Amazon UK ‘glitch’ with Defiant Peaks/Hadrumal Crisis Book 3; calculated or incompetent?

I’ve had some email over the weekend from confused fans who’ve advance-ordered Defiant Peaks through Amazon UK and have now been told the book will not now be available. Understandably they’re concerned/disappointed – and I’m extremely cross.

This is because Amazon UK was offering both the UK and US editions of the book on their UK site. This is in clear breach of all relevant publishing agreements on territories – and whatever can be said about the growing irrelevance of old-style territoriality in publishing in this digital age, the fact remains that those legally binding contracts remain in force for paper books. As Amazon UK have been reminded repeatedly ,since they keep on doing this with books like mine which are published pretty much simultaneously in the UK and US, by my own publisher and others.

Are they doing it deliberately? I don’t know how that might be proved and in general, I don’t believe in conspiracy theories, but this pattern of behaviour is starting to strain credibility for a cock-up…

Not that I expect readers to necessarily know all the ins and outs of this book trade stuff. They’ll just see this listing –

– and they’ll click through to the significantly cheaper ‘mass market paperback’ and think, hurrah, I can get the book a week sooner and for less. You’d be a fool not to choose it, let’s be honest.

Why does this matter? Because it significantly screws with sales figures if what should be UK sales end up listed as US sales. This distorts the picture when assessing a writer’s appeal in different markets and that directly influences important decisions on promotion, advances and ultimately, an author being offered future contracts. Yes, really, it does and not just for me.

But now all those readers are seeing is the price they were being asked to pay for Defiant Peaks has effectively gone up by £1.57. Are Amazon going to explain this was their screw-up? Not a bit of it. Are some of those readers going to think it’s down to the ‘greedy’ publisher? I wouldn’t be surprised. Am I going to lose sales over this? Are disgruntled readers going to find a pirate ebook instead ‘to stick it to The Man’? Let’s hope not…

If I do lose sales, Amazon won’t care in the least. Amazon are not interested in writers or books. They’re not interested in readers. First and last, they’re interested in Amazon selling more stuff to more people at maximum profit (exploiting every tax loophole they can) and ideally buying up or crippling any potential competition. This is unfettered capitalism at work.

I’m not saying boycott Amazon. I use their services myself – for things I cannot get elsewhere or where the mark up in the shops is truly ludicrous – the wall bracket for a flatscreen TV which B&Q offered for £120 and could be sourced direct from the manufacturer via Amazon for £20 leaps to mind there. The ability to shop online and get Christmas stuff delivered direct to far-flung friends and family is a boon. But I also shop elsewhere online as well. I support my local bricks & mortar stores. Because monopolies distort market forces to the consumer’s ultimate disadvantage.

The Romans had a phrase which still holds true today. Caveat Emptor. Buyer Beware.

Author: Juliet

Juliet E McKenna is a British fantasy author living in the Cotswolds, UK. Loving history, myth and other worlds since she first learned to read, she has written fifteen epic fantasy novels so far. Her debut, The Thief’s Gamble, began The Tales of Einarinn in 1999, followed by The Aldabreshin Compass sequence, The Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution, and The Hadrumal Crisis trilogy. The Green Man’s Heir was her first modern fantasy inspired by British folklore in 2018, and The Green Man’s Quarry in 2023 is the sixth title in this ongoing series. Her 2023 novel The Cleaving is a female-centred retelling of the story of King Arthur, while her shorter stories include forays into dark fantasy, steampunk and science fiction. She promotes SF&Fantasy by reviewing, by blogging on book trade issues, attending conventions and teaching creative writing. She has served as a judge for major genre awards. As J M Alvey, she has written historical murder mysteries set in ancient Greece.

2 thoughts on “Amazon UK ‘glitch’ with Defiant Peaks/Hadrumal Crisis Book 3; calculated or incompetent?

  1. Several years back we had a problem with some of the Crime books that Telos published. They were being listed on at a sizable discount to the rrp – so big a discount in fact, that it was more than we gave to the UK distributor who supplied Amazon … so why was Amazon apparently content to make a loss on these titles?

    By some miracle that no longer occurs, I actually got to speak to someone at Amazon about it … and it transpired that what was happening was that we also had the book listed with our US distributor, and that because of the exchange rate, the book was being offered at a better percentage discount to Amazon from there than from the UK Distributor. Thus Amazon *automatically* chose the US distributor as supplier, and *automatically* built the sales page to reflect that.

    The key word here is *automatically*. The Amazon pages are not static and updated every hour by Elves. They are created and built by Amazon’s computer systems *as you view them*, and their systems scan all suppliers of the book at the time, and present whatever option gives *Amazon* the best deal in terms of their procuring the book. So if the UK distributor was offering 35% off rrp, and the US one offering 36% off rrp, then the US one would be chosen as where to get the book from. (A bit mad as it’s the relative rrp and currency conversion rate which determines the actual price … but this was what they told me!)

    As I mentioned, this was several years ago, and I expect that the algorythms have been amended/enhanced several times since. But I strongly suspect that the principle still applies – that Amazon will automatically build the page to present the book and prices based on what will bring Amazon in the most money on the deal.

    It sounds like this is what has happened here, Juliet, that the parameters to decide which version of your book to offer included USA on the UK site – and I also assume that they need to adjust these manually, as some books of course are legitimately available from UK and US sellers (like the Telos ones).

    1. That’s very interesting, David, and yes, that’s a likely explanation, especially since another word for automated systems is ‘dumb’. This ties in with the problems other people have had when they’ve done special offers or a giveaway on for instance, ebooks, themselves and Amazon’s algorithms automatically cut their price, sometimes to zero, to ensure they’re beating the ‘competition’. Getting Amazon to correct/restore the proper price can apparently be a nightmare.

      But clearly, no one at Amazon is taking this sufficiently seriously to correct/rewrite those automated systems, are they? Not impressive.

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