.

Every once in a while, over the past three weeks (hugely important shopping weeks, I might add) the “temporarily out of stock” label is replaced by “one left in stock,” and then that disappears. When the stocking issue first occurred, our ranking plummeted to 900,000, and now every once in a while I guess a book sells and bumps us back up, and then the out of stock label appears and the ranking sags again by hundreds of thousands of points.

Instead of ranting and sharing the less-than-helpful correspondence I’ve received from Amazon in trying to resolve this issue, today I’m sharing a discount that rivals what Amazon offers–and I should mention that Amazon gets 55 percent of our cover price in exchange for playing these stocking games. If you buy from me today, even though I can’t offer free shipping like Prime members get, all the proceeds will go to my press and I have a really high author royalty rate, so much of that will be passed directly to the author. Which is how publishing should work anyway.

Learn more about A Simplified Map of the Real World, my press’ first fiction release, on our Forest Avenue Press website.

And if you want to hear Stevan read one of the stories on a beautifully shot video, check this link out. The story he reads, “The Idjit’s Guide to Intuitive Mastery of Newtonian Physics,” is half an hour long, plus some Q and A afterwards, so you might want to put on your slippers, make some popcorn, and settle into the couch for story time.

About Laura Stanfill

Publisher, Forest Avenue Press
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18 Responses to Cyber Monday–and a Note about Amazon’s Stocking Practices

  1. Wow, how evil and yet how unsurprising. I try CreateSpace when I starting planning to publish A Sane Woman, mostly because of the connection to Amazon. But the customer service was so lousy (books ordered but not shipped, after weeks, and no way to get straight answer about what the problem was) that I changed to Lulu. Then A Sane Woman appeared on Amazon, mysteriously, and then eventually it vanished again, equally mysteriously.

    I’d be reluctant to play the game, too.

    • I was really reluctant to post anything, except I know a lot of people are looking for information on this problem, and I want them to know they’re not alone and that there are other options, like offering direct sales or promoting indie bookstore links. I don’t like to play games! Well, except for Boggle.

  2. 4amWriter says:

    Ugh, just another reason for us all to band together and freeze out Amazon! I like how you’re standing your ground, Laura. It’s really about time that we turn the tide to the author’s favor.

    • Thanks, Kate. I agree–let’s stand together and support our locals, and hopefully that’ll help. It does feel like my hands are totally tied, because I can’t force Amazon to stock my books, and neither can Lightning Source; they can only provide the title. It feels awful to be at the whim of whatever computer program targeted my book to knock out of circulation, and to think this might happen with future books. And I feel really bad for the people who were counting on Amazon for distribution who end up with this situation, because at least we have other outlets. Yay indies!

  3. jmmcdowell says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience with Amazon, Laura. I know now to buy directly from a small press when possible! The big guys? I think they can manage on their own. 😉

    • You’re welcome, jm. I really thought long and hard about this, and wrote different drafts, because I don’t feel like I can make a difference or change their practices, and I don’t really have the time or energy to wage a battle. But with other people being affected too, it seemed like I should speak up and share the situation. It feels really personal, this kind of strong-arming that affects my authors and my press in a really big, really direct way. And there are so many others out there, dealing with the same thing.

  4. John says:

    Sorry to hear that…this might one day lead to a class action lawsuit against Amazon.

    • I’m still shocked that nothing has happened to fix the situation; we’re past a month into it now, in the crucial holiday shopping zone, and our sales have definitely been impacted. I’m sure others in the same situation are feeling the pinch as well. But I’m not going to change to CreateSpace because I feel like that would be condoning this sort of business practice.

  5. John says:

    Hi Laura,

    I just came across this and have also contacted author Aaron Shepard about your situation as he has written about this issue with his Plan B and Plan C articles. I have invited him to come and comment on this as well. Not sure if he will or not.

    Anyways, I saw an article discussing the out of stock issue. This is an excerpt.
    “The whole issue with ‘being listed as out of stock’ on Amazon is a NON-issue. If your book is ‘print on demand,’ it WON’T be ‘in stock’ until Amazon orders some books. The way to get around this is to order one or two yourself. Within two weeks this listing will go away, as Amazon will have made an order for your book. After that, if they run out, it will say ‘temporarily out of stock; more on the way’ just the same as they would for any other book. See my earlier article ‘How to Kick-Start Your Book Sales – Part 2’ for more information about this.”

    I don’t know if this works…

    • John, thanks so much for your help. I’ll check that article out later today and maybe I’ll try ordering a few books. It’s worth a shot! I do see that Amazon now seems to be putting one copy in stock at a time, and it sells within an hour or two of listing, and then it takes a long time for another one to become available. Maybe that’s just how they do it these days? But I also know another woman who, after checking with LSI and Amazon, found out she had 12 real outstanding orders for books, and none of those had triggered the books being restocked. My biggest worry is the fact that I’ve committed to LSI and this route for my next three upcoming books, not just this one, so the problem has bigger implications to me than issues with this one title.

  6. Laura, I believe the exact status you refer to is “Temporarily Out of Stock.” This is Amazon’s new way of saying that the book is on order but has not yet arrived, replacing the old “1-3 weeks,” which really was just as bad. I assume it’s applied to any book sourced from Ingram, not just Lightning books.

    Most books nowadays are supplied directly to Amazon by the publisher, so this is just Amazon’s way of dealing with the few outliers. If you don’t want to be an outlier, the solution really is to sign up with CreateSpace. You may be reluctant to capitulate, but believe me, this battle was already lost years ago.

    • Aaron, thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. Your posts on Amazon, and your plans to get around the stocking issues, are invaluable resources, and it’s an honor to see your name pop up here! Putting it into outlier terms–and then finding a solution to move us out of that category–makes a lot of sense to me. As does, I’m afraid, the fact that the battle was already lost. I’ve been reluctant to play into the mechanism, but also reluctant to add another printer because we are already using three, with three different spine widths: Espresso Book Machine for advance copies, occasional in-store sales, and the fun novelty factor; BookMobile for our main short run; and Lightning for Amazon and the catalogs. Adding a fourth outlet, between setup fees and changing the spine yet again, seems over the top. But on the other hand, if that’s the way we have to play, I owe it to my authors to try to resolve the situation. Thanks again for weighing in!

  7. John says:

    Hi Laura,

    One other option is for authors who are experiencing this problem, is to contact Amazon and let them know that you are considering filing a complaint with your state’s DA, the Department of Justice and the BBB as their common practice of not stocking Ingram/LS books seems anticompetitive in nature. Maybe give them 10 days to respond before filing the complaints.

    If enough authors do this…I think there will be some positive changes 🙂

    • That’s a great idea, too, John. I hadn’t thought about filing anything, because it feels like such a widespread issue that I wouldn’t know where to begin. But you’ve given me some good places to start. Thanks again for your suggestions and for notifying Aaron. It was quite an honor to get advice from him!

      • John says:

        Sure NP Laura…we indies have to stick together :), If one of us is in trouble we are all in trouble.

        • So true, John. If I didn’t have my hands full with a busy 2014 schedule, I’d get more vocal about banding people together with this.

          As it is, I just heard from Janice Waugh, who tried to leave this comment here, but it didn’t take:

          “I have read these comments with great interest as I have three books showing as out of stock on Amazon and five others showing in stock. This has been the case since November 2nd and has definitely affected sales. I’m not sure when and how this is to be resolved. Unfortunately, Createspace is not an option for me. Based on their model and the fact that our books are about travel and, therefore in full color, the royalty would be 24 cents per book if we were to publish with them. Obviously, Createspace is not an option.”

          • John says:

            Janice’s comment is interesting. I am guessing that the sales rate for the books in stock is different from the ones showing out of stock. Which means that whatever method Amazon uses for stocking LSI books could really be the cause of the trouble. I would speculate that it has something to do with the book’s sales rate. Which implies perhaps how long the book as been for sale and how fast it sells…so a better the sales rate probably correlates with better stocking. Likewise a slower sales rate probably correlates with poor stocking by Amazon.

            So in theory they could be using he sales rate to determine when to stock and how much to stock. If the sales rate does not meet their threshold, then they probably don’t restock until another order is made and even then perhaps they only bring in a few books at a time.

            Example book 1 sales rate does not meet their minimum so they keep a very minimum stock lets say 3 books. 3 orders come along and deplete their inventory. Instead of ordering more, Amazon does nothing until new orders show up. Let’s say 1 new order shows up so Amazon stocks 3 more books and ships 1. Leaving them with 2 books left in inventory. If someone comes along and just orders 2, then they will be out of stock again until a new order shows up.

            The problem with this ( assuming this theory is correct) is, if there is zero stock and no one orders because Amazon says out of stock, then the book could be out of stock indefinitely.

  8. John says:

    Also, I tip my hat to author Aaron Shepard for weighing in on this.

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