My book, The Tears of Boabdil, was published on 28 September, 2020. A few days later, its Buy button for the paperback disappeared on Amazon and was replaced by an Out-of-Stock notice. A week later, it was available through re-sellers but not direct from Amazon.
Even more bizarre, fluctuations in the Amazon sales rank for the book indicate that orders were still being placed.
But friends who had placed orders received e-mails from Amazon offering to refund the money. Estimated delivery dates for orders placed at the end of September range from November to the beginning of December. The good news is that some people, who pre-ordered in September, have now been told the order is being fulfilled.
I asked my publisher what was going on. They replied
“We have seen reduced ordering from Amazon since they have re-launched their catalogue of ’non-essential’ items after prioritising stock orders for household and medical essentials at the peak of the pandemic. As such, their goods in service has been put under pressure and they appear to be struggling to keep up with the demand for orders. We can expect to see continued reduced stock ordering from Amazon for the short term – which has affected the order times being reflected on Amazon’s website. All other UK book distributors and wholesalers – who supply bookshops – are also functioning as usual, if slowly, and we are running uninterrupted supply for all orders we receive.”
In April this year, Amazon was quoted in the Guardian newspaper denying this claim. Yet Amazon’s own seller central pages said “We continue to prioritize household staples, medical supplies, and other high-demand products coming into our fulfillment centers”. An article in The Bookseller in March indicated the same stock-management issue.
A more conspiracy-theory-oriented explanation, having nothing to do with Covid, was offered by Writers Weekly. This article, dated March 16, 2017, alleges that the company has been pressuring print-on-demand publishers to use Amazon’s own print service by removing the Buy button from non-compliant titles. This doesn’t apply to my book which is not P-o-D, but the article notes in passing that “Amazon’s latest shenanigans have been affecting a variety of print on demand (and other) books for quite awhile now.”
I checked the situation of twelve other sample paperbacks. They comprised a mix of large publishers, small houses and self-published books. Four (one third of the total) were listed as out of stock or only available through resellers. Three more showed low stock. The unavailable books included Robert and published by Sphere. Two of the four unavailable titles were self-published books, one was from a small press, and one was published by Sphere—Robert Galbraith’s (pen name of JK Rowling) Troubled Blood, released in September 2020 So, there seems to be no correlation between the absence of the buy button and independent publishing, nor with lesser-known authors.
I’m persuaded that it is, indeed. a problem of stock management.