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Amazon smacks little people with BookSurge

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Amazon has told print-on-demand book publishers that they better start using the retailer's print-on-demand service if they want their books sold on its website.

In 2005, the world's largest online retailer purchased a print-on-demand operation known as BookSurge, and over the past several weeks, BookSurge sales reps have adopted a new, um, sales pitch.

"They told us that if our books are not converted to BookSurge, they would turn off our 'buy buttons' on Amazon," says Angela Hoy of Booklocker, a tiny publisher based in Bangor, Maine.

Hoy also runs WritersWeekly, an e-zine dedicated to freelance writing, and late last week, she leaked word of Amazon's new policy to the web at large. Within 24 hours, a story turned up in The Wall Street Journal.

Countless other publishers have received a similar ultimatum from BookSurge sales reps, and in the case of PublishAmerica, Amazon went ahead and turned off those buy buttons before the publisher had a chance to answer.

With print-on-demand, publishers needn't print a book until a customer actually orders one. This means that smaller outfits like Booklocker and PublishAmerica can market titles without spending countless dollars on copies that may never sell.

In the past, Booklocker did its print-on-demand printing through BookSurge. But the company now uses Lightning Source, a BookSurge competitor owned by Ingram Industries Inc. "BookSurge was the first printer to print our books, and they were horrible," Hoy told us. "We lost authors because of them. We had upside-down pages. We had missing pages. We had broken bindings. This was a while ago, but things got so bad, we fired them and hired Lightning Source."

So, when a BookSurge rep started emailing the company in recent weeks, the messages went unanswered. Then Hoy heard a rumor that BookSurge was attempting to, shall we say, leverage the influence of its parent company. "So I asked the rep what was going on," Hoy said. "And he confirmed the rumor."

The rep said that Amazon will continue to list Hoy's books if she doesn't switch to BookSurge. But customers will have to visit third-party sites if they want to actually buy them.

Nonetheless, Hoy and Booklocker are sticking with Lightning Source. "There are a list of us who are not going to sign Amazon's contract, who are basically telling them to go to hell," she said. "We will take an initial hit to our revenues. But the sales of self-published books are typically generated by the author's marketing efforts. If someone goes to Amazon to buy one of our author's books, it's because that author told them to buy it there.

"Our authors are now changing all their links on their websites, their e-zines, their blogs. If they say their books are available at Barnes and Noble or Chapters, that's where the customer is going to go."

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