Is Your Book Suddenly “Unavailable” on Amazon? Are They Up to Their Old Tricks Again?!

Is Your Book Suddenly “Unavailable” on Amazon? Are They Up to Their Old Tricks Again?!

Q –

My Amazon listing says this in the right side buy box:

Save an extra $13.96 (74%). Buy the Kindle Edition instead.

FREE Shipping for Prime members once available.

Usually ships within 1 to 2 months.

Ships from and sold by Amazon.com. Gift-wrap available.

Why are they telling people that it takes 1 to 2 MONTHS to ship???!!! I have notified them that this is an error and they say they’ve contacted my publisher but they did NOT. It is confusing my buyers!


A – Back in 2008, Amazon started making phone calls to print on demand publishers, threatening to remove their buy buttons from Amazon.com if the publisher didn’t start paying Amazon to print their books. This meant the book would not be available for purchase directly through Amazon. Readers would only be able to purchase copies through re-sellers who had listings on Amazon. Buyers want to be able to buy directly through Amazon because they don’t know those re-sellers. Buyers trust Amazon, a name they do know.

At BookLocker.com, we received the same threatening phone call from Amazon. We subsequently filed a class-action lawsuit against Amazon for (alleged) federal anti-trust violations. Our main concerns were: 1. Amazon’s printing division’s prices, and 2. The quality of their books was not acceptable to us. After a federal judge refused to dismiss the case, Amazon quickly settled our case, and paid our attorneys $300K. You can read more about our case, and the events leading up to it, HERE.

Things quieted down after that but Amazon appeared to be happy because many of our competitors had caved to Amazon’s demands, and signed their contract before our case ended up in front of a federal judge.

Over that period of time, Amazon was sending orders for print on demand books directly to Ingram’s printing division, which would then print and ship the book directly to Amazon’s customers, even using an Amazon.com return address label. (And, that printing division and Ingram recently confirmed to us that Amazon still does that for many orders.) Ingram was even shipping some books published by traditional publishers directly to Amazon’s customers. Everything was working great and customers were getting their books very quickly. Amazon didn’t even need to lay a finger on those books. The transactions were automated and Amazon was earning money on copies sold even when they didn’t need to warehouse or ship books.

Fast-forward a few years and, now, there are MANY more publishers and even more print on demand printers offering their services to authors. Obviously, Amazon isn’t printing books for all of them.

There is speculation in the industry that Amazon has found another way to try to get publishers and authors to use their printing services.

In a nutshell, Amazon is:

Listing print on demand books either as unavailable or “out of stock,” available only through third-party resellers, or available but with very long lead times that don’t accurately reflect how quickly buyers can really obtain that book, even if Amazon orders it from the distributor. For example, it does NOT take 1-2 months to obtain a copy of a print on demand book! Rather, it takes just a few days.

Amazon’s latest shenanigans have been affecting a variety of print on demand (and other) books for quite awhile now. Based on numerous reports we’ve received, this appears to be what’s happening when an author or publisher notices their book can no longer be purchased directly through Amazon (which is called “Ships from and sold by Amazon.com. Get it by (insert date here – some are available in a little as 2 days).”

Authors hear from their readers that people can no longer buy the book directly from Amazon. When those authors complain directly to Amazon, Amazon offers up a variety of excuses, including everything from “your publisher needs to open an Amazon account,” to “we can’t obtain any copies of your book from Ingram (the distributor),” and more. With print on demand books distributed by Ingram, those excuses aren’t flying at all. Ingram is, of course, not only denying the books are unavailable, but they are also happy to provide screenshots of their system, proving the book is indeed available. Publishers can simply login to their ipage account at Ingram to see the book’s availability. Of course, the same automated Ingram feed about the print on demand books goes to other stores as well, like BarnesandNoble.com, and those books are listed as available on those sites. Amazon is the only retailer we know of that’s altering the listing info. for print on demand books.

When confronted with proof (two screenshots) that one book in particular most definitely WAS available through Ingram AND their printer, Amazon continued to argue their case, but backed down when they were asked for a screenshot of what they were seeing on their end, claiming the information was proprietary. Magically, that book’s buy button appeared once again a week later, after the author got upset. During the discussions, Amazon pitched their printing division to that author. Their actions backfired. The author was so upset about the whole scenario that he has no interest in doing business directly with Amazon.

Based on reports from numerous publishers and authors, this appears to be what’s happening now with Amazon’s “availability” issues:

NEW BOOKS

1. A new print on demand book goes up for sale and the buy button on Amazon works just fine.

2. The buy button disappears a few days later, and is replaced by a variety of different things, like:

* Temporarily out of stock. Order now and we’ll deliver when available.
* Only 2 left in stock. Ships from and sold by (name of a third-party reseller on Amazon).
* 2 Used from $x.xx; 1 New from $x.xx (also from resellers on Amazon – and those “used” copies aren’t always used; in fact, many don’t even exist yet!)
* 10 used & new offers (all from resellers on Amazon)
* Usually ships in 1 to 2 months
* Usually ships in 1 to 3 weeks
* Usually ships in 1 to 4 weeks
* Usually ships in 5 to 6 weeks
and
* Ships from and sold by Amazon.com. Get it by (2 days from now). FREE Shipping on eligible orders. (Some books remain available through Amazon with this listing. Perhaps they have been inadvertently overlooked. Who knows?)

Here’s the beef. All of the books I just looked up on Amazon.com to copy/paste the text above have the exact same publisher, printer, and distributor. And, Amazon can still have that printer and distributor ship those copies directly to Amazon’s customers, with 24-hour turn-around! Amazon’s availability quotes are incorrect and ridiculous and authors and publishers alike are FURIOUS because this IS affecting their book sales.

3. Publisher/author complains to Ingram’s printing division (the largest Print on Demand printer in the world).

4. Printer opens “a ticket” at Amazon.

5. Amazon appears to fix a very small percentage of those book listings very quickly after receiving those tickets, but appears to ignore most of the other ones. We know of “unavailable” books that were initially reported to Amazon seven months ago, and subsequently reported three more times over the following five months, and they still haven’t been “fixed” at Amazon. If Amazon fixes one book, and if that book has the same publisher, printer, and distributor as all the others, why hasn’t Amazon fixed ALL of those books?

6. Unfortunately, the printer does not appear to follow-up on all these old tickets and only resubmits them if the publisher and/or author complains again. We’re not sure what’s going on there but I imagine they have tens of thousands of ticket open with Amazon. They would likely need to hire more employees just to keep up with the incorrect listings on Amazon.

7. Some books that do get their buy buttons back can lose them again a few days or weeks later.

8. The author gives up on the publisher, printer, and distributor, and contacts Amazon directly.

9. Amazon’s usual response is to incorrectly blame the problem on the distributor or publisher, saying they can’t get the book from the publisher (not true – that printer is under contract with Amazon to print/ship the books to Amazon in 24 hours), that the publisher needs to open an account with Amazon (which is not needed since Ingram, the largest distributor, which ships millions of books to Amazon each year, also carries the book), that the distributor has the book listed as “unavailable” (and Amazon continues to insist this even when provided with screenshots from Ingram’s system showing the book is available), and more.

10. In some cases, Amazon pitches their own printing division to the author as an alternative. Sound familiar??

11. When the author signs up for an “Author Central” account (which they might think they need to do to complain to Amazon), they start receiving emails pitching Amazon’s printing division (which has numerous complaints posted about it online). Incidentally, Amazon is rolling out a “new” printing service that many industry folks believe is just an attempt to rebrand their old one. (If I had that many complaints about me online, I’d want to rename and rebrand myself, too!)

OLDER BOOKS

12. Some older books are still available on Amazon. Perhaps the listings are too old or too much trouble for Amazon to jiggle them around.

13. Some other older books lose their buy buttons just like new books.

14. Go back to #3 above.

PLAYING WITH DISCOUNTS

Some publishers have tried increasing their discounts on some of their books while others have not. They think giving Ingram and, subsequently, Amazon, a bigger chunk of each sale will change their book’s availability on Amazon.

Some books with new, higher discounts will remain unavailable while some will be made available once again. There is no noticeable pattern on which books Amazon will flip the switch on or not. The reactivated buy button on Amazon may have nothing at all to do with the initial discount, nor the changed discount. There is no set discount rate that automatically makes Amazon turn the buy button back on again.

Some books that don’t have changed discounts will suddenly pop up as available once again (this seems related to how loudly the publisher or author screams at Ingram and/or Amazon). Some authors have reported that purchasing copies of their book from Amazon (despite the long lead times) and/or Amazon’s resellers have spurred Amazon to make the book “available” through Amazon once again.

There’s no rhyme or reason to the process Amazon is using to remove the active buy buttons, nor for re-adding them, nor for leaving some old books alone vs. removing the buy buttons from other older book pages on their site. Neither Ingram nor Amazon is providing real, correct information to publishers or authors about what’s happening behind the scenes. Based on correspondence I have received from some employees at Ingram’s printing division, they are NOT happy with Amazon, which is a no-brainer since they’re the ones fielding the first round of complaints from publishers and authors, and they’re the ones processing countless “tickets” with Amazon support, with very little success.

I recently asked Ingram for an official statement about the situation that we and other publishers can give to authors about this situation. They stated they are under contract with Amazon to print/ship books to Amazon in 24 hours and that Amazon does still have the printer/Ingram print/ship books directly to Amazon’s customers. Amazon chooses where each order will be shipped.

Obviously, Amazon and Ingram are still butting heads. Perhaps legal action is brewing.

In the meantime, each time Amazon changes a book’s availability, that increases the chances that an author is going to complain directly to Amazon. And, once that author is in contact with Amazon, Amazon can then pitch their printing division to the author, thus bypassing the publisher (and Ingram) altogether.

What do you think? Has Amazon found a new way to play the “turning off the buy button” game with authors and publishers? They didn’t threaten to remove the buy buttons. They just did it, with no warning. And, now they have a way to contact those authors directly, opening the possibility of removing the publisher and Ingram from the picture entirely. And, if they are successful, then Amazon gets the printing business for that book.

On a final note, another publisher I know reported receiving the “switch to CreateSpace or else” phone call in 2016. Hmmm….

What are your thoughts on this situation? First, please check your book on Amazon. If you see these problems, immediately contact your publisher AND Ingram. Then, please contact me HERE with your comments. We will not publish our name on WritersWeekly (unless you want us to). I’d REALLY like to hear from an Amazon employee or two but I know the chances of that happening are virtually impossible. REPEAT: We will not publish your name on WritersWeekly. 


ONE AUTHOR’S EXPERIENCE:

I just came from your page, ‘Is Your Book Suddenly “Unavailable” on Amazon? Are They Up to Their Old Tricks Again?!’ YES, they are! The first book of my (title removed) series is listed as ‘Temporarily out of Stock’ on Amazon. That’s strange (again), since (name removed) IS the publisher of the first title, and (Ingram’s printing division, Lightning Source) DOES print books for us. I tried to phone their Customer Service Center (866.216.1072) — only to find out — they are NOT ACCEPTING my ‘kind of calls’. What exactly does that mean?

Today (3-16-2017) I get an automated reply that they are having ‘technical’ issues and can only respond to certain general questions. Anything specific— call back later. OK…so I did…just now.

I got a customer service rep who, the moment she found out what my complaint was, tried to get on a ‘chatty’ first name basis with me. That didn’t work out for her so she tried to transfer me ‘up the line’. Now I am on hold for 10+ minutes……zzzzzzzzzzz

While I wait,I wonder why people are so stuck on Amazon? Barnes and Noble have the books listed as ‘In Stock’ and their shipping is by far and away much cheaper. I actually asked people in our Facebook group to forget Amazon from the beginning, or cancel their orders and go to B&N.

Ah Ha — persistence paid off –a human being! Now the man claims not to know Lightning Source. The name ‘CreateSpace’ just came up and I just told the man that Amazon could take and #@%& CreateSpace, and don’t send them to me after this call is finished! Now he doesn’t know how to solve the problem of the ‘Out of Stock’ title. He just said, “Where am I going to send this? If it were as easy as CreateSpace…..”

That comment died quickly. Now I am in a ‘holding pattern’ (the Black Hole I fear) while he runs off to the ‘john’ for all I know. He finally returned to the phone.

“Take it up with Author’s Central,” he told me, “We can’t fix their problems.”

“Oh, but the problem is with Amazon — not Lightning Source or Ingram,” I replied.
“Well, I can’t help you,” he said and that ended the call.

So, in the end, the book is still ‘Temporarily out of Stock’, even though Lightning hasn’t run short of paper to print on, and the entire Ingram shipping department isn’t grounded. This is the blow-by-blow of what just now happened to me (3-16-2017 @5:45 pm).

Update: 3-25-2017

They are still listing (title removed) as ‘Temporarily out of Stock’, but ONLY in the USA (NOT in Canada, France, or Germany). So, a call to Amazon’s Customer service had no impact. The ‘CreateSpace ploy’ is still being touted as ‘the solution’ for all ‘non-traditional publishers, according to Amazon. If you do get into a new litigation with the 900 lb gorilla, I will be pleased to be involved.


ANOTHER AUTHOR’S EXPERIENCE:

Amazon shows (title removed) as available only through third party resellers. When I contacted Amazon, they told me that Ingram has listed my book as out of print (which is not true – this author was provided with screenshots from Ingram and Lightning Source that his books were available and they continued to be available on other sites, like BarnesandNoble.com). Amazon has not responded to my latest email. Amazon will only talk to Ingram, and continues to insist that Ingram informed them that the book is out of print (Amazon has refused to send me proof, citing their privacy policy and unwillingness to expose their internal processes). Other than Kindle sales and third-party sales, I have sold no books for six weeks.

UPDATE

I received a phone call from Amazon just now, and they insist that Ingram fix the problem. They said it was probably a technical glitch that the Ingram management or technical people can solve. Aagain, this was not true – the author had already provided screenshots to Amazon proving the point.)

THE EMAIL COMMENT FROM AMAZON WHERE THEY PITCHED CREATESPACE TO THE AUTHOR:

I understand that this is frustrating and we want to get this corrected as quickly as possible as you do too. The only other option is if you would like to publish this book through one of Amazon’s Print on Demand channels we can create a listing fulfilled by Amazon…

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One Response to "Is Your Book Suddenly “Unavailable” on Amazon? Are They Up to Their Old Tricks Again?!"

  1. Michael W. Perry  March 16, 2017 at 3:54 pm

    I just checked two books of mine that are only printed by Lightning. Both are available and ship quickly. I’m not sure I want to bother to check dozens of others. I hate having to police Amazon to catch what it should never be doing. Amazon is worse than babysitting a rambunctious two-year-old.

    I did notice that Amazon lists one that’s only available in print as having a Kindle version. That Kindle version has a completely different publisher and lacks the enhancements I offer in my version. The two should not be joined on the same detail page. How typically Amazon—lazy, sloppy, and utterly devoid of integrity. A third-grader could be taught that a book by my Inkling Books has no relationship to one published by another publisher, in this case Titus Books. Is Amazon so stupid about books that it doesn’t know that different editions from different publishers can differ dramatically. Yes, from Bezos down Amazon really is that stupid—or more accurately it simply doesn’t care about the trouble it causes those in its supply chain.
    ——
    Anyone looking for a job they can run out of their home? I’d be happy to pay someone to monitor all my books on Amazon, checking them regularly, and letting authors and publishers like me know when these issues arise, so we can correct them.

    I’ll do the numbers to see how good a business model that would be. Assume automation brings up dozens of book pages in separate browser tabs with no user effort. Assume it takes 15 seconds to check each page. That kind of work word can get dull, so assume a 10-minute break every hour. That’s 50 x 4 or 200 pages an hour. Work a normal seven hours a day at that and another hour emailing out notifications of issues to authors and publishers. That’s 1400 books checked each day. Assume twenty days of work a month to allow some vacation time. That means checking 28,000 book pages a month.

    I was going to suggest charging $1/month for each book monitored, but that’d mean this lucky person would be earning $28,000 a month. Wow! Even those bogus Google postings don’t claim that much money. Making the checks weekly for that same $1/month means an income of $7,000 month—still amazing for work you can do from your kitchen table while cooking, minding the baby, and not having to fight a long commute.

    I think you’re seeing the marvelous economics of this. Change the per-book charge to a mere ten cents for each check and this monitoring service would still draw in $2800 a month. What author wouldn’t pay far more than a dime per book per month to be spared the bother of tracking Amazon for any blunder or trickery the company might do? And the person doing this would become an expert at telling authors how to make Amazon do the right thing. They would be providing a helpful service, and one they could do from almost anywhere. They could also spot scheming like that Angela suggests above.

    Anyone out there interested in starting such a business? Booklocker might even jump start the idea, offering it as a service to their authors and opening it up to the rest of us—particularly to me. I’d love to have the peace of mind this would offer.

    –Mike Perry, Inkling Books