A contractual failure followed by a customer service failure.
As detailed in this blog post, I enrolled one of my ebooks into the Amazon.com KDP Select program. Almost immediately, I began seeing weird numbers on my royalty statements for the book: Sales at unit prices of 9¢, negative royalties, free books in a period when they were not authorized.
I immediately began a long and frustrating email correspondence with Amazon.com’s “customer service” staff. In this blog post, I’ll share the chain of correspondence that began in January and ended just the other day.
My original message, sent on or around January 10, 2012:
Subject: WTF? Positive unit sales with negative royalties?
This had better be a mistake.
1/7/2012 shows net unit sales of 13 yet net royalties of MINUS (-) $1.40. How is that even possible? Also, why is the royalty rate only 35%? I am set for 70%.
1/7/2012 also shows net unit sales of 169 at 70% royalty. The book sells for $3.99, yet you’ve calculated an “average offer price” of 9¢. How is THAT possible? I never authorized a selling price less than $3.99 except for 12/25 (free).
What’s going on here? Please explain WITHOUT using some canned response that does not apply to my situation.
The response from someone named Prasanna came on January 12 and, as expected, it contained a bunch of canned information:
I can certainly understand your concern about the reports reflecting the royalties in negative. I checked our records and was able to confirm that the all the sales made in the week ending 01/07/2012 were completely free sales due to the free promotion you offered for your book.
However, among those free sales, I noticed that there was a refund that was made for your book which was for a sale made in the previous month. It is due to the refund for the sale made in the last month, the royalty amount is appearing as -$1.40.
Further, with reference to the 35% royalty option, I’ve found that one or more copies of your book were sold outside of countries where the 70% Royalty Option is currently applicable. The 70% Royalty Option is only applicable for sales to customers in these sales territories:
United Kingdom (including Guernsey, Jersey and Isle of Man)
Sales to customers in other locations will receive a 35% royalty. These sales are recorded separately in your royalty reports at the 35% rate.
At this time, the reports don’t show the specific location where your titles were sold. I’ve shared your request for this feature with our business team for consideration as we make future improvements.
Thanks for using Amazon KDP.
This did not make sense. I had authorized only one day as a giveaway for my book: December 25, 2011. That’s the day I advertised it as being free on Twitter, Facebook, and elsewhere. There should be no free book sales in January at all.
I replied on the same day:
I’m sorry, but this is NOT true. The book was offered for sale for free on just one date: 12/25/11. That is NOT in the week ending 1/7/11.
Kindly explain why there were unauthorized giveaways of my book.
This time, Anuradha replied on January 14:
Please know, the Prior Six Weeks’ Royalties report shows the sales you’ve made over the past 6 weeks. The total “units sold” and the “units refunded” will fluctuate each week depending on which day you view the reports and the number of sales made over the combined previous six weeks (to date). Keep in mind the “Week ending” column shows the date that the week ends instead of the week beginning.
Thus, as communicated earlier, the refund which is reflects in week ending 01/07/2012, was for a sale made in the previous month. Hence, the royalty amount is appearing as -$1.40, in week ending 01/07/2012.
Further, the price at which we sell your book may not be the same as your list price. This may occur, for example, if we sell your book at a lower price to match a third party’s price for a digital or physical edition of the book, or Amazon’s price for a physical edition of the book and it appears that your title was price matched with a third party’s web site (to match the competitor’s price).
I hope this information is helpful. Thanks for your understanding and for using Amazon KDP.
This information was not helpful. There could not be any “price matching” because the book was available only on Amazon.com due to their KDP Select requirements.
I replied on the same day:
I did not authorize price matching. At least I did not intend to. If I did, kindly tell me where I can de-authorize it.
There is no other version of the book to match to. Amazon has an exclusive for the ebook title. THAT WAS REQUIRED BY AMAZON. The only currently available print copy of the book sells for $14.99. How is 9¢ matching that?
You are obviously picking prices out of thin air and it MUST stop.
On January 18, Violet replied:
Our price for your title, Making Movies: A Guide for Serious Amateurs is $3.99 and it was never offered for $0.99. You can confirm the price here:
I hope this helps. Thank you for using Amazon KDP.
Of course, this didn’t help either. I replied on the same day:
No, this does NOT help. Your reports indicate that you sold over 100 copies of the book for 9¢. WHY? You told me it was price matching. There is no price matching since Amazon has an exclusive on the book.
WHAT IS GOING ON? It certainly seems to me that you are either lying on my royalty statements or selling the book for a lower than authorized price. Which is it?
Violet replied again on January 21:
I’ve raised a request to the concerned department to check why your title was offered for a lower price in the week ending January 7, 2012.
I will contact you with more information by the end of the day on Wednesday, January 25.
Thanks for your patience.
And then again on January 30:
I wanted to send you a quick e-mail to let you know that I’m still researching on this issue. It usually takes 1-2 business days for this sort of research, but in this case it’s taking a little longer. I’m very sorry about this delay.
I’ll be in touch shortly with an answer for you. Thanks for your patience.
I guess “shortly” has a completely different meaning to the folks at Amazon.com than it does to most folks. I didn’t hear from Violet again until March 20 — more than two months after my initial support request. She finally admitted that Amazon had screwed up:
I apologize for the delay in getting back to you.
Your books’ promotion did not occur as scheduled on December 25th, and began instead on January 6th. A technical error then caused the promotion period to last longer than expected, but this issue has now been resolved.
We’re sorry for the inconvenience this may have caused. Thanks for your understanding.
So let’s get this straight:
- Amazon did not do my free book promotion on the day I authorized it.
- All the advertising I did that day to generate interest in a free copy of my book was not only wasted but must have looked like a cheap lie to the people who followed the link and couldn’t get a free book — thus damaging my credibility.
- Amazon then ran the free book deal for “longer than expected” — a length of time that is still a mystery to me — thus giving away free copies of my book for longer than I wanted the offer to run.
I replied to her message the same day:
Screw-ups like this, and the amount of time it took you to answer my question — more than TWO MONTHS — are why I’ll never be in KDP Select again.
I promoted that book as free on Christmas Day. So I look like a liar to everyone who attempted to get the book that day on YOUR program for free.
By extending the sale beyond the allowable time, you gave away more copies of my book than you should have. How will you compensate me for those lost sales?
You’re already ripping me off — in comparison to other ebook sellers — by charging a bogus distribution fee and cutting my royalty rate to certain countries. You are clearly using your position in the marketplace to take advantage of authors and publishers.
You should be ashamed of yourself.
But I know you don’t care. It’s business as usual at Amazon.com.
Even though I replied to her message by using the same technique I’d been using all along, the automated response I got said:
Our Customer Service department didn’t receive the e-mail message below. If you still need help, please visit one of the pages below so we can quickly provide you with additional information or give assistance via e-mail or phone.
In other words: fuck off, we’re tired of you.
Think KDP Select is a good deal? Think Amazon actually cares about its publishers? Think again.