Amazon still has mucho shelves full of print books for sale. And they want desperately to clean up that stock with their print on demand capability. But, the publishers are reluctant to allow Amazon to use POD.
Do you know the reason ? Can you guess ?
Amazon vs. Publishers: The Book Battle Continues
There’s a glaring anachronism at the center of most Amazon.com (AMZN) fulfillment centers: aisle after aisle of old-fashioned books. Amazon stocks these volumes for the many customers who still favor the tangible pleasures of reading on paper. Yet the company is relentless about increasing efficiency and has at the ready an easy way to remove some of those bookshelves: on-demand printing. With an industrial-strength printer and a digital book file from the publisher, Amazon could easily wait to print a book until after a customer clicks the yellow “place your order” button. The technology is championed by those who want to streamline the book business—and it might turn out to be a flash point in the hypertense world of publishing.
The book industry isn’t eager to embrace any more wrenching changes. The introduction of the Kindle in 2007, and Amazon’s insistence on a customer-friendly $9.99 price for new releases, has set off a multifront fracas. Efforts by the largest publishers to sidestep Amazon’s pricing strategy attracted the attention of the U.S. Department of Justice, which recently filed an antitrust lawsuit against Apple (AAPL) and five book publishers over their alleged collusion to raise e-book prices. (Three publishers have settled the lawsuit.) The issue of print on demand has taken a backseat as this e-book drama plays out.
Yet executives at major New York-based book publishers, who requested anonymity because of the legal scrutiny of their business, say Amazon regularly asks them to allow print on demand for their slower-selling backlist titles. So far they’ve declined, suspecting that Amazon will use its print-on-demand ability to further tilt the economics of book publishing in its favor. Asking publishers to move to print on demand “is largely about taking control of the business,” says Mike Shatzkin, founder of Idea Logical, a consultant to book publishers on digital issues. “It adds some profit margin, but it also weakens the rest of the publishing universe.”
Print on demand has been around for more than a decade. In 1997, the largest book wholesaler in the U.S., now known as Ingram Content Group, started a division called Lightning Source to serve publishers who wanted to print limited copies of certain books. In 2005, Amazon acquired a rival print-on-demand provider, BookSurge, and began offering publishers the option of supplementing inventory with print-on-demand copies when physical volumes of a title sell out. Now called CreateSpace, the Amazon subsidiary mostly caters to small publishers and self-published authors. The technology has gotten better over time, and print-on-demand books are now indistinguishable from most paperbacks.