Is Canada the next battleground between Amazon and Lightning Source?

In The Global Indie Author I write at length about the predatory practices Amazon/CreateSpace have exercised in the area of print on demand. Watching what’s going on with the Amazon Canada catalogue, I am of the opinion that CreateSpace is positioning themselves to supply the Canadian market directly. Why do I believe this? To answer that we need to look at bit at the history between CreateSpace and its main rival, Lightning Source International, a subsidiary of the giant U.S. wholesale distributor Ingram.

Amazon had long been selling titles for the plethora of small press and vanity publishers who were LSI clients. Then, in 2005, Amazon bought an on-demand print company called BookSurge. To drum up business, in 2008 Amazon approached LSI clients and essentially blackmailed them: if they didn’t begin using BookSurge’s services, the “buy” button on their Amazon listing would be removed: books could no longer be purchased through Amazon directly, only through resellers. The move was blatantly illegal, but the publishers were too weak and/or terrified to take on Amazon. They simply caved in and began using BookSurge and LSI together, doubling the publisher’s set-up costs.

One vanity publisher, BookLocker, decided not to take it, and launched a lawsuit. They won and Amazon had to back down. But Amazon wasn’t finished fighting. In the meantime, BookSurge became CreateSpace, perhaps as a means to distance themselves from the bad press that resulted and which remains on the web.

Amazon’s next strategy to punish and coerce LSI’s clients was to manipulate the delivery dates specified in the Amazon catalogue. Although LSI not only prints for Amazon but often ships for them using Amazon stickers to create the appearance that the item is being shipped from Amazon, and the book is usually shipped out within 24-48 hours, Amazon lists LSI titles as “Usually ships in 7 to 10 days.” This is compared to CreateSpace titles that are always listed as “In Stock.”

In late 2011, Amazon became even nastier: all print-on-demand titles manufactured/distributed by Lightning Source had their delivery times on Amazon suddenly changed from the usual “Usually ships in 7 to 10 days” to “Usually ships in 1 to 2 months.” CreateSpace titles, however, remained “In Stock.” This effectively killed the Amazon Christmas market for titles not manufactured by CreateSpace. Amazon claimed it was a computer glitch and they were working hard to fix it but — no surprise — the “glitch” did not get sorted until after Christmas. Yet even then the delivery times were lengthened from the pre-Christmas “7 to 10 days” to the post-holiday “2 to 3 weeks” where they have remained.

The irony of this is that CreateSpace’s Expanded Distribution is subcontracted to LSI: they print the CreateSpace ED titles and distribute them through Ingram. In other words, Amazon NEEDS the very company they are screwing. Yet when I asked my rep at LSI why Ingram were not doing anything to protect their clients from this nonsense, LSI refused to respond.

In 2012, prior to CreateSpace opening their UK/European divisions, the delivery dates of LSI titles on the UK and EU sites were also “mysteriously” lengthened. No explanation was provided to publishers. A few months later, CreateSpace announced the arrival of their European operations. As with the United States, books manufactured by CreateSpace are listed as “In Stock” on the UK and Continental Europe sites while books published by LSI (or any other competitor) are listed as “Usually ships in 1 – 3 weeks.”

The same thing is now happening in Canada. The delivery date for Baby Jane, which is distributed in Canada by LSI/Ingram, used to be listed as “Usually ships in 7-10 days” on but is now listed as “Usually ships in 2-4 weeks.” [18 Nov. update: Amazon is getting even nastier now, with estimated delivery dates listed as 5 – 8 weeks.] At one point even began listing LSI titles as “Out of Stock,” which is absurd for print-on-demand titles. Meanwhile, Amazon finally found a way to appease Canadian regulators and were allowed to open distribution centers in Ontario and British Columbia this past spring; this has been complemented by web development offices in Vancouver (BC) and Toronto (ON).

Considering these events, and considering Amazon’s past behaviour, I believe we will soon see supplied directly by CreateSpace. Given time, I expect to see the same thing happen in Japan and China, effectively ending Amazon’s dependence on LSI entirely. What will then become of LSI in these jurisdictions is anyone’s guess.



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