Amazon ignores street date for Discount Armageddon; author begs fans not to buy early

discountarmageddonStreet dates are funny things. They’re supposed to give retailers time to get shipments in and ready to sell so that everybody can start from the same starting line. But particularly in book publishing, the amount of respect they get can vary considerably. With hot properties such as the Harry Potter novels, publishers have the power to punish line-jumpers—but with less sought-after texts, publishers and authors may have to take their chances.

On her LiveJournal, author Seanan McGuire posts about the street-date situation with her latest book, Discount Armageddon, which is supposed to street on March 6th. Any copies that are sold before that do not count toward the all-important first-week-of-sales numbers that can make or break a book’s success.

McGuire writes:

As of midnight Monday/the very beginning of Tuesday, Amazon has been shipping copies of Discount Armageddon. Consequentially, Barnes & Noble is doing the same thing. I haven’t been saying anything because DAW is trying frantically to fix it, and I didn’t want to drive sales to the sites which have chosen to release my book early. (I don’t blame B&N for reacting when they saw that the book was on sale; they’re a business, after all. But it’s not helping my stress level any.) Please, please, do not buy my book early. I know it’s hard. I know that the urge to have the shiny thing now is strong within us. I’ve ordered dolls from Japan and Australia, and DVD sets from Canada and the UK, for just this reason. But those things were legitimately released in the regions where I was ordering them, and Discount Armageddon has not been legitimately released anywhere at all. Please wait until March 6th. Don’t punish independent bookstores, and local brick and mortar stores, for some computer’s hard-to-fix mistake. Please. I am literally begging you here.

It doesn’t help that so much of a book’s success is measured by their first week. I’ve basically thrown up every time I thought about my week one numbers (including just now), because these early sales could mean the difference between a series and an accidental duology. It’s unlikely—DAW is very loyal, and they stand by me—but it could happen, and I am very much worst-case-scenario girl when I’m this flipped out. So please. Do not buy early. Wait until March 6th.

When I check Amazon right now, I see that the book is no longer directly offered by Amazon.com, though a couple of marketplace sellers are selling it for $4.80 each (and one for $22.97; the heck?). B&N still seems to be selling it, however.

Commenter jslinder suggests the reason Amazon started shipping early is that

Amazon et al has to pay for books based on ship date. Since they don’t pre-bill, they don’t get that money back until the books are shipped out from them. Thus, it is in their best interest on a large scale to ship books out ASAP when in stock despite what is best for the author to reduce carrying costs.

The e-book is still back-ordered until March 6th—and this has added to McGuire’s stress level as the Internet’s entitled came out of the woodwork and called her nasty names (as well as made threats of violence in some cases) for holding back their preferred reading format. It’s understandable that, after what publishers might have tried to pull in the past, people might have a knee-jerk reaction to windowing, but this kind of thing really doesn’t help e-book fans’ reputation.

This is not the first time I’ve heard about Amazon shipping books early. Does the company not fear retribution because it’s everyone’s biggest sales outlet and any reaction would hurt the publishers more than Amazon? Or does it just not care?

17 Comments on Amazon ignores street date for Discount Armageddon; author begs fans not to buy early

  1. Brian / AnemicOak // February 23, 2012 at 11:59 pm //

    B&N is offering the same book as ships in 24 hours (same day delivery in Manhattan). BAM and Powells seem to be sticking with March 6th.

    It’s my understanding that their are two types of street dates. One is a hard street date used for bestseller type material (and enforced by publishers) and the second is not set in stone. I could be totally wrong about that, but it’s what some authors have said in the past. The eBooks street date is always a hard street date because it’s set when the book is listed and release is controlled by a computer.

  2. Brian / AnemicOak // February 24, 2012 at 12:04 am //

    Oops I see B&N is also mentioned in the post as shipping early too, but that’s Amazon’s fault too (even though B&N does this all the time).

  3. @Chris,

    You asked: “Does the company not fear retribution because it’s everyone’s biggest sales outlet and any reaction would hurt the publishers more than Amazon? Or does it just not care?” The answer to both questions is “Yes” — yes, Amazon doesn’t fear retribution, and yes, it does not care. One need not look much further than the recent dispute with IPG. Furthermore, for those who think authors aren’t being squeezed, I recommend reading “Who Controls Your Amazon E-book Price?” by Jim C. Hines (http://www.jimchines.com/2012/02/amazon-ebook-price/). Short-term Amazon looks like the authors’ and consumers’ friend, but those who care to look beyond today fear a different scenario may be unfolding.

  4. Oh for goodness sakes. I don’t like to see anyone upset in life, but this woman comes across as seriously disturbed. It is really quite pathetic to read her ‘post’, and rather than splash it all over the web, I would suggest that it should have been avoided by anyone who felt that her behaviour is acceptable.
    It seems to me that the biggest fault here, if there is a fault, is with her publisher, followed by the people who construct these first week sales numbers without the flexibility to allow for this kind of situation.
    Yet again the usual suspects come out of the woodwork and bang on against Amazon.
    That this woman should publicly appeal in such a personal, revelatory way, to people not to buy it ? … is utterly bizarre imho.

    To Chris – Your rhetorical question about Amazon’s not fearing retribution is surely a joke ? in the light of your many previous posts concerning their dominance ?

    I also find your comment on “eBook fan’s reputation’ rather unjustified. eBookers are not a class of people with anything in common other than they like reading. That a few, out of the many millions, may be as disturbed as this writer is is hardly something that can remotely be used to determine the character of eBook fans as a whole. Please.

  5. So… author gets upset that Amazon releases paper copy of her book early BUT the ebook is still stuck at the “real” release date. Did anyone actually read her post to see WHY she was upset? Or did you immediately go on the Pro-Amazon offensive and call her a whinging elitist content producer?

    @Howard – it’s not the writer who is disturbed in this case. It’s the internet hordes who started spewing hate and misogynist invective at her for this release snafu THAT WASN’T HER FAULT! And that some copies of the book being released too early affects her contract with her publisher – in a potentially negative $$ kind of way.

  6. It’s unfortunate that the street date was messed up, but this isn’t a shocker-it happens often. And it’s likely a case of a miskey by someone at Amazon, rather than a nefarious plan to undermine the legitimacy of street dates. At the same time, I do sympathize with the author and it’s unfortunate that this occurred.

    When I worked for Borders, we tried our best to respect street dates, but every once in a while something would get messed up and books would go out early or even late. All it took was one person unboxing the books, leaving a street date note on the shelf in the warehouse, and that note getting lost or falling off…next thing you know, you’ve accidentally broken the street date. It’s a human error, and it happens, especially if there’s several books all released on the same day.
    It doesn’t sound like Amazon was malicious in their breaking of the date, which is a great deal better than in other media areas-does anyone remember the issues with stores that would break Harry Potter street dates? And IIRC various gaming stores and media stores have had reputations of purposely ignoring street dates in favor of sales in hand. It’s sucky, and that’s even worse when it’s done purposely. It sounds like this was a legitimate accident, and the author’s publisher is aware of the issue. Hopefully they can agree to count the pre-street date sales alongside the official weeks sales to get an accurate tally, but I am sure someone at the publishing house has had this issue before…like I said, it was super common when I worked at Borders (and it happened occassionally when I worked at Best Buy as well).

  7. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

    Publishing is really a messed up industry. A book sold is a book sold. By it being released early, someone who may never had known about it may have purchased one. It’s very sad that books are still viewed as perishable commodities where how it sells in the first few weeks determine if it’s successful.

  8. As of 1:30pm CST, 24 February, the physical book is showing as In Stock, with the Add to Cart button active on Amazon.com.

  9. @A.R. Williams:”It’s very sad that books are still viewed as perishable commodities where how it sells in the first few weeks determine if it’s successful.”

    It’s not just books. It’s any media that requires promotion to sell well. That first exposure is seen as being more important than longevity. Almost as if there’s a sell by date after which it disappears.

    E.g. If a movie doesn’t do “crazy business” the first week it is out? It’s considered a failure by the media even if it goes on to make a lot of money over a longer time period.

  10. All this focus on promotion and windowing and first week sales and micro-managed release dates is just an artifice of the publishing industry.

    The traditional publishing industry views readers as consumer cattle that can be goaded towards purchases with advertising, promotion and other methods of control. This article highlights how flawed that model truly is in the digital age.

    The only publishing business model that is likely to work in the future is one where writers and readers build a relationship of mutual trust.

  11. @Howard

    “this woman comes across as seriously disturbed”

    Really. You don’t think your’re maybe edging toward hyperbole there, perhaps getting a little hysterical?

    This stuff up by Amazon affects her earnings and could mean the difference between a duology or series. Maybe she should self publish, ’cause you know that would solve all her problems.

    Entitled fans not only decide that they have a right to criticise her without full knowledge of the situation, but to go beyond that and descend into misogynistic ranting, the worst of which suggesting that she should be raped for this crime of having no control over her works.

    “This woman”, should toughen up and stop being such a ….a woman eh.

    A very odd idea of disturbed Howard. Very odd indeed. One wonders if you’d phrase your objection in quite the same way if it were Stephen King making a post. Honestly I think you’ve got a very slight case of misogyny there that could be fixed with a dose of self awareness.

    Oh and “this woman” has a name, it’s Seanan McGuire

    And I note that you plead not to be tarred with the same brush as the entitled idiots in ebook land, my response, “toughen up princess”<—-see what I did there?.

  12. Andy – I read her original post. It is clear she is upset because of the prerelease.
    Also please have some sense of proportionality. It would appear that she claims she got a handful of abusive messages arising from her bizarre request. I do not minimise the appalling messages she appears to have received, but they hardly add up to “the internet hordes”.
    Also there is a significant difference between being what you call “Pro Amazon” and simply being reasonable and fair.

    Binko – Extremely well said. You are so right.

  13. No. Amazon does not care about authors. They care about dollars and particularly those dollars that can be found in the ‘net profit’ category.
    Books are a commodity for them and one is just the same as another. It may have quirks surrounding categorization tags.
    This is also another case of Amazon throwing their weight around and casually demonstrating to publishers that they are in the driver’s seat.

  14. Completely insane situation!
    I definitely think Amazon is not playing by the rules here!

    http://upcoming4.me/media-news/book-news/item/8747-amazon-ignores-street-date-for-discount-armageddon

  15. Clearly, Howard gets so many death and rape threats on a daily basis that they no longer faze him… and shouldn’t bother anyone else either.

    Oh wait. He probably doesn’t. Because he’s not a woman on the internet.

    Here’s a clue: we get them a lot. And every single one is extremely upsetting.

  16. Sydney. I am sitting opposite two professional business women as I write. I have asked both of them if they have ever received “many death and rape threats on a daily basis”. Both have said they have ever received anything of the sort. yet they have been on the internet each for almost 10 years.
    Extrapolating the experience of a few to all is a foolish and grossly misleading way of drawing attention to what I already agreed was the appalling nature of the messages she claims to have received.

  17. Well, I have received rape and death threats. And so have a lot of other women that I know who blog. Google “female bloggers rape threats”. It happens, all the time.

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