A couple of months ago I published a blog called “3 Things I’ve Learned about Book Production”. In it, I described one of the mysteries of publishing that we commonly call Amazon. I also described the difficulties I was experiencing getting Ingram and Amazon to communicate effectively. My book was listed as available in 5-7 weeks and I couldn’t understand how a print-on-demand title—the purpose of which is to be available in days not weeks—wouldn’t be available for shipping much sooner if not immediately.
Fortunately, in that case, things got resolved and for a couple of months all was operating normally. But then the unspeakable happened—Amazon took my “Add to Cart” button away from my paperback. Now my book is only available from third party sellers and they are charging over $1 more per book. Do You Know What a Book Publicist Does? is still available on Barnes & Noble.com and other outlets in paperback and ebook form. However, as we all know, Amazon is the dominant online retailer. I’ve been working on this problem for six weeks and in a nutshell, this is what’s happened so far.
Adventures with Amazon
In my first call to customer service at Amazon, I was told to have Ingram resubmit the title to refresh it on the site and bring back the button, which I did. No dice. I called Ingram a second time and they said they would try to submit the title again, but they couldn’t do anything else beyond that. Two weeks later the problem was still there. I asked my colleague to call Amazon to see if she could get anywhere. After spending twenty minutes explaining the problem to customer service, getting a supervisor on the line, and being put on hold for ten minutes, she was disconnected. We moved on to the second line of defense otherwise known as Twitter.
Tweeting at Amazon Customer Service got a response. We received a link on Author Central that would get us in touch directly with a person who could help. I emailed through the link. I got a call! But, it went to voice mail and the person on the line said I should email again and leave a window during which they could call back. I did that, providing a window of 2 – 6PM EST. I got a call at 5:55pm when I was getting into my car and I didn’t get to the phone in time. Really, 5:55 when you had four hours to call? Then it dawned on me, I could call back, right? Although no specific call back number was given, I could try the number that was now in my phone.
More Adventures with Amazon Customer Service
I dialed the number and was greeted by Amazon Customer Service. After listening to the prompts, I went with “all other requests”. A pleasant woman named Crystal answered and I explained my issue. This time I knew that 1. Customer Service was not going to be able to help me on their own. 2. I was not an “Amazon Seller” and should not be transferred to that department. 3. I needed to talk to someone at Author Central. I was quite happy with myself because I could direct Crystal to the right department on the first try! I also asked for a back-up number to Author Central just in case they disconnected the call (again learning from previous experience). Guess what? She didn’t know the number, and didn’t know where to find it. Oh well, she was transferring me, so I was hopeful.
After a few minutes Crystal returned to the line and said that Author Central said they were not the right department and that I needed to talk with Amazon Sellers. I let her transfer me, knowing this was wrong, but hoping this new group up the ladder would have access to a phone number and more information.
When Rita answered, I quickly explained my situation. She said, “Ah,” (I thought, this is it, she knows what to do) “let me transfer you to Amazon Kindle. They are the ones to help you”.
I started to lose it.
I let Rita know that I was not calling about an ebook, Kindle, or any other name you could use. I was calling about a paperback, that I was a publisher not a seller, I needed to reach Author Central, AND did she have a phone number where I could dial in directly? Sounding a bit nervous at this point, Rita put me on hold in her vain effort to find a way to reach the right department.
Several minutes later Rita returned from her mission without having succeeded. She was very sorry, but there was no number and no way to reach these people directly. She didn’t have any other advice for me and could only continue to repeat on script “I understand”, “I understand”, “I understand”.
Back to Twitter
Feeling like I had stepped into a science fiction story, I went back to my second line of defense—the Twittersphere. I tweeted Amazon Customer Service about their lack of phone number for a vital aspect of the business. And, I tweeted to my followers that Amazon’s departments didn’t know how their own business worked. Why was I explaining that there were paperbacks and ebooks and that the two were separate products, to their own employees? And, why don’t they have a phone number or extension to call a different department, especially when they were already calling me directly? (One thing I haven’t mentioned is that in one of our conversations with customer service, we were told that they get 2 – 3 requests like this per day, which makes this even more bizarre.)
After my brief Twitter rant, I received a new call from Tony. This person knew what the issue was and understood how Amazon functions as a selling outlet for publishers. He said that they didn’t have copies in stock, which was why I didn’t have a button. I explained that they don’t need copies to be in stock when it is print-on-demand. The product is available almost immediately. That’s the point of the whole print-on-demand process.
He Said / He Said
He said that Amazon’s own self-publishing arm, Create Space, uses Ingram the same way I do as a printing source. He said Ingram wasn’t sending them this information. He asked me to bear with him for a few days so he could investigate the issue and that he would get back to me. The message was, if we work together we will find a solution, even if I decide to let Create Space switch my ISBN to their system directly so that they control the process. There are more details related to this part of the conversation that I will leave for later. After we figure out what I need to do. For now, I am being patient and I am grateful that Tony is on the case.
So that’s the story so far. Weirdly, there isn’t a lot of information from other people online about this problem. Given that Amazon says they get about 60 – 90 calls a month about this issue, you would think there would be chatter or at least a thread where you could visit to commiserate. I wonder if some people just give up? I can’t.
As I explained to Tony, I’m not just an individual author, I started a publishing company and I have an author in the wings who wants to publish with me. I must get these bumps in the road ironed out before I handle anyone else’s book.
Stay tuned for more, when I have it. I am looking forward to getting to the bottom of this and hope we will all be better publishers as a result. If you have a story to share about losing your Amazon button, email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.