I received a Google Alert this morning, that I thought I'd pass along. It's taken from a amazon.com customer's blog, a bibliophile from Houston, Texas. It provides further evidence of what I was complaining about regarding amazon practices in a long post a month or so ago.
The book in question, Eric Ormsby's Time's Covenant, is, of course, still in print, and still readily available through our distributor, and to amazon, if I understand things correctly, through Baker & Taylor, just as it always has been. Baker & Taylor continues to order our books. Yet amazon has sent an email to a customer, once again, saying that the book is not available.
The general rule of thumb about these things is that for every instance you hear about, another 20 or so are not mentioned in any public way. This year, I've been told of at least a half dozen separate occasions where amazon -- or amazon.ca -- has canceled existing orders for our books when the books are available. I also know of weeks-on-end where the books have been listed as unavailable, where it wasn't even possible to PLACE an order. How much, in the end, has this cost our press? How much other small presses?
Amazon has done a wonderful job of promoting themselves as being the one-stop place for books. If it's available, they'll get it for you. But that's simply not true. But the fact that they send these notices to their customers which can only serve to dissuade them from looking for it elsewhere -- I mean, if amazon.com can't get it, who can? -- is a seriously problem, and something that needs to be addressed.
As of April, 2008, Biblioasis titles will be represented and distributed by Northwestern University Press in the US and abroad: perhaps this will solve much of this problem. But it is, still, incredibly frustrating. At our level of operation, every sale matters: thankfully this reader wanted the book badly enough to have looked elsewhere. But it would be foolish enough to assume most would show the same level of tenacity.
Two weeks ago I placed an order for three books, among them a volume I wished to give as a Christmas present, with Amazon.com. A prompt e-mail informed me my books would not be delivered until late in January, so I cancelled the book intended as a gift and bought it from a chain bookstore in Houston. On Wednesday I received another e-mail from Amazon.com saying one of the books I had ordered for myself, Time's Covenant: Selected Poems, by Eric Ormsby, could not be shipped:
“Though we had expected to be able to send this item to you, we've since found that it is not available from any of our sources at this time. We realize this is disappointing news to hear, and we apologize for the inconvenience we have caused you.”
“Disappointing,” yes, but also baffling. Time’s Covenant was published in October 2006 by Biblioasis, of Windsor, Ontario, Canada – that is, south of Detroit, in a much-touted era of free trade and globalization. It remains in print. Ormsby is an American and long-time resident of Canada now living in London. He is also among our finest living poets. I reordered his book from Amazon.ca (the Canadian cousin), and they expect to ship it between Jan. 16 and Jan. 30.