Amazon can change self-published e-book pricing at will (Updated)

Goblin Tales - MedA reminder today that, if you self-publish with Amazon, you’re not guaranteed to be in control of your e-book pricing. Fantasy author Jim C. Hines recounts a recent pricing snafu with his e-book Goblin Tales, self-published through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. Hines had put the book on sale for 99 cents over Christmas and returned it to $2.99 in January (though apparently Kobo was slow to respond to Hines’s pricing change, meaning that his book was at 99 cents for a few weeks longer than he intended thanks to Amazon’s price-matching algorithm).

Then on February 11th Hines noticed that Amazon had dropped the price of the e-book to 99 cents again. And the book was still $2.99 everywhere else.

Hines writes:

I’ll give Amazon credit – the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) team responded to me fairly quickly, and restored the price to $2.99 by Valentine’s Day. But they also pointed to section 5.3.2 of the current Amazon/KDP Terms and Conditions, which gives them:

“…sole and complete discretion to set the retail price at which your Digital Books are sold through the Program.”

This is a big deal because when a bookstore puts his pro-published books on sale, he still gets full royalties out of them—but when Amazon does, the royalty is calculated from the sale price. He did still get 70% of cover rather than the 35% Amazon offers when the author prices it at 99 cents, but that’s still 1/3 of what he should have gotten.

If Amazon had done something like that to a traditionally-published work, the publisher would have interceded. If a publisher had done something like that with one of its authors’ works, the author’s agent would have interceded. But, Hines points out, if you self-publish with Amazon, you’ve only got yourself to speak up for yourself. In this case Amazon fixed the problem, only costing him $21 in underpayment for 16 sales made during the couple of days the book was mispriced.

(Yes, I know, he might not have gotten anything at all for those sales because people who bought it at 99 cents might not have done so at $2.99. I’m letting that pass given that the main argument is over the author’s control over his own work, not profits versus price points.)

Hines still plans to continue publishing through Amazon, but points out that potential self-publishers should go in with their eyes open, and not assume Amazon has their best interests at heart—it has its own.

(Found via BoingBoing.)

Update: Hines has just updated his original post to indicate that Amazon has told him that the price was reduced because Kobo had been selling it for 99 cents “at some point, ‘over the last couple of months’”.

So, they seem to feel free to reduce the price for past sales even if you’ve managed to convince the other retailers to come back up again. If the other stores feel the same way, it could theoretically be hard to get your book ever to come back to full price again as each takes turns reducing it because the other one did the month before. Food for thought.

7 Comments on Amazon can change self-published e-book pricing at will (Updated)

  1. “… [he] points out that potential self-publishers should go in with their eyes open, and not assume Amazon has their best interests at heart—it has its own.”

    Well, duh. I don’t think even Amazon fan boys like myself have ever claimed Amazon doesn’t have its own interests at heart. Like anybody in the publishing business is doing anything for altruistic motives.

  2. “… [he] points out that potential self-publishers should go in with their eyes open, and not assume Amazon has their best interests at heart—it has its own.”

    Unlike … who exactly ? Publishers ? Agents ? …..

  3. Amazon had my book unavailable for almost a week due to what turned out to be a “glitch” on their part. I lost a couple hundred sales, and there was no compensation.

    It sucked, but it wasn’t intentional or Amazon being “evil,” just a mistake. Part of the cost of doing business, I suppose. What’s the alternative, not dealing with them at all and getting zero Amazon sales?

    It DOES point out how much power Amazon has when they own such a huge market share. If they ever DID decide to act “evil,” they could cause a lot of authors a lot of pain. But I’ll worry about that if and when it happens — so far they’ve (mostly) been good to us.

  4. I can’t remember a time when this *wasn’t* Amazon’s policy for self-publishing. The authors that post on KindleBoards have discussed it regularly for the past few years.

  5. Amazon can change self-published e-book pricing at will? What a shock! I suppose, around 2009 this actually was news. Where have you been these past three years, Chris?

  6. Well, I did say it was “a reminder”. As in, a thing to cause us again to think about something we’re already aware of.

  7. Writers may need to be reminded that the whole publishing landscape is changing and becoming more like the rest of the commercial world – where the seller gets to set prices and the suppliers don’t get to retain this old fashioned and precious status.

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