By Fatman Butter
Enough was enough. I was at the end of my tether and spilling over with frustration at Amazon. I decided I would do better to direct my ambition and effort away from self-publishing, so I instructed that all my books (print and e-book) should be withdrawn from sale on the site.
I had four titles on display there, one of which wasn't even published. The unpublished one had been included when I ordered author copies, against my expressed wishes. Taking my titles off sale took Amazon two months, and when, finally, they were no longer available, still Amazon maintained cover images, and blurb of all four titles. This, they told me, was for the purpose of enticing potential buyers of second-hand copies of my books. In addition, whenever there were/are second-hand copies available, they also supply access to a hefty sized sample of my works.
Although, unlike my last title, it wouldn't be impossible that there were second-hand copies of my other works, it's something of an enigma that there are so many readily available.
You see, I'm not blessed when it comes to promotion; in total I have sales of about 700 across all three titles, and of them about 90% are E-book sales. So, my first book, Devil's Seed; let’s be generous and say there are 33 paperback copies in existence. Of those, I can account for about 20 being in the ownership of friends. (buddies do like a hard copy). So, with the vast majority of available copy shelved at various addresses in and around West London, I find it fascinating to speculate on how five second-hand copies end up with a single trader operating from Southern California.
I guess one explanation would be that my book is being counterfeited. Of course, this is speculation; but imagine if somebody, or even a company, had a bit of technical savvy and a print machine. Would it be possible for such a company to take advantage of a free Amazon promotion and, with a little chicanery, offer a second-hand copy of my book for sale, then supplying as print to order? Of course, I don't mean to imply that Amazon itself would do such a thing. I wouldn't dream of accusing them of such a shady practice. My conjecture sways more in the direction of an independent company taking advantage of Amazon's accessibility.That's speculation. What is far removed from doubt is that Amazon are the outlet for a number of books with somewhat mysterious provenance.
Moving along, I continued asking Amazon to remove all trace of my work from their site. I just wanted to be dissociated from Amazon in every way. I discussed the matter with at least four Amazon staff, possibly as many as six, I honestly can't remember the exact number. You see, Amazon have a policy of listening intently to complaints before passing them along to another operative. This is to present an impression of the issue being handed over to a more capable and more intelligent member of staff; but all that is really going on is you are being put back to square one and, in order to progress, have to start all over again. The idea is that the complainant will eventually surrender or embrace a rush of insanity.
So, I hit breaking point and gave Amazon warning I would involve the Smalls Claims Court. More or less, they laughed at me. Maybe that was because I was only claiming £3.00 plus costs. Or maybe it was because they were fully aware that there is no royalty obligation on second-hand sales.
They stopped laughing when the court papers were served.
It seems I had approached from an unexpected direction. I didn't claim for a sales royalty. I claimed a fee for use of cover image, blurb and sample, and, as Amazon hadn't contacted me to negotiate, I believe the fee is whatever I determine it should be. Of course, £3.00 wasn't going to break the Amazon bank, but that fee was for a six week period only.
First Amazon tried the same old tactic of getting a new (allegedly further up the food chain) operative who was going to resolve all my issues if I would just explain from the beginning one more time. Next up came the shyster, full of lies and bullying and really a bit feckless. After a couple of weeks of threatening me, he capitulated, saying that, in the interest of expediency and to spare both parties expense, his client had agreed full payment with the condition that Amazon do not accept any liability or responsibility and many intricate details in legalese.
Bit obtuse of the shyster, I thought. I mean, did he really think that this was about £3.00? In case he was in doubt, I explained that it was not for him to dictate our negotiation, and that no offer with conditions attached would be acceptable. In fact, I laid out my full intention, telling him this case was to establish Amazon's wrong doing, and, if they didn't now correct their behaviour, my next claim would be for an increased amount. The shyster showed he was getting the hang of our negotiation; full and unconditional payment was offered, but then he spoiled it by instructing that I had seven days to square this up with court. Didn't he know the court had already issued a set time in which concerned parties could settle, and that had 3 weeks to run?
I would have liked to have also refused the unconditional payment and forced a written admission of guilt and apology, but I was legally obligated to accept the offer. Still, perhaps the satisfaction of seeing Amazon adopt a better attitude towards authors is still to come, because as soon as I had the Amazon payment in my bank, I took out a new court action, this one for £300.00, and for a different six week period.
The silver lining of all this is I no longer feel so frustrated by Amazon's abusive attitude to me as an author. With the first of my four novels being offered to the second-hand market some five years ago, I feel my prosecuting Amazon has the potential to become cottage industry...if not, at the very least, I have myself a new hobby.