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Amazon Bottlenecks Frustrating Indie Publishers

17 December 2015

From Digital Book World:

With publishers in the throes of the holiday season, where purchases can make or break the bottom line, some are experiencing critical issues with their biggest retail partner: Amazon. Supply chain hiccups have left the biggest titles from some publishers out-of-stock and unavailable for purchase at the all-important retailer.

Several publishers, wholesalers, and distributors spoke to PW, on the condition of anonymity, about how the situation is impacting their holiday season. Many said the problem is stemming from the fact that Amazon placed unusually large orders in October and November that it is now struggling to process.

“The whole industry is set up so that everything moves through the pipeline: if someone plugs it up, everything goes kablooie,” said one editor at a regional press. This editor’s house has a frontlist title which he feels is being adversely affected by the situation; although Amazon ordered a significant percentage of the book’s total print run, the retailer has yet to make the title available online. The book, which was released last month and has received significant media attention, is currently listed as “temporarily out of stock” on Amazon.

Another publisher said the issues at Amazon are forcing it to reprint books more aggressively than it would, in order to keep stock flowing through other channels. Some sources told PW that the problems at Amazon are leaving their books sitting on distributors’ loading docks for up to four weeks.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

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24 Comments to “Amazon Bottlenecks Frustrating Indie Publishers”

  1. The title had me worried. I’ve go a title coming out in a week and thought I’d run into some kind of wall…

  2. I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.
    –Mark Twain

  3. “Supply chain hiccups have left the biggest titles from some publishers out-of-stock and unavailable for purchase at the all-important retailer.”

    Considering if Amazon was having ‘supply chain hiccups’ during the Christmas buying madness then we’d be hearing about it from many sources — not just books.

    “Another publisher said the issues at Amazon are forcing it to reprint books more aggressively than it would …”

    So Amazon demand is out striping their supply? I though lots of sales was a good thing …

    “Some sources told PW that the problems at Amazon are leaving their books sitting on distributors’ loading docks for up to four weeks.”

    So they don’t ship the books to Amazon, but wait for Amazon to come around and collect them? I always love the ‘some sources’ bits so you can’t ask Amazon ‘what about you ignoring XYZ’s shipment?’ Hard to prove or disprove a shadow …

    Good thing this ‘bottleneck’ doesn’t affect those publishing ebooks …

    • Could also be Amazon asking them to wait before delivering the ordered but not yet shipped books.

      Could.

      • Yeah.

        Or they might have seen a small run on their books, printed up a bunch more, and then it was a month before Amazon actually needed to restock them.

        Hard to tell or ask ‘some sources’. And then there’s the ‘up to four weeks’ bit.

        If you have the misfortune of being on AT&T’s ‘Uverse’, all you internet speeds are quoted as ‘up to’. Which means they promise your speed won’t go faster — not that it won’t go slower. And they don’t even consider it a ‘problem’ unless you’re getting less than half the speed you’re paying for.

        ‘Up to four weeks’ only means it didn’t take longer, not that it wasn’t done quicker (one week or even one day falls within their ‘up to four weeks’ …)

  4. The story is over on PW, not DBW.

  5. I don’t understand. Amazon placed large orders ahead of time and somehow the books are sitting on docks instead of being shipped to Amazon despite the fact that Amazon got a headstart on the holiday season by ordering early.

    And it’s all Amazon’s fault? I’m really lost here.

    The only thing I can conclude is that Amazon’s boy-scouty preparedness somehow surprised the publishers, who were unable to accommodate the extra or ill-timed business?

    Still not sure why Amazon is the bad guy here.

    • If that’s the case then this is sounding like the UPS or FedEx commercial where an irate man calls customer service to complain the delivery people showed up when they said they would. He was apparently in the middle of a “complex body hair removal procedure” when they arrived, because he hadn’t realized he could take them seriously when they said what time they would show up.

      Anyway, the fact that the story makes no sense is readily explained by it coming from PW, not the Digital Reader. ETA — my mistake, DBW, not DR.

    • If you read the entire article, Amazon schedules the trucking companies to pick up shipments from the publishers and, apparently, expected pickups (referred to as “milk runs”) are not being made. There’s not enough information to know why–and Amazon apparently isn’t saying–but it’s not the publishers’ fault that the merchandise is sitting on the dock.

      • This might be why Amazon has bought their own trailers. At that point they don’t need a shipping company and can hire independent truckers to do delivery.

        One of the problems with bulk, lower bid shipping contracts is sometimes the transportation company will serve higher revenue customers and ignore the lower ones till later. Never mind the contract.

  6. My, that could really hurt the bottom line of traditional publishers. How troubling for Amazon.

  7. Not sure I understand the problem. Is Amazon not making books available because they haven’t arrived yet? The distributor isn’t to blame, but Amazon is?

    • It’s a matter of who’s responsible for shipping. While it’s usual for the manufacturer (or publisher in this case) to handle shipping, larger retailers (WalMart, IIRC) schedule pickups with their own carriers.

    • From the article it sounds like Amazon is buying FOB distributor’s dock. It is the responsibility of the publisher and distributor to have the books on the dock at the scheduled time. Then it is Amazon’s responsibility to pick them up and do whatever it wants with them.

  8. I just published my debut novel with Amazon and CreateSpace, and I have been constantly amazed at how quickly they did everything – and how well.

    They’d say, ‘Available in 3-5 business days,’ and it was done in a Friday and a Saturday.

    CS messed up my first proof. When I called it to their attention, they immediately recognized – over the PHONE – that THEIR printing was the problem, said it was outside THEIR printing tolerances, apologized, sent me a new proof at their expense, and assured me I could go ahead with approving the POD because the problem was now fixed. It was – the book went on sale with that assurance, and the new proof was perfect when it arrived several days later.

    I’m assuming that doesn’t happen if you discover problems in a book done by your big publisher (partly because so many are printed at a time, I know).

    As a small potatoes new author, I could have been left to wait until someone had time. They don’t make you feel small.

  9. It’s hard to know for sure, but this sounds like Amazon has a truck shortage. If they are missing regularly scheduled pickups from distribution centers, that means that the trucks that normally run those routes are being diverted to meet higher priority demands due to the holiday season.

    At Amazon, decisions like this are usually based on hard numbers. Some analyst or algorithm is deciding where to send trucks based on demand for various types of goods. In one sense, the fact that these book distribution centers are at the bottom of the list is directly related to the archaic practices of the industry. Amazon has zero economic pressure to pick up those book orders because they don’t have any financial risk from leaving them in someone else’s warehouse.

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