Monday, May 21, 2012

The Availability Problem of Books on Amazon

Have you noticed that a book you’re interested in (either because you wrote it, or because you would like to read it) appears with the note ‘ships in 1-3 weeks’? This reduced availability is not only annoying--but particularly puzzling: on the Barnes & Noble website, the same book appears as ‘in stock’ and somehow, it is available for immediate shipping! 
Lately it seems that Amazon let its stock of books supplied by publishers and printing houses other their own CreateSpace dwindle down. I could see this happen to my own novel, Apart From Love, even though my contract with my printing house ensures a quick shipping schedule, as fast as a day or two from the time an order is placed. The immediate availability of the book on Barnes & Noble proves that the printing house keeps its word. The problem, then, is a change in Amazon order strategy.
In the past, books out-of-stock at Amazon were listed with an availability status of 1–2 days, based on Amazon’s practice of having them drop shipped on their behalf from the printing house directly to the customer. But apparently, Amazon no longer considers its drop shipping arrangement economically worthwhile.
If you are a writer, you may be wishing this is merely a glitch. I would love to join you in entertaining this hope. Two months ago, I sent an inquiry about this to my printing house and received the following reply, explaining the two methods of making books available to Amazon:
The first method is our 24-hour service level approach which shows “in stock” at Amazon. In this method, Lightning Source prints the book and ships on behalf of Amazon. This method allows Amazon to meet “in stock / ships immediately” service levels without actually storing the books in their distribution centers. Our second method is where Amazon buys books from Lightning Source and stocks these books in their facilities. If and when Amazon makes changes between the first method and the second method in order to meet their business requirements, occasionally these changes can result in a delivery promise change on

Recently, Amazon has made more changes than we typically see in their shopping logic and stocking strategies between method one, where Lightning Source drop-ships, and method two, where Amazon stocks the title in their distribution centers. This change in sourcing methods has resulted in a very small number of Lightning Source titles moving to a longer availability status, sometimes as long as two to three weeks. As we learn about these changes, we are working with Amazon to quickly adjust the availability back to 24 hours, but this takes time. We are working to improve availability of your titles on Amazon and truly appreciate you letting us know of the issue. The more information we have from our publishers, the more effective we can be as we communicate with Amazon.
Meanwhile, my inquiry to Amazon resulted in no response. 
I will dedicate another post to a fuller explanation of this problem. In it I will brainstorm with you a number of ways to deal with it. For now, I am just curious if you have experienced this problem. Have you done anything about it? What were the results?


  1. Dear Uvi:

    I did see a change in the availability of my poetry book, The Park of Upside-Down Chairs, which is published by CW Books/WordTech Press. Similarly, instead of saying "in stock," it said available within 2-3 weeks of shipping. I noticed this about 1-2 months ago and have also wondered if it will change back to "in stock" or not. However, since I teach, I haven't had time until now to consider contacting anyone about this. I found your post quite informative. If I decide to write or contact anyone about this, I will let you know.

    1. Thank you Alexandra. I looked up your book on both Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Beautiful cover! Just as I described here, Amazon ships it in 2-3 weeks while Barnes & Noble ships it within 24 Hours! How interesting. Let me know if you end up getting some answers. I will post what I've learned in a few days.

  2. Uvi,

    It is to your benefit as an author and the public to rather wait 1-3 days. But you have the downloadable eBook version which is immediately available . Quite a large group prefer or switch over to ebooks instead of the hardcopies, BUT- Amazon books are mostly books printed on demand unless it is sold through private sellers with copies in their possession.

    It has been a standard procedure for the longest time . Most publishers print on demand regardless. Your own publisher should have informed you about this also it is normally in your contract that you signed.

    Places like Barnes and Noble and others, order a certain amount of printed copies without payment with a catch. The longer it stays on the shelves the lower the price the publishers/ authors receive at the end of the day because of handling and any book on a shelve becomes 'shop soiled' due to various reasons.

    Amazon rather use the 'print on demand system' which ensures that both the author and the public benefit and the public get brand new books in perfect condition.

    It also ensures that the author and publishers get the agreed price, not payment based on reduced value as with the large bookstores.

    Personally I prefer on demand printing and waiting 3-5 days is no problem for me. In the US as you might know we are used to standard delivery of everything ordered to be between 3-6 weeks. It is an accepted practice.

    1. Thank you for the post, DLV. The royalty a writer gets is set by contract with the distributer, not by what Amazon, B&N or other outlets end up selling it for.
      You are talking of a 1-3 or 4-5 days waiting period? That was not the problem I discussed. The problem here is 1-4 WEEKS until the book ships, which definitely is not an accepted practice.
      Let me add that this 1-4 weeks wait exists ONLY in Amazon US--not in Amazon UK, Germany, Italy, Spain or Japan.

    2. It is not sufficient to say that readers can get the book as an ebook and therefore there is no problem here. There are different audiences and different age groups, and people who cannot afford buying a tablet, but can afford buying a paperback. The writer must demand that her books can reach the hands of her readers in a reasonable time.