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KDP Books Unavailable To International Readers

18 November 2018

From David Gaughran:

A situation blew up at Amazon over the weekend which has made most KDP ebooks unavailable to purchase for international readers who use the US Kindle Store — one which has also exposed a glaring security problem.

This issue — which is either a bug or a badly bungled roll-out — is causing great confusion as its effects are only visible to those outside the USA, which might explain why Amazon has been so slow to address it, or even understand the problem, it seems.

The first reports were from a few weeks ago, when Australian readers who use the US Kindle Store were unable to see a handful of new releases. It seems to have spread significantly since then. This weekend I noticed the issue myself for the first time. Buy buttons had disappeared from a couple of my ebooks and they were no longer appearing in Search results or on my Author Page. It was as if they had been ghosted. Readers around the world confirmed the same thing — except those in the USA, where all these books continue to be visible in search and purchasable by readers there.

Looking around the Kindle Store this weekend, it seemed like half of the KDP books I checked were unavailable for purchase to international readers, and similarly missing from search results (and, in some cases, author pages). They were undiscoverable by international readers, in other words, and even if those readers navigated to the pages of those Kindle editions directly, price tags were gone and Buy buttons had been removed.

. . . .

So the system seems to think that I shouldn’t be using the US Kindle Store — even though, like many Irish people, I’ve been using the US Kindle Store exclusively since 2011 — and it is blocking me not just from purchasing this title and many other titles, but is also rendering them invisible in search too, so customers don’t even know there is an issue unless they somehow go directly to the book’s page on Amazon. New-to-you readers internationally who use the US Kindle Store won’t even know the problem exists otherwise, or that your book does, I guess.

It gets weirder because this bug or glitch or whatever it is seems to be very inconsistent. All of my non-fiction is unavailable to international readers. Some of my fiction is gone too, but not all of it. If I Iook at someone random from the charts like Bella Forrest, all of the books of hers I checked are gone.

. . . .

I spoke to Amazon customer service yesterday and tried to explain the issue. Amazon didn’t seem to understand it, and just inserted a US postal address in my account instead, which “fixed” the problem as far as they were concerned. And, yes, I can now see my books and all the others which were invisible to me beforehand, but everyone else internationally still can’t see them or purchase them in the US Kindle Store – which is the only place that millions of international readers are able to purchase ebooks (this point must be repeated again and again as misunderstanding abounds — not everywhere has a local Kindle Store and such readers are supposed to use the US store).

Amazon’s “fix” had a number of unintended side-effects. As Amazon now seems to think I’m based in America, I no longer get charged VAT on ebooks. Instead, a test purchase I made applied Washington state sales tax of 6.5% — the customer service person put in Amazon’s Seattle HQ as my address — instead of the 23% rate of Irish VAT that Amazon is legally required to apply to ebook sales to me.

. . . .

Related issues aside, I hope Amazon starts making an effort to understand what is happening here as this is a particularly bad situation for international self-publishers whose readers will naturally trend international too, and who will be disproportionately affected. It also prevents self-publishers around the world from checking their books on Amazon.com — which they need to do for innumerable reasons.

Whether all this is a (bungled) feature or a bug, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Amazon is taking its eye off the ball in so many aspects of its business right now, at least pertaining to books. Amazon’s greatest strength is that it still has the scrappiness and innovative outlook of a start-up — which seems to be achieved by essentially having 1000s of start-ups incubating under one big Amazon tent, who seem to compete with each other for resources and attention and site real-estate.

. . . .

At times like these, Amazon feels incredibly atomized, made up of 1000s of departments who don’t (and won’t) communicate with each other, For example, if you have decided to make hundreds of thousands of ebooks suddenly invisible and unavailable to millions of readers unless they switch to a different Kindle Store maybe — I dunno, radical idea here — email people about it? And if it is just some horrible bug, which has been growing for several weeks to the point where most self-published books are now ghosted to international readers, maybe start working on fixing it? Just a thought.

Link to the rest at David Gaughran

PG notes that David’s post is from November 12. This is the most recent post on David’s blog, so PG assumes the problem he describes may be continuing.

Amazon, Ebooks, Non-US

18 Comments to “KDP Books Unavailable To International Readers”

  1. Whether all this is a (bungled) feature or a bug, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Amazon is taking its eye off the ball in so many aspects of its business right now, at least pertaining to books.

    It’s quite easy to avoid that conclusion because there is insufficient evidence to make such a conclusion.

    • Actually, I see LOTS of little things that support the conclusion that some divisions of Amazon are taking their eyes off the ball. If you’re not seeing them, you’re not paying attention.

      • What are the top three little things that would lead one to think Amazon is taking its eye off the ball? Is the situation described by Gaughran one of them?

        • Hm. Which three to use…

          As a Prime member w/ 2 day shipping, I expect that if a product page says a product is in stock that it will be out the door in less than 24 hours (excepting Sundays). I DON’T expect that they’ll wait two weeks, then ship it “2-day” and consider they’ve met their promise. (Yes, this happened to me with a birthday present.)

          When the above scenario is predicted on my ORDERS page, I expect the much vaunted customer service to be able to fix it. I don’t expect to go back and forth with them several times, eventually having email Jeff@amazon.com to get them to pay proper attention.

          I don’t expect product reviews to come and go. I don’t remember what the product was, but I was watching a product I was considering buying when I noticed that from day to day the rating was going from good to bad to good again. Then back to bad. All because Amazon couldn’t decide what reviews to allow. This went on so long that I actually took screen shots and sent it to Jeff@amazon.com.

          As an author who got rights to a book back, when I upload the new edition and createspace asks for proof that I own the rights, and I send it to them, I don’t expect to be ignored for weeks on end concluding with multiple requests that they just acknowledge my existence before I (once again) turned to Jeff@amazon.com to fix the problem.

          And that’s Amazon taking their eye off the ball.

          • I’d suggest all three are examples of Amazon not meeting your expectations all the time. I’d ask how they are meeting their own expectations, goals, and objectives. They are only taking their eye off the ball if they are failing to meet their own standards. They don’t give a rip about my specific standards I assign to them. They don’t even know what they are. I never told them what they have to do to meet my expectations. Maybe I should.

            Are these systemic failures? Experienced by a material number of customers? How do they affect the measure of Amazon meeting Amazon’s standards?

            What percentage of Prime orders do make delivery dates? What percentage of products have changing reviews? What percentage of supplier queries are unanswered? Anyone know? If not, how do we know how Amazon is doing?

            Personal experience tells us little about how a giant company with $200 billion in revenue is doing. For example, I have experienced none of the inconveniences you mention. Does my meager experience demonstrate evidence of Amazon’s attention to its business? That would be cool. But, I’d say no. I am far too limited a sample set.

            So, while I am indeed paying attention, I’m not seeing the things you describe because I am not experiencing them. So what? My personal experience means nothing in evaluating Amazon’s corporate performance. Basing conclusions on my personal experience is meaningless.

          • Suzie Quint, Thank you.

          • Search results that are becoming more and more irreverent. For some things, I’ve had to resort to Google or DuckDuckGo.

            Underhanded third parties hijacking listings. The reviews will have nothing to do with the product sold. I’m seeing more and more of this.

            Botched closing of Createspace with an inferior in-house system with clueless ‘customer’ service personnel.

            Agreed on the issue of timely shipping or shipping the correct product. I’ve four incidents this year (that I can remember off the top of my head).

            And those are what I can think off just now. I’m sure more will come to me later. Amazon isn’t my go-to place for all purchases as a consumer. In the past the ease of order and delivery meant that I was willing to pay a little more sometimes for a product (Amazon is definitely not the cheapest on a bunch of products). With the mounting issues, I’ve been ordering elsewhere more and more.

            • Always amazes me how much money a company will spend trying to attract customers and how quickly they’ll alienate those same customers once they have them.

              • I notice both the efforts Amazon exerts to attract customers, and the very healthy increase in spending from those customers.

                Amazon revenue for 2017 was $177 billion. It’s on track to be at least $210 billion for 2018.

  2. The bigger question is: WTF is going on in the books section? Why did they take a working print operation — CreateSpace — and kill it and fold it into KDP?

    There was absolutely no reason to do it, and no advantage to be gained. The only answer that makes sense is whoever is in charge of the Kindle Books operation won a turf war over the print side, and then botched the merger.

    This is the kind of behavior you expect in older companies that have ossified. Amazon’s is heading down that path, now that Jeff Bezos is occupied with his model rocketry kit.

    • They really did kill it when they folded it into KDP, too.

    • Perhaps they don’t want to be in the paper business for independent authors? When something is killed, it’s reasonable to ask if it was targeted.

      And Bezos’ rockets? If his involvement in that venture is preventing him from paying sufficient attention to Amazon, then the faith so many independent authors place in him is indeed misplaced. Time to pull down all those books and go to Kobo before the whole thing craters. This book stuff ain’t rocket science.

  3. Nate posted on 11 November about what seems to be the same – or an associated – problem:

    https://the-digital-reader.com/2018/11/11/amazon-is-inexplicably-destroying-indie-author-careers-by-randomly-removing-ebooks-from-the-kindle-store/

    This ends with a claim from the Kindle Direct Publishing Team that the problem has been cured. I don’t know whether this is correct but I suspect not as a quick check shows that two e-books that had previously been missing (when logged in from my UK ISP) are still not visible.

    I should note that I’m not registered to use the US Kindle store so I couldn’t buy anyway but authors and others often only link to the US store and, if the e-book is shown I do at least get an Amazon link to buy in the UK store (though it’s only a book search and not a link to the book page), so missing e-books can still hit UK sales even if the book is actually shown on the UK site.

  4. Quite a few of us seem to be getting our Kindle buy buttons back on the US store as seen from abroad. All of mine were back a day or two after David’s post. My sales are slowly recovering from the slump they were in, so I do believe the Amazon glitch was making a difference.

    My local store is the UK one and I’ve had a lot of issues with poor quality third party sales, patchy delivery by random men with a van, and much higher prices than elsewhere. I still use Amazon but I’m increasingly turning to other sites for purchases.

    Amazon set the bar high with its fast, cheap/free delivery and review system, but other online businesses have adopted those standards while Amazon seems to be off doing something new. I’m grateful for its innovative drive, but as an author and a consumer I’m aware there’s a price to pay for its entrepreneurial stance.

    • Jane, I’m also in the UK and have so far have had no real problems with marketplace sellers – if you exclude the damaged bolt on a set of 4 chairs where the only way they could give me a replacement was to send another pair of chairs (but as they told me to keep the ones I had and the new ones included spare bolts as standard this “problem” just meant I got 6 chairs for the price of 4). However, I am pretty selective when buying from third parties and like you often find the prices cheaper elsewhere, plus I use specialist suppliers for some products.

      I dislike some of the recent changes to the website – like sponsored products in book search results – and have never really understood the multiplicity of results from a book search, so much so that I normally use the Advanced Book Search option. Where things really fall down is the general product search, simply because there are too many sellers with too many products and it’s a crap shoot to select the wording that will bring what you want to the top. I often start with Google which not only gives me the Amazon product page but competing suppliers.

      Where I’ve had no real problems is with deliveries. It may be that this is because I live in an area with a high density of Prime members and the delivery drivers specialise in this relatively small locality and therefore know it really well. I’ve got a delivery due today and tracking says the driver has to deliver 122 items before they reach me, whilst the map suggests that they’ll never be more than one mile from our house.

  5. I check my author pages fairly frequently, and it irritates me to no end that so-called third party vendors are advertising paperback copies of my titles that never made it into print. I’ve reported them more than once to ‘Zon, and nothing happens.

    Terrence, the anecdotal evidence of bad service to customers, when aggregated, equals poor customer service, no matter how many dollars Amazon makes.

  6. Terrence, the anecdotal evidence of bad service to customers, when aggregated, equals poor customer service, no matter how many dollars Amazon makes.

    Sure. Show me the aggregate. The aggregate I’m looking at a huge increase in consumer spending from the Amazon financials, and an equally impressive increase in Prime membership. Consumers speak with their dollars.

    If we read these pages, and stuff from the Guardian, we see people telling us about a specific problem they experienced with Amazon. Then they make a grand generalization about the failure of Amazon management, the impending loss of consumer confidence, and betrayal by Amazon of one group or another.

    People translate their personal pique into the general failure of a $200 billion dollar company (revenue). It’s all overblown, and stands in contrast with the behavior of millions of consumers.

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