As an experiment, I produced a few paper copies of my ebook Introduction to Hadrian’s Wall, partly to see if it would sell at the inevitably higher price dead trees demand, and partly to satisfy the book fetishists who see ebooks as everything from harbingers of the end of the world to simply aesthetically displeasing.
Making books is what I do. Every aspect of it, so this was not a particularly onerous or demanding task for me. Distribution, however, is a whole different pramful of rancid dumplings. Very small publishers always need a slack handful of dodges, wheezes, and general trickery to make sure they can obtain a modicum of visibility amidst the loud, vulgar shout that is the corporate publicity of the big boys. I made sure some copies went to Oxbow Books, not least as they could sell it directly online and through their catalogue, but also because I knew they put their stock out through Amazon. If you see a note on Amazon that something might take a few extra days to arrive, it’s probably because they don’t have it in stock but one of their suppliers does.
Therefore, in order to test the system, I decided to order my own book. You knew I would, didn’t you? Call it ground-truthing my supply chain, if you like (if you’re wise, you won’t like, but we live in an age of pointless jargon so who am I to deny a little more a brief-yet-evocative existence?).I had a couple of spare books sitting on the shelf in front of me, mere centimetres from the tip of my nose, so I was relatively confident that a) the book existed and b) it could be obtained. Here, gentle reader, is the point at which the merchandising behemoth that is Amazon started to falter. I began to receive periodic emails saying they were having difficulty obtaining the book, the delivery date slipping ever further away. I didn’t give up hope; I tried emailing them back and explaining the situation. Their response suggested they either didn’t read what I said very carefully, or they just used a form response. Still I didn’t give up hope; I kept waiting, more negative emails came. Until finally I got an email peremptorily cancelling my order (them cancelling it, note, not me). I particularly liked the bit that wouldn’t let me reply to this. At this point, I gave up hope. Amazon themselves had admitted defeat in what for them was clearly an open-and-shut case.
So if you think Amazon is the way of the future, I would suggest you think again. It may well be that the cracks are starting to show. They were a game-changer; now I suspect the game itself may well be changing. My next test? See if an independent bookseller can get it for me.