Amazon and the Strange Case of the Vanishing Books

 In Business, Writing

Australians have been having a love-hate relationship with Amazon lately following the Australian Government’s decision to extend its Goods and Services Tax to all overseas online purchases.

Such purchases were previously exempt from GST up to a $1000 limit at which point the authorities required GST be paid.

Putting aside Australian buyers’ (outraged!) reaction to the upcoming increase in prices of overseas purchases, the reactions of two major US sales sites could not have been more different.

Online auction site eBay grizzled a bit but quickly implemented GST on prices of items not only sold on the site but also on the US dotcom site. Amazon announced implementing the 10 per cent tax on sales via the US dotcom was too hard and now appears to be in the process of forcing all Aussie purchasers to their recently opened site.

And it now appears a glitchy implementation of this has spread like a virus into the rest of the Amazon ecosystem and thus far it’s especially problematic for authors. Books are disappearing, sales ranks are plunging, cash flow has taken a dive. And it’s not like we’re talking physical items here that have to be printed and shipped – we’re talking codes and electrons because it’s not paperbacks disappearing but ebooks that are delivered directly to Kindles and other devices online.

Would-be readers often find Kindle books via links to Amazon from other websites or from online advertisements. Now authors are reporting that attempts by non-US readers to follow such links or search to find their titles on the US Amazon site are showing the books are not available where only days ago they were.

Dropping onto such a page may include an encouragement to go to the Australian website and buy from there, but it’s also affecting other regions. David Gaughran – in a highly detailed blog post I recommend you read – explains how he has used the US dotcom site for years because Ireland doesn’t have its own Amazon site. But recently he’s been prodded to go buy at the UK site. And it gets worse.

While their books are vamishing, Amazon is still taking its cut on ads for them.

Authors report advertising campaigns on Amazon itself are reaching ‘book not available’ pages – but Amazon is still charging the author for the click on their ad. No wonder many of them have hastily shut down advertising campaigns until Amazon gets it together.

One author we work with also had a Kindle Unlimited book giveaway promotion scuppered by this snafu and may be abandoning the concept of Amazon exclusivity which permits such promos on the site to ‘go wide’ in future and mitigate the risk of things like this happening again.

Since authors also frequently need access to the US site for management purposes, one workaround being suggested by the online retailer is for authors to change their address to the US. They’ve actually been changing some author’s addresses to that of the Amazon HQ. I wonder where that leaves both the retailer and the authors with respect to potentially defrauding the Australian Government out of their tax?

And Aussies have more than just ebooks to be annoyed with Amazon over. Their new Australian website offers only a fraction of the broader range of goods which can be had from the US site. The ‘unavailable’ message is popping up for goods like clothes and when the buyer goes to the Australian site, the items are not available in their region. Worse still, whether or not goods are available or ‘unavailable’ can change back and forth dependent on when you load the page. It’s a mess.

It’s also ironic at a time when online mega-companies foster the concept of a one world community that one of these companies would itself seemingly start a process of balkanisation, the ‘fragmentation or division of a single region or state into smaller regions or states that are uncooperative with one another’.

Amazon got its start thanks to the open borders global phenomenon of the internet, but now appears to be wanting to put up barriers and deal with the world country by country. Not good enough.

To paraphrase an American president – Mr Bezos, tear down that wall!

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