Amazon’s self-publishing platform, Kindle Direct Publishing, has a rule: If you use it to publish a book, and then sell that same book on an…

Blood Soaked And Contagious
photo: James Crawford

Amazon’s self-publishing platform, Kindle Direct Publishing, has a rule: If you use it to publish a book, and then sell that same book on another site at a lower price, KDP retains the right to drop the price of your book in the Kindle Store too. Whether that’s fair or not, it’s in the KDP Terms and Conditions that users agree to. But what happens if Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) makes a mistake and gives away over 6,000 copies of your book for free? One self-published author found out, in a saga that is only today nearing conclusion.

James Crawford self-published his zombie novel, Blood Soaked and Contagious, this year and sold it for $5.99 in the Kindle Store and in other e-bookstores. He also posted a free, three-chapter sample of the book in the Nook Store. Amazon–rather, Amazon’s algorithm, presumably–found that free sample in the Nook store and then marked down the full-length version of the book in the Kindle Store to $0.

“They found something that is quite similar, asked no questions, and used their power to discount my novel 100%,” Crawford wrote on October 7. Crawford then began battling with KDP’s outsourced customer service, and on October 20 Amazon finally fixed the pricing error and started actually charging for the book again. By that point, it had been downloaded for free 6,116 times. And Amazon refused to pay royalties on any of the copies it gave away for free. Crawford started a little social media campaign, his story started getting picked up and yesterday, almost a month after the saga began, a Kindle Direct Publishing rep called Crawford and told him that while he won’t be getting any money, Amazon will “research the entire chain of events and will get back to you in a day or two.” Also:

They stand by the terms of the contract (ie. no compensation for their mistake)
They are grateful for my help as a test/training case for customer service
They have never seen an issue quite like this one before
My concerns were not handled promptly enough
My issue was not dealt with in an empathetic manner
Gosh, we really appreciate you talking to us about this

How much money did Crawford lose? That’s a little unclear. He sells his book for $5.99 and receives a royalty of 35 percent from Amazon on each copy sold. (Amazon also offers a 70 percent royalty option for books over $2.99, but Crawford chose the lower royalty “because you can opt out of Kindle Lending.”) If he’d sold 6,116 copies at that price, he’d net $12,822.19. But people are much more likely to download a book if it’s free, so you can’t say for sure that Crawford actually lost nearly $13,000. While some commenters suggested that Crawford take legal action against Amazon, others recommended that he simply enjoy the free publicity and use it to build up his fan base.

A couple things are clear here: 1) Amazon needs to not drop book prices by mistake, and self-published authors need to watch out for that happening; 2) Kindle Direct Publishing’s customer service should get better and faster about responding to these types of issues, especially since Amazon gets a cut of these authors’ sales (i.e., they’re not just “customers”), and judging by their response to Crawford, it sounds as if they will improve at this; 3) Giving away a book or an excerpt of a book for free is a really good promotional tactic–which is exactly why Crawford tried it in the Nook Store in the first place.

Update 11/8/2011: Amazon told Crawford that in future it will “review the language we use in dealing with these issues.”

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  1. Richard S. Freeland Friday, November 4, 2011

    Is there an inherent danger in relying on Amazon too much? Do we as self-published authors even have that much of a choice? Yeah, I know we distribute through Nook, Smashwords, and others, but still, Amazon Kindle is the big boy on the block. I hope Amazon sees the light and takes their relationship with their authors to a whole new lever.

  2. Rules are rules and Amazon is trying to own the space. This is good business, that’s all. I write about the new publishing business at http://www.nopublisherneeded.com, stop on by!

  3. I don’t know why the author didn’t check out the Amazon site to make sure they were charging the right price.

    1. He realized it very fast–within a day of the price drop, I think. Amazon took a long time to get things straightened out.

      1. As a matter of fact, I discovered it the day it happened. I visited my KDP dashboard in the morning and saw the same 6 sales that were there the night before. I visited again around 4pm, and 610 copies had been sold. Caught between elation and worry, I checked the product page on Amazon.com and discovered my book had been discounted by 100%. I sent my first email to KDP within minutes.

  4. Oh, yes, definitely. blame the person that didn’t make the mistake, rather than the corporation that did. Absolutely.

    1. Well, now, Kim gal, hang on a second. Do you mean that, were I to go out to my car after work today and not look to see if someone had stole something out of my trunk and I discovered the theft only later, that it wouldn’t be completely my fault for not looking sooner? I mean, didn’t I care enough about what I had in my trunk to just give a quick look? Clearly I would be at fault–after all, what’s there is mine, and I should care about it! So I think our friend Ron is correct. I mean, I’m sure if ol’ Ron’s bank zeroed out a savings account of his, and he discovered that error only weeks later, that he would acknowledge it was completely his fault for not checking sooner to make sure the balance was still there! Because a savings account can be far more valuable than the website price of a self-published book, and so I know he’s even now diligently checking his balance. And he’s making sure that the power hasn’t been accidentally turned off to his house, because he will certainly need that when he gets there this evening. And when Ron bought those crayons for that child’s birthday party, Ron certainly first did chemical testing on each crayon to make sure there was no lead in any of them, as of course a young life is far, far more important than a book price. Look, Kim: Sure, I’m careful locking my car, banks are careful, the power company is careful, toy makers are careful. But you can never be too careful! And Ron knows that. So his comment is certainly not an example of someone exhibiting an all-too-easy smugness, of someone who will suddenly see things completely differently when something slips by and something happens to him. And that’s because nothing like that ever will slip by, because Ron is always checking all these hundreds of things every day in a way that we lesser mortals fail to. You go Ron! You are our the light of the world!

      1. ok so its your fault for not lookikng sooner .. but that doesnt explain the problme which in terms fo your analogy WAS THE THEFT IN THE FIRST PLACE. the rest is just an amount of compensation but by paying nothing they are denying all wrong doing. That is wrong and why your analogy fails.

  5. James Michael McCoy-Flowers Tuesday, November 8, 2011

    Suggestion, don’t argue, turn it into word of mouth advertising.  Since the product is now an infinite good, consider reaching out to some (or all) of those 6000+ readers and ask them some simple questions, for example, did you like the book, what was good (bad), could have been done different.  Readers will be moved by the personal touch, and will talk about it with their various circles of friends.  This will net you an increase in sales (which more than likely will be greater than the number of free copies distributed).

    Always look at a negative, and look for potential positive outcomes. :)  Just a thought.

    1. That all sounds good, but on amazon sales. I haven’t been able to get access to the end customer. Those sales are directly through the amazon site.  Is there a way to do it that I don’t know about?  Or, are you assuming he can just put those questions on a website and hope all of those free readers are inspired to visit?  Good luck with that. In the future. He should adjust the title of the freebie chapters, so amazon doesn’t scan it, then reference the title of the book somewhere at the end.

  6. Kim has a perfect point here. This is not the same as going to check on your car, because you have already paid for your car. This is a retailer we’re talking about and Amazon has a nasty habit of dropping prices in their store and then when customers order and pay for it, they say “oops, we can’t sell it to you for that low price so we have to charge you full price for it”.

    When it’s an error on merchandise that Amazon will personally lose money on, they have no problem with telling the customer “sorry, but that sales price was wrong” and they charge you full price anyway. But when it’s the price of someone else’s merchandise (in the Amazon store) but its Amazon’s fault, they don’t say “oops, that was a mistake” and charge for that book, they simply tell the owner of that merchandise “sorry, thanks for helping us work out the bugs but you’re not getting paid”.

    I think this guy should sue Amazon. It’s the same if you walk into a store and leave your package by customer service (because they force you to) and then when you leave the store and get your bags, you discover that something is missing. That business is responsible and liable for any mistakes caused by their store or their place of business.

    Amazon should have charged those customers the actual price of the eBook since they had credit card information, checking accoount information and so forth.

  7. My analogy doesn’t fail. It wasn’t the fault of the author for placing his product in Amazon’s store. Once he has placed it, Amazon handles all transactions. So, if the retailer gives it away for free and then decides that it shouldn’t be liable, then that is the wrong conclusion to take away from that.

    This would be like if I had an original Rembrandt painting. (I don’t, but let’s use this as an example). Let’s say that I have one of Rembrandt’s paintings and I decided to sell it. Then, I find an exclusive high end business in town and they offer security and some way to ensure that nothing happens to it. Then, someone employed by them decides to sell it for $5. That place of business, that has my merchandise in their possession, handles the sale, the transaction and everything that goes along with that. Then, by all respect, they are liable for whatever happens to it and they can be held financially culpable for the original asking price, not for the price they sold it as.

    Just because Amazon says that they are not liable does not mean that they are not liable. That would be up to a court to decide, not Amazon.

  8. When people pirate a CD, they certainly award damages as if every one of those people would have purchased the CD at retail. So I say the guy deserves to be paid his full royalty on every one of those books sold.

  9. Big assumption in this article — that some, or any, of the people who downloaded free would have bought the book.  Most of the people who have looked at this carefully discern that when a book is free on Kindle it gets downloaded by a different group than people who would have bought it.  However, the MPAA and RIAA don’t believe this, and go around screaming that every free download hurts their sales.  Mr. Crawford appears to agree.  Indeed according to the article he believes it so much that he is willing to give up half his royalties to stop people from even loaning books to each other.  Mr. Crawford is entitled to his beliefs.  He is also entitled to whatever contract terms he signed up with Amazon for, so if indeed they broke their contract with him, he should get something. But, not just because they made a mistake, which they appear to have corrected. The way contract law normally works, they only have damages if they cost him something.  So, the assumption in the article and comments, that the people who download for free would have bought the book, would need to be proven.  I don’ t think you can prove it, because I don’t think it’s so.  But if you can prove it, you’ll be a big favorite with the MPAA and RIAA, that’s for sure, because you would have done a justification for draconian restrictions on free content which they never could pull off.  They get their way legally by other means, such as large campaign contributions and wearing the other side down with huge legal expenses.

  10. I am curious. How many copies of the book were bought, before the content was given for free?

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