Late last week, picked up a Huffpo piece about changing the way books are sold on the Amazon website. How this change affects different publishers depends on that publisher's sales model. I want to speak about how the change affects Apex Publications and other small press publishers like us.

(In this screen grab, you can see the Buy Box change)

Background about the Apex model

Briefly, Apex Publications is made up of two arms: Apex Book Company and Apex Magazine. Our magazine is online only, so let's drop that from the discussion. Apex Book Company mostly uses a print-on-demand sales model (although we occasionally will have a book traditionally printed and sell it through the Amazon Advantage program).

For years, we used Lightning Source as our sole POD printer because they offer catalog placement in Ingram. This catalog placement allows our books to be sold by online vendors such as Amazon, B&N, etc. It also lets bookstores stock our books should they want (but at a short discount...usually bookstores will only do this for local authors).

When things started to stink

A few years ago, Amazon started messing with the availability of POD books sourced through Lightning Source. Titles went from being Prime Available and shipping the next day to being listed as available in 1 to 3 weeks. Our Amazon print sales dropped. When you order something off the internet, you want it now, not 3 weeks from now.

The solution that Amazon wanted POD-model publishers (and the massive self-publishing sector) to embrace was to switch from Lightning Source to Createspace. And yes, go figure, Createspace is owned by Amazon.

Apex accepted the solution and we now use Createspace for sourcing Amazon (we still use LSI for everyone else). Lo and behold, the books that were once listed as being available in 1 to 3 weeks were once again available immediately.

3rd Party Sellers

That first bit of strong-arming POD publishers and self-publishers to Createspace was but the first step in the current Amazon strategy to control book production and book sales from start to finish.

As outlined in the Huffpo and Vox pieces, Amazon no longer lists Amazon as the default seller of some books. They now allow 3rd party sellers to bid on who gets listed as the default.

Naturally, for books printed and distributed by Createspace, Amazon is always listed as the primary seller and every thing looks the same as it ever was.

Why 3rd Party only is bad

Granting 3rd parties the ability to be the default seller does not really help bookstores or online vendors that buy from a wholesaler or distributor. What it does is help Amazon drive more POD publishers and self-publishers to Createspace. It also has the possibility of driving book prices down as 3rd parties acting in bad faith sell advance copies of books at a cheaper price than the publishers and bookstores.

Also, book buyers tend to shy away 3rd parties for various reasons. Many of the sellers aren't Prime eligible. The loss of customer trust suppresses sales. I've seen both of these first hand back during our initial availability troubles. And finally, according to Vox, the buy box bid winner's availability affects your book's listed availability.

What it means for Apex?

Mostly, it means business as usual. We do have a handful of books still only on LSI, but they'll be moved to CS soon.

As a POD model publisher, we've already been forced to Createspace. But it worries me that Amazon is now expanding its hold on the bookselling and publishing business.

I'm afraid it's inevitable.