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PSA: Amazon order cancellations

Various folks are emailing me today because their amazon.co.uk (note the .co.uk suffix to the domain—this is important) preorders for "The Apocalypse Codex" have been cancelled.

This is just Amazon being ham-fisted again. If you are in the UK and this has happened to you, all you need to do is click here to pre-order the UK edition. (Yes, I know they've got the publication date wrong. It will be fixed in due course.)

What is happening is this ...

The book is being published by a British publisher and a US publisher. Both books should ship on the same day. The US edition is a hardcover; the UK one is a trade paperback.

When two or more publishers each buy a subset of the world rights, they agree not to sell their edition into the other publisher's territory. (This is the case even when you might expect it not to be a problem—for example if a book is published by Tor in the US and under the Tor imprint in the UK.)

However, Amazon's database is a giant sucking vacuum of misinformation. It indiscriminately hoovers up forthcoming titles from all and sundry and throws them up in front of the buying public in hope that somebody will, er, buy. Meanwhile, it gets details wrong. In this case, it got the UK publication date wrong, and it also got the territorial availability details wrong.

If Amazon emailed you to say they've cancelled your order, what has actually happened is that you ordered the US hardcover edition via Amazon.co.uk, as an import. The UK publisher then got around to writing their usual pro forma email to Amazon, threatening them with boils and a rain of frogs if they import US editions into the UK. Then Amazon promptly cancelled all advance orders via amazon.co.uk for the US edition, rather than doing the sensible thing and substituting the UK edition.

If you are British and really want an imported hardcover, you can still get one: you'll need to log in on Amazon.com (the US site) using your Amazon account credentials (yes, you can log into a foreign Amazon site using your regular account). Then you can order the hardcover, with international shipping. As a consumer, the first purchase doctrine means you're entirely within your rights to do so. It's just that Amazon.co.uk, as a wholesaler, isn't supposed to sell you the import if there's a local edition.

52 Comments

1:

As a release date/publishing aside, will it be hitting the Kindle store at the same time? For those of us who've caved to the convenience effect.

2:

Charlie's books generally do hit the Kindle store at the same time but like most publishers they don't tend to list them until much closer to the publication date. I'm not sure why. It's slightly annoying.

I'm really looking forward to reading this one.

3:

I do that from the other side -- import UK editions to the US via amazon.co.uk when the publication date is different. For some authors there are months between the US and UK releases.

It can be a bit more expensive, but international shipping for books is actually pretty reasonable.

4:

It should hit the Kindle store at the same time. However, the US and UK Kindle stores will each get their version from the US and UK publisher via their usual ebook wholesale distribution pipeline, so I can't guarantee that there won't be any teething snags.

5:

It's available for pre-order here in the States, with a claimed availability date of 3 July.

6:

you'll need to log in on Amazon.com (the US site) using your Amazon account credentials (yes, you can log into a foreign Amazon site using your regular account). Then you can order the hardcover, with international shipping. As a consumer, the first purchase doctrine means you're entirely within your rights to do so. It's just that Amazon.co.uk, as a wholesaler, isn't supposed to sell you the import if there's a local edition.

It never crossed my mind that it would be an issue. I've often bought a title from the UK Amazon if I preferred the UK edition and considered the extra costs worth it.

The ease of internet purchasing certainly seem to make the first purchase doctrine somewhat of an archaic concept.

7:

>> Then Amazon promptly cancelled all advance orders via amazon.co.uk for the US edition, rather than doing the sensible thing and substituting the UK edition.

Well, in fairness, isn't Amazon between a rock and a hard place here? If they surreptitiously changed people's hardcover orders to trade-paperback orders, there'd probably be as much outcry over that change. The least worst thing to do is fix the internal conflict, notify everybody that there's a problem (so sorry for the inconvenience) and let individuals fix it by reordering what they want.

- A disinterested US resident who will probably receive a copy second hand from his uncle.

8:

Are UK editions usually paperbacks? I hate how I can only get a hardback for the first several years here in the US (I think they're uncomfortable to read). Maybe I'll start importing all of my books from the UK..

9:

The ease of internet purchasing certainly seem to make the first purchase doctrine somewhat of an archaic concept.
I'd say so, and the same applies to "region encoding" of DVDs.

Speaking as someone who bought his first USian books from Bob (fake) Shaw in the early 1980s, and has "previous" for changing the region encoding on DVD players.

10:

The UK often produces a "trade paperback" edition (paperback cover but about hardback size) edition with or soon after the hardback; you'll probably have to wait a year or so for a mass market paperback.

11:

@Flub, Amazon usually don't list ebooks until they have the actual files, which are prepared from the print PDFs. So a publisher will send the book to print and also at that point to ebook conversion, and usually the ebook file will be ready quite close to release. Amazon are happy to list forthcoming print books, hence the discrepancy.

12:

Regarding kindle dates, IIRC The Fuller Memorandum came out on the day of release on kindle, but the paperback copies were arriving several days before that.

13:

Are UK editions usually paperbacks?

No. It's just that it is very difficult to turn a profit on a hardcover in the UK, so a lot of books end up being initially published as large format paperbacks instead. Note that there is no mass market in the UK, so A-format paperbacks in general cost around 50%-70% more than in the US.

14:

In which context, I used the term "mass market" to indicate the physical bulk in case this rather than the thick sticky out edge was Brendan's issue.

15:

Well, my order for the hardcover has now been placed with Amazon.com following that Amazon.co cancellation.

I have bought from the US of Aliens site but not for some time. Anyway the process is fairly straightforward and the only real disadvantage is the postal delay.

" Shipping Method: Standard International Shipping
Items: $16.77
Shipping & Handling: $7.98
------
Total Before Tax: $24.75
Estimated Tax To Be Collected: $0.00
------
Order Total: $24.75


Delivery estimate: July 30, 2012 - Aug. 17, 2012
1 "The Apocalypse Codex (A Laundry Files Novel)"
Stross, Charles; Hardcover; $16.77
Available for Pre-order
Sold by: Amazon.com Because of Pre-order Price Guarantee, you might pay less. "

16:

If you are British and really want an imported hardcover, you can still get one: you'll need to log in on Amazon.com (the US site) using your Amazon account credentials

One interesting note: British publishers apparently use worse paper, most of the time, than American publishers do, which I discovered through ordering a couple of British books that came out before the American editions (like James Wood's How Fiction Works) or that didn't come out in the U.S. at all (like Girl With a One-Track Mind Exposed). Online, people claim that this is because the British market is smaller and because the VAT means books already have a higher published retail price.

17:

the same applies to "region encoding" of DVDs.

The region encoding makes my blood boil. As a purchaser of UK DVDs unavailable in the US, I go through the rigamarole of re-encoding them to play on standard US DVD players. It also put me off ever buying from Sony again when I found my Sony DVD player refused to play region free DVDs!

If book publishers could detect the geographic location of the reader, I'm sure that would love a technology to make the ink invisible outside the legal region. It wouldn't surprise me if a publisher tried to publish eBooks requiring a location to read it and made them unreadable in an "illegal to read location".

18:

The Book Depository lists the British paperback with a publication date of Oct 4, but notes it as Currently Unavailable (probably the date came from the same (wrong) source as Amazon's date). It also lists the Ace hardback edition, as a Pre Order (as well as Rapture of the Nerds). They do not charge postage on international orders. However, it is my understanding that they are owned by Amazon, and so it may not be possible to order the US editions through them, for a UK resident. Or if you can, they may just cancel the order, a la amazon.co.uk, having probably received the same threat of boils and frogs.

Enjoy!

Frank.

19:

That would be the VAT that... isn't applicable on physical books?

20:

British publishers use different print and production processes, too. They dropped acid-free paper and saddle-stitched bindings from hardcovers over a decade ago on cost grounds; British hardbacks are generally poorly-made artefacts. On the other hand, British paperbacks are no worse than American ones.

One thing you might want to bear in mind is that the market is so much smaller that British publishing is very efficient; they're geared to print really small production batches, so that I have on occasion seen a reprint run for one of my novels of as few as 500 paperbacks! Which, it turns out, is something that they can do profitably. (Tell this to an American editor and they'll probably collapse in hysterical giggles.) Also, the binding cost issues that make it very expensive for a US publisher to print, bind, and ship a hardcover with more than about 400 pages don't apply in the UK market. Hence the common syndrome of a British series of books that roll in at the 600 or 1200 page mark and get split into 2 or even 4 volumes for US publication.

21:

DVD region encoding enforcement via players more or less collapsed in the UK some time ago; my DVD player (3-4 years old) merrily plays anything you shove in it, regardless of the region code it's supposedly locked to. You just need to ask when you buy the player, and be prepared to pay a little extra for the convenience. Oh, and avoid Sony The Bastards™ (who compensate for their decent hardware industrial design -- only second to Apple in the CE field -- by crippling it with proprietary standards and dreadfully poor software).

22:

Even their hardware designs are not all that. My sister acquired a Sony flat panel, which has dire image quality when compared to my long-in-the-tooth Panasonic. Unfortunately she's a Sony fangirl and wouldn't hear anything against them before buying the thing.

No, SonyTheBastards are best avoided. The days of Akio Morita are long behind them.

23:

I've had it happen: paid for the ebook of "The Fuller Memorandum" and then had the server tell me it couldn't serve the file to my geographical area. An email to the help@ of the site sorted it, luckily (there are advantages to using the smaller guys).

24:

Alex Tolley@17: The region encoding makes my blood boil.

Count me slightly boggled at that - one of the first things we did when we moved to the US last year was to get a cheap (~$50) region-free DVD player from Amazon for our UK R2 discs. So far it's not blinked at any UK or US discs we've thrown at it.

25:

Your clue is in Alex's reference to Sony. Who hateHateHATE leaving any wiggle-room open through which their customers might escape from the Sony-approved padded cell.

26:

Count me as suitably re-educated. I checked with Amazon and there are a few brands with region free encoding. I hadn't bought a DVD player for a few years, and region encoding enforcement of the boxes seems to have changed. Thank you for the info.

27:

Couple of questions ...

1: Any likelihood of a visit to the Land of Aus any time soon - defined as, say, the next year or two? (Pick the guy that likes to collect signed hardcovers from authors he enjoys reading. Yes, Charlie, you're right up there alongside Terry Pratchett in my book.)

2: Failing that, presumably I can get it signed through Transreal Fiction, in the same way that it could be done with Rule 34?

I'm looking forward to this; the Laundry is easily my favourite of the Strossverses.

28:

Why do US printers struggle with thicker books?

29:

Binding technology.

UK hardcovers are glue-bound. US ones still use proper binding. The quid pro quo is that it becomes difficult to bind an extra-fat book -- there are fewer bookbinders who have the machinery to do it, and they charge more. Whereas glue binding scales up to Stephenson-sized doorsteps easily. And all book manufacturing steps cost proportionately more in the UK (smaller market, fixed irreducible cost of things like labour and equipment, and so on).

30:

Any likelihood of a visit to the Land of Aus any time soon - defined as, say, the next year or two?

I hope to have an announcement to make within the next two months; can't say anything more specific yet. However, I can say with some certainty that I do not expect to visit anywhere in the southern hemisphere in the remainder of this year (i.e. 2012).

Failing that, presumably I can get it signed through Transreal Fiction, in the same way that it could be done with Rule 34?

Yes.

31:

Charlie, do you happen to know if your local bookstore is going to offer autographed copies of the hc (US) edition this go round?

Best,

JKS

32:

See above. Your pusher is here.

33:

Charlie, do you happen to know if your local bookstore is going to offer autographed copies of the hc (US) edition this go round?

Best,

JKS

34:

Whoops, sorry missed that when I skimmed through the comments, and double whoops, sorry for the double post.

JKS

35:

Paper Quality and British BOOKS ? IMOO its Historical.

Once upon a time before the First World War ..that should really be the Second World War since The Napoleonic Wars were World Wide and High Tech for the time .. Hard Back Books ..The Literary, Well Heeled Middle Classes for the use of .. were of very high printed quality and then, well there are various authorities ..


http://www.greatwar.nl/students/papers/collins/propaganda.html

And there I think the pattern began " Bloody Hell! They will buy this I wonder how far we can drift downwards and improve our profit margins before the ...PATRIOTIC ! ... book buying public scream? " .

This didn't really happen in the US of A and so the base line for book quality is so much higher. Over There the customers would scream Red White and Blue Murder if publishers expected them to buy some of the Crap that we in the UK have been sold as Hard Back Books.

Mind you over here Hard Back books have up until the turn of the century been a first choice for public libraries and paperbacks the choice of the travelling public, though even the 'umble paperback is of higher quality in the US of A than it is over here whilst the deterioration of public libraries funding in the UK has meant that paperbacks have replaced hardbacks as the automatic choice and whilst those paperbacks have plastic sleeves they just cant match even the most ghastly of British hardbacks for product quality.Still, back to paperbacks.

Long ago and not so far away, and after my income had increased in the late 1960s, it came to me that my collection of Nero Wolfe stories was very far from being complete since STUFF was published over there in the US of A that wasn't published over here. Now this was before the merest breath of a hint of the internet had appeared in Science Fiction and STUFF from the US of A was usually represented in those addverts for glasses to see through girls clothing and BB ? Guns that appeared on the Back of what We called " American Comics "

So it came to me that there just had to be a way to get hold of these books ... GREAT CTHULHU ! the difficulties !I WROTE TO THE PUBLISHERS in Longhand and upon Paper .. Ancient Old Ones that they were in Wisdom .. and asked about buying their back listed copies of the Rex Stout paperbacks and they .. You'd have to be English to appreciate the Wonder of this ..They wanted to Sell them to Me regardless of the complications and International Money Order there of and they held my paw and led me through the International Process of Buying Books .

In the fullness of a long time a parcel arrived and I'll never forget the Smell of those American Paperbacks and how different they were to the equivalent British paperbacks.

The hard backs of the period are pretty much the same with British Colins Crime Club quality being disgraceful: damn things probably started to yellow the instant they were printed on toilet paper. The exception to the rule - the general British Rule of Contempt for the consumer - was small press publications like Tom Stacy Reprints of classic crime fiction - who went out of business long ago but even they just can't come close to Golden Gryphon Press who published the first couple of Laundry novels ...

" It is said that one should not judge a book by its cover, but epicures also say that a meal begins with the eyes. Golden Gryphon Press books are a pleasure to behold, with their always striking cover art; to hold, as they are crafted using the finest material and techniques; to own, as the alkaline paper will retain its quality for decades; and finally, to read, as each story is very carefully considered and edited before it is included.."


Off hand I cant think of a British Publisher who would dare to make claims like that and expect them to be respected.

Sorry Charlie but I bought them second hand after I'd read the paperback of " The Fuller Memorandum " and then back ordered the rest of your work that I'd somehow missed whilst I was busy being Clinically Depressed back in the last century...and I did it in about 20 minutes on the internet . In self defence I will say that I also bought " The Fuller Memorandum" in hardback even though I already had the aforementioned paperback that was offered to one of my nephews - the Bookish One - who turned down the offer on the grounds that he was flying to Hong Kong to take up his Teaching post - Chemistry - and he thought that he could order the e book version before he caught his flight and read it on his kindle on the plane ... Oh The HORROR !

Truly we are living in an Age of Wonders ..though I do have a horrible feeling that the age of mass market publication of hardback books is dying even as I type and so what will happen to Our Hosts Income?

Charlie will Starve and be unable to afford to Buy Beer and then where will we be?

This is SO Depressing ..and believe me I know all about Depression.

36:
British publishers apparently use worse paper, most of the time, than American publishers do

Strange, my experience has been the other way around, at least with paperbacks. American print smudges easily if you rub your thumb on it. The other one doesn't. I think it is the american paper which doesn't absorb the ink properly. It often seems thinner too.

37:

Charlie - for a British reader, which of the various options gives you and your publisher the most money? Paperback from UK Amazon; hardback from US Amazon, paperback from a UK brick-and-mortar shop? I assume it'd be the hardback, but publishing is an odd business.

38:

Hi Charlie

Is there any chance of being able to get the audiobook versions of the laundry series in the UK short of getting a US credit-card and going via (say) audible.com?

As a matter of interest how do audiobook royalties stack up against paper & ebook royalties taking into account production expenses?

39:

jseliger @ 16
What is ths "VAT" of which you speak?

Excuse me ..
THERE IS NO VAT ON BOOKS OR ANY PRINTED MATERIAL IN THE UK

One of the few things where we've actually told the Eurocrats and control-freaks in Brussels to Fuck off, permanently.
And rightly so.
You do not tax culture and learning - it's difficult enough as it is....

40:

THERE IS NO VAT ON BOOKS OR ANY PRINTED MATERIAL IN THE UK

Not actually true.

Printed matter -- books and magazines and newspapers -- are VATable, but rated at zero percent. And if they include anything that isn't ink-on-paper they instantly become liable for the full rate of VAT; CDROMs or floppy disks, for example. Ebooks, as electronic goods, are VATable at the full rate. And the full rate is 20%.

The publishers asked the chancellor to rate ebooks at the same rate as paper books, or at least at somewhat less than 20%. Did he listen? Bloody philistines ...

41:

Probably an unanswerable question at this stage, but any idea what us poor souls in Australia will get in terms of US/UK versions? Dymocks here gives a bit of a mish-mash of US and UK versions, all with 80-120% mark-ups on the cover price.
Regarding print sizes, I can fit my US copy of The Atrocity Archives and my UK copy of The Jennifer Morgue in the leg pocket of my trousers, allowing me to not inform my boss that I'm off to read a book on coffee break, as opposed to taking some journal articles. Sadly, The Fuller Memorandum is somewhat, well, fuller in size and I can't sneak it out of the office so easily. Any idea if any of the versions of The Apocalypse Codex are going to be small enough for me to avoid incurring supervisory wrath?
Seriously can't wait to read that book.

42:

Truly we are living in an Age of Wonders ..though I do have a horrible feeling that the age of mass market publication of hardback books is dying even as I type and so what will happen to Our Hosts Income?

Hardbacks appear to be doing fine. What's dying is the mass-market paperback distribution channel in the USA -- which is and always has been about disposable reading matter (poor-quality products distributed via the magazine wholesale system, too cheap to be worth bothering to return to inventory if unsold after 90 days on the shelves). MMPB sales are in free fall, but HC are holding up. Ebook sales are rising. Ebooks aren't replacing the MMPB sales on a 1:1 basis, but they pay a higher royalty percentage so hopefully the author gets the same size cut at the end of the day.

In the UK, the mass market channel died in the late 1980s/early 1990s. All paperbacks are sold as trade -- i.e. if they don't sell, they're shipped back to the warehouse. We also have very efficient small-run printing presses. Squeezing from the other end is the VAT issue -- ebooks pay VAT at 20%, paper books are VAT exempt, so readers expecting cheap ebooks in the UK tend to be disappointed (the Excise get the same size cut from an ebook sale as the author or the publisher).

43:

Charlie - for a British reader, which of the various options gives you and your publisher the most money? Paperback from UK Amazon; hardback from US Amazon, paperback from a UK brick-and-mortar shop?

Hardback pays most, unless it's in a remainder store (for sales of remainders I don't get a bent penny). Next come trade paperbacks and ebooks bought at discounted hardcover price-parity. Mass market paperbacks are way down the scale. Ebooks at MMPB price parity pay me more than actual mass market paperback sales.

I do not want to say whether I get more for a UK or US sale because I want to stay on good terms with both my publishers.

Amazon, however, I will declare to be complete bastards who squeeze their suppliers. That 33% discount you get from them? What you don't see is the additional 33% discount they extort from the publishers, amounting to a 66% discount off SRP, leaving the remaining 33% to be split between the publisher and the author (neither of whom do terribly well out of the deal).

44:

Probably an unanswerable question at this stage, but any idea what us poor souls in Australia will get in terms of US/UK versions? Dymocks here gives a bit of a mish-mash of US and UK versions, all with 80-120% mark-ups on the cover price.

Alas, it depends on how the rights to a given book were sold. Usually a British publisher who has rights to a book will assert AUS/NZ rights as a subsidiary, but if the UK rights haven't been sold a US publisher will feel free to export copies to NZ/AUS. If the author is AUS/NZ based and has a really good agent they can actually sell NZ/AUS rights to a local publisher and US/Canada and UK rights separately -- but that's strictly a trick for the locals.

As to "The Apocalypse Codex", the US first edition will be a hardcover the same size as the Ace HC of "The Fuller Memorandum". The UK first edition will be a trade paperback in a format somewhat larger than a regular A-format ("mass market") paperback, but not as chunky as a hardcover.

45:

The more I learn about legacy media corporate practices, the less dirty I feel about being a software consultant to lawyers and rich people.

46:

Charlie @ 40
Thanks for the technical correction ( which I SHOULD have noted)
For non-UK residents.
There is a definite advantage to being zero-rated for VAT - you can reclaim your input VAT from "Upstream" of your self.
Being outside VAT means you can't.

Re zero-rating on e-media ... I suspect this will change in the future. But, unfortunately, the request was probably made too soon, as e-books were a VERY small market at the time.
Not philistines, Charlie, just "Arts graduates" who don't understand technology, or its' take-up rate(s) in a modern society ....

47:

I understand that getting a region-free DVD player in Australia became more difficult when they signed their 'free-trade' deal with the USA. Still dead easy here in NZ, although you may have to call a support line to get the magic code.

48:

Cheers for the response! I like these windows into the publishing trade.

49:

http://www.randomhouse.com/knopf/classics/about.html

The Everyman's Library claim:

Everyman's Library pursues the highest standards, utilizing modern prepress, printing, and binding technologies to produce classically designed books printed on acid-free natural-cream-colored text paper and including Smyth-sewn, signatures, full-cloth cases with two-color case stamping, decorative endpapers, silk ribbon markers, and European-style half-round spines.

But they don't like to publish much new stuff, I believe. It is apparently quite difficult to find out if they are now purely USA based, under Random House, or is part of the Orion group in the UK, or are still run by David Campbell publishing.

50:

Thanks. In that case, is there a somewhat-convenient way for a Brit to get hold of a hardback copy without going through US Amazon?

51:

That would likely explain how I got a UK-cover trade paperback version of Rule 34 in the US.

Purchased within the first month of release on Amazon. When I was offered hardcover or paperback, I chose paperback.

52:

is there a somewhat-convenient way for a Brit to get hold of a hardback copy without going through US Amazon?

Yes; buy it from a local specialist bookshop who stock US imports. Like Transreal in Edinburgh. (Hint: ask for it signed and you'll get a signed copy. It may take me a week or two to drop in -- they're on the far side of town and not terribly vehicle accessible, and I tend to be out of town a fair bit -- but you'll get one.)

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