Monday, 31 March 2008

Amazon acts like a corporation

As a follow-up to my Print On Demand Publishers Compared post, there are three things that are starting to make me rethink my conclusion of "Next time, I'd forget about Lulu and just go with CreateSpace".

First is further unresponsiveness from CreateSpace's support. They put my book into Amazon's Search Inside the Book program, eventually. I had submitted it myself in the meantime because I wasn't sure if they were going to do it or if I had to, but it got knocked back because something was illegible (I don't know what, Amazon didn't tell me).

The version they submitted, and the version currently on Amazon at time of posting, has the same error that I had to get them to correct twice on the printed proof - all the ligatures and apostrophes have dropped out. (Click the Excerpt link on the left to see the issue.) I logged it with their support, they took what was apparently a cursory look and told me that it looked to them like the issue was fixed. I clicked the "No, this didn't resolve my problem" link and gave fuller instructions. The last I heard from them was over a week ago saying they'd sent the issue to a support specialist.

The second thing is that I have sold no copies from CreateSpace or Amazon, but I have sold some from Lulu.

And the third thing, the most disturbing, is that Amazon appears to be using its market dominance as a retailer to strongarm small publishers and self-publishers into using its print-on-demand service BookSurge, and no other print-on-demand (POD) publisher. I'm pretty unhappy about that; I'll be watching the situation and if they continue to do this (and especially if they continue not to be upfront about discussing it), I will be joining the growing boycott and pulling my listings, plus removing my Amazon Associates links here and on my other blog. Not that my tiny action will hurt Amazon, especially since they're not getting any sales of my book, but it's the principle of the thing.


Robert said...

I need to say this: I'm a retired social worker and in 2005 I published a book with Publish America. (A Certain Fall) I had read all the poop on them, being mostly negative, but I took a chance BECAUSE they did not ask for any money and they said that they would publish the book. I knew what they were ... and I believe that they will publish anything (almost). But, I proofed my book as well as I could and carefully corrected the proofs they sent to me before publishing. I carefully read their contract. I knew exactly what I was getting. No surprises. The result was a decent product. And I received many fine reviews on the book from professionals and book reviewers. Now my second book is ready. I'm weary trying to connect with mainstream publishers ... way beyond the beginner in my book(so to speak)and no chance for an agent (not yet), and when I read what else is being published I can be discouraged easily. However, I checked out CreateSpace and Amazon.Com and tried hard to meet their standards to self-publish. Man! What a chore! And the end result worries me. I must say, Publsih America gave me exactly what they said they would. Exactly. And,I'm going back to them with book # 2. And, I encourage folks to ignore the critical comments and after examining their contract, give them a try. You may be pleasantly surprised. If this sounds like an ad for PA, it's not. I just happen to be very satisfied with what I received from them. Check out my website:

Mike Reeves-McMillan said...

That's interesting, Robert. Personally I didn't have much trouble meeting CreateSpace's (technical) standards for self-publishing, though I do have quite a bit of experience in publishing (as an editor), computers and technical writing and have done a bit of art. As far as I can recall they don't have a content or quality filter in particular, any more than any other self-publisher.

I haven't looked at PublishAmerica, partly because I'm not American, but largely because I'd heard that they represented themselves as a publisher when in fact they were more like Lulu or CreateSpace, a print fulfillment house adding no value to the editorial side of the equation. Now, I have no problem with print-on-demand fulfillment houses, obviously, but PA have historically claimed to be more but not, to the best of my knowledge, acted as anything more than that. If your experience is different (that they aren't claiming to be more), that's good to know.

uncommoneyes said...

Thank you for posting your comparison info. I'm working on a book to self-publish, a children's picture book and you've given me plenty of food for thought and e-investigations about where to search for outlets, requirements, etc. I want to include an audio CD with it, so thanks for the clue about podio, too.

Mike Reeves-McMillan said...

Thanks. I've found Podiobooks great - very friendly, helpful, professional people who run it (on what amounts to a volunteer basis), and it gets you good exposure. I've had about 280 subscribers (not all of whom have persisted throughout the run of the book), which considering that City of Masks is a "fall between the cracks" kind of novel with no obvious genre is fairly good, I think.

Hunchermuncher said...

Hi Mike,
Your comparison of Lulu and Createspace is very useful. I currently have a book published by Lulu which does well in the UK where I am based. Is it possible to simultaneously publish the same book on Createspace with the same ISBN? I think it might help me break into the American market. My book currently appears on but doesn't sell that well. What is your experience?
You can see my book at Thanks!

Mike Reeves-McMillan said...

I published on CreateSpace with my own ISBN (which I also used on Lulu). It wasn't an American ISBN (it's a New Zealand one).

I haven't had very good sales overall, and have sold nothing on Amazon or CreateSpace at all - partly because I haven't pushed hard enough, partly because I can't figure out what genre my book fits into. Since I get slightly better royalties on Lulu I haven't pushed Amazon or CreateSpace. I had hoped that having it in Amazon's catalogue would lead to some sales through search, but not so far. I would have thought a non-fiction book would do better in that regard, since you can do a lot more with keywords, but you say you don't have very good Amazon sales either?

Hunchermuncher said...

I sell an average of 100 books a month which are mostly through where I am based. About one tenth of those sell through The book does very well on keywords - if you enter "drama" on the uk site, it is the No1 book. But I also get a lot of visitors to my website where the book is heavily promoted!

Twinkle toes said...

Dear Mike,
thank you (and thanks to your visitors as well) for your comments about the publishing business. I am especially interested as I also live in New Zealand and am ummming and ahhhhhing between the various options. For me, going through the paperwork necessary to obtain the proper Tax numbers and other form filling is quite a mission : did you have to do all that?

I take it that you have printed some with Zenith, as well as being with Lulu and Creates pace....i read your earlier article with great interest, but even more your most recent article in which you described your difficulties in communicating with CreateSpace. This is so helpful!
I'd prefer to give Zenith a go as well as Lule and CS (patriotic kiwi) but my book of anecdotes about organists has been contributed to by people from all over the world so I will need an international selling machine as well Amazon?
Cheers, Jenny

Mike Reeves-McMillan said...

Thanks, Jenny.

I already have a business, so I didn't have to set one up for publishing - or do you mean the tax forms for the US, which are quite complex and cumbersome? I haven't had to fill those out because I haven't made any money out of CreateSpace as yet, and Lulu don't seem to require them.

Depending on your likely market and where they are connected, you could always try just printing with Zenith, marketing from your own website and shipping internationally. If that would reach 80% of the people who would be likely to buy your book, it would be a lot less hassle. It's not too hard to set up a PayPal account and sell something off your website these days. If you are connected in to an international community, which it sounds like you are, and you can direct them to a central point where they will buy from, this is a good option.

On the other hand, if you envisage a lot of your sales coming from people interested in the topic who would find your book on Amazon but otherwise wouldn't be aware of it, it would be worth using CreateSpace, despite some potential hassle.

In that case, try to make sure that you lay out the book for Zenith in a format that's easy to adapt to a size available on CreateSpace. Don't necessarily discount Lulu either; I've had some sales there.

One of Zenith's drawbacks, of course, is that their website doesn't tell you even such basic information as the book sizes that they print (let alone their prices), but they will tell you if you ask. When you ask for a quote they will ask you for number of pages, which of course you don't know accurately until you know the size of the bookblock, which they don't tell you. But other than their very poor use of their websites (some of which aren't up to date either, I recently discovered), Zenith are great to deal with once you're in touch with them personally.

Twinkle toes said...

Thanks again Mike - all very useful. I have emailed Zenith and will probably ring tomorrow to start the ball rolling.
Yes, my book has had more than 1000 contributors from all over the world so I expect quite a lot of interest globally, so Amazon is where I want to be listed ultimately, as well as other websites.
One of your comments though puzzled me: "do you mean the tax forms for the US, which are quite complex and cumbersome? I haven't had to fill those out because I haven't made any money out of CreateSpace as yet" ... I can't complete my profile on Createspace yet as it wants to have these details all filled in.

I figure that no single process is 100% perfect, and I can understand your frustration with communication problems at CS. But from what you say it was much more pleasant dealing with our local folk so I'll be happy to begin with them, and move to CS as things progress.
thanks for your time and advice Mike, much appreciated.

Mike Reeves-McMillan said...

CreateSpace may have changed their policy, I didn't have to fill out the tax forms upfront.

Jamie Kayam said...

Thanks for sharing your self publishing experiences. I have two books which I was gravitating towards self publishing with Amazon/CreateSpace, but your comments are reinforcing my instinct to consider multiple publishing sources at the same time. Now I'm looking into as well.

I'm not sure if you've blogged on this yet, but have you at any time considered your small print runs as a bridge to to getting signed up with a major publishing house, or do you prefer to go it exclusively on your own?

Mike Reeves-McMillan said...

Thanks, Jamie. As it happens I have been thinking about that.

What I've heard is that as the author of a first novel you do a lot of the promotion in any case, so you are giving up a degree of control over your work (and accepting a lower royalty per book) in exchange for distribution to bookstores. I do keep revisiting the idea, though, and I haven't ruled it out.