Writer's Bloc
My SFWA Bulletin Column

Amazon’s POD Thunderbolt

from The SFWA Bulletin #180, December-January 2009


Amazon's New Print-on-Demand Demands

    On March 31, 2008, the Amazon.com Books Team sent out an “open letter to interested parties” announcing that in the future it would print all print-on-demand (POD) book orders in its own fulfillment centers. Previously, a customer clicking the “Buy” button would send an order to the originating POD printer for fulfillment. That button would disappear in the new contract unless the order was fulfilled through Amazon. The company argued that this reduced the total time from moment of order to day of receipt and that was the primary interest of their customers.

    Dana Corbit details the angry reaction to this move in “Amazon.com Decision Brings Questions, Spurs Lawsuit” in the November 2008 RWR.

    Scott Flora, executive director of the Small Publishers Association of North America (SPAN), was among the first to formally challenge Amazon’s declaration of ownership over the playing field. By April 4, 2008, he had issued a public rebuttal.

      Your initiative to move POD printing to BookSurge seems like you are bringing the process in-house to create short-term profitability. The free enterprise advocates would say that competition rather that vertical integration would work better at keeping prices low and quality high.

    Angela Hoy of BookLocker.com, wrote that the new contract being demanded would give Amazon control over:

      • The printing price of print-on-demand books.

      • The retail price of all print-on-demand books by not allowing publishers to sell their books for less on other sites.

      • The wholesale price of print-on-demand books – requiring a 48 to 52 percent discount depending on specifics in individual contract terms.

      • Digital setup and scanning fees for each books.

      • The coveted “buy” button.

    Amazon responded that it did not mention BookSurge because it was not requiring its services. Amazon’s Drew Herdener said:

      In fact, many BookSurge competitors including Lulu, Trafford, Xlibris, and Author House already print books directly inside our fulfillment centers using our printers.

    He added that publishers could also work through the Amazon Advantage Programs by sending a small number of already printed books for them to keep in inventory. Flora pointed out that the Advantage Program not only costs $29.95 a year but gives Amazon a full 55% of the retail price of each title. In addition, pre-printing and shipping books defeats the POD model by adding additional costs to the publisher.

    The Washington State Attorney General’s office declined to take any action on a possible antitrust violation, considering it to be a federal and not a state issue.

    Angela Hoy therefore filed a class action suit against Amazon in Maine District Court. The full set of documents can be viewed on the Amazon BookSurge Antitrust Lawsuit Clearinghouse website, antitrust.booklocker.com. The most current update is from Flora’s SPAN site, which reads as of October 24, that “Currently, the case is under preliminary review with a Judge to decide if it will go to court.” It’s still too early to know of the implications of Amazon’s new policy or the outcome of any lawsuits. I’ll monitor any developments and report them in later columns.

Not Normal, Paranormal

    Romance writers have leapt upon the freedom and possibilities of unlimited opportunities for creativity that writers in the fields of fantasy and science fiction have long known. Paranormal romances – those involving f&sf tropes from vampires to time travelers, elves to aliens, angels to demons – are among the fastest growing segment of the gigantic romance market.

    A para articles, sorry, a pair of articles in the October 2008 RWR took on the world of paranormal romances, Cynthia Eden’s “Get Your Ghoul On” and “Same Story, Different Strengths: What Sets Romance Subgenres Apart.” Both used a similar approach of quoting a number of writers for their takes, so I’ll mix and match to combine common content.

    What’s hot right now? Vampires, vampires, and vampires. Michele Hauf has a comprehensive list of vampire titles at www.vampire-titles.com, where an astounding 3950 titles are listed in 14 categories, romance/erotica being only one. She said, “Ten years ago, less than a dozen vampire romances were published in a year. The numbers have soared since then. In 2007, there were over 160 vampire romances pubbed.” But she warned that “Authors must find new and unique ways to present them to us without abandoning some of the expectations of the vampire (such as drinking blood as a necessity to their survival).”

    What lies beyond vampires? “Demons,” said Larissa Ione. And Laura Bradford has agented books about “dragons, werewolves, demons, vampires, witches, human who can perform psychometry, aliens, intergalactic warfare, time-travel, and futuristics.” Or all at once. Chosen Sin by her client, Anya Bast, is a “futuristic, erotic romance about a vampire cult headquartered on a distant desert planet.”

    Can all those elements co-exist? Yes, with the usual caveat: if done well. Linnea Sinclair explained why. “Sci-fi is oft considered the genre of intellect, of ideas. Romance is oft considered the genre of emotions, of the heart. Combining the two sets up a clash, a conflict, external and internal, which is often one of the stronger elements in sci-fi romance.”

    As our writers know, the thrill of world-building, the creation of a culture or society with rules of our own device, is a driving force behind much fiction. Our genre takes that thrill to a higher pitch than most. Paranormal writers have seized upon that thrill with the same enthusiasm that we know. Expect to see continued growth in the form as romance writers begin to explore more of the same sideways slides into possibility that we’ve grown up with.

The Employer Identification Number (EIN)

    Whether or not you think of yourself as such, as a self-employed freelancer you are an employer in the eyes of the government. At that tax time the dual role of employer and employee may cause problems. One way of alleviating those problems is to apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN). This is a federal identification number that is separate from your social security number (SSN) and therefore not as liable to the abuses or risk of theft that the SSN is prey to.

    Diane O’Brien Kelly’s “Writing is Taxing” column in the October 2008 NINK looks at the advantages of obtaining an EIN. One is that you might actually be an employer. If you hire employees or contractors, you’ll need an EIN for the W-2 or 1099 tax forms you send out at the end of the year. In addition, many banks require an EIN for you to be eligible for certain types of business accounts or perks only available to businesses.

    Here’s some basic information on EINs from Kelly’s column:

      Like a social security number, the EIN is nine digits, but it is formatted differently. The first two digits are offset by a hyphen, with the remaining seven digits following (for example 75-1234567).

      You can apply for an EIN online, by fax, by phone, or by mail, though the IRS website states that online is the preferred method. If you apply online at www.IRS.gov or by phone, you will simply need to answer a few questions in order to obtain your new EIN.

      If you apply by fax or mail, you will need to complete Form SS-4 “Application for Employer Identification Number,” available at www.IRS.gov. It can take up to four weeks to obtain an EIN by mail, but with the online system you can have an EIN in just a few short minutes.

      No matter how you apply, there is no fee for obtaining an EIN. Your hard-earned royalties stay in your wallet.

    You only need to apply for an EIN once, unless you go through a bankruptcy, incorporate, or dissolve a corporation to form a joint proprietorship.

Industry Numbers

    A business brief from the November 2008 NINK.

      From June 1, 2007 to May 30, 2008 here are how many millions the 10 top paid authors took in as a result of advances, sales and payment for film adaptations as reported by Forbes Celebrity Valuations.

      J.K. Rowling–$30 million
      James Patterson–$50 million
      Stephen King–$45 million
      Tom Clancy–$40 million
      Danielle Steel–$35 million
      John Grisham–$25 million
      Dean Koontz–$25 million
      Ken Follett–$20 million
      Janet Evanovich–$17 million
      Nicholas Sparks–$16 million

    Snippets from the Artists in the Workforce report compiled by the National Endowment for the Arts, provided in the Summer 2008 Authors Guild Bulletin.

      More women do it than men. Per capita, more of them do it in the states of Vermont, New York and Massachusetts – and in the cities of Santa Fe, San Francisco, and Boulder-Longmont – than anywhere else in the country. Eighty-three percent have bachelor’s or postgraduate degrees. Slightly more than half do it full-time, earning a median income of just over $50,000 – $3,000 less than a freshly minted graduate starting at Goldman-Sachs, $111,000 less than a pediatrician with one year’s experience.

    Still, the 185,000 writers whom those statistics summarize rank third in income among “artists” after architects and producers. For more details on the report, go to: www.nea.gov/news/news08/ArtistsinWorkforce.html.

MWA Offers BreakThrough Promotions

    I regularly find come-ons in my in box for various and sundry firms offering to promote my books. I just as regularly toss them.

    The Mystery Writers of America are offering their active members a better way. They’re making the services of BreakThrough Promotions available to their membership at a:

      15% discount on their regular prices for a range of “a la carte” promotional services like preparing and sending press releases, scheduling signings, arranging media interviews, among many others. They have also designed three special packages (comprised of various “a la carte” services) at a substantial discount on what those same services would cost non-MWA members.

    They are being careful to stress that they are not affiliated with BreakThrough nor endorsing their services. This discount is just a perk of membership. Those many SFWAns who are eligible for active membership in the MWA might want to consider whether this discount package might be worth the membership fee.


Organization, Publication, Address, Web Address

Authors Guild, Bulletin, 31 East 32nd St., 7th Floor, New York, NY 10016, www.authorsguild.org

Mystery Writers of America, The Third Degree (TTD), 1140 Broadway, Suite 1507, New York, NY 10001, www.mysterwriters.org

Novelists, Inc., NINK, P. O. Box 2037, Manhattan KS, 66505, www.ninc.com

Romance Writers of America, Romance Writers’ Report (RWR), 14615 Benfer Rd., Houston, TX 77069 [new address], 77379, www.rwanational.com

Sisters in Crime, InSinC, P.O. Box 442124, Lawrence, KS 66044-8933, www.sistersincrime.org/

Copyright 2009 by Steve Carper

Back to the top of the review

Back to Science Fiction and Me
Back to Home Page