After maintaining an affiliate relationship with Amazon for 18 years, the African American Literature Book Club, an online portal dedicated to black books, literacy, and a wide variety of book-related services, is severing most of its commercial ties with the giant online retailer.
In a blog post on the site, AALBC founder Troy Johnson cites ongoing cuts in Amazon’s affiliate commission terms, as well as the e-tailer’s overall “monopolistic” impact on bookselling, as informing his decision to cut ties with Amazon. Johnson said he has removed most of the buy buttons on the AALBC site that send consumers to Amazon to purchase books.
While AALBC will continue to maintain Amazon buy buttons for about a 100 longterm Kindle e-books that are sold exclusively via Amazon, Johnson said he has removed the rest of the buy links to Amazon, and that AALBC will no longer sell Audible titles or take on any new Kindle titles. “And we definitely won’t be renewing our Amazon Prime account,” he wrote in the blog post.
Founded in 1998 by Johnson, a technology professional and booklover, AALBC offers a wide variety of services in support of African American literature and African American authors. The site offers interviews and reviews of black titles, editorial services, advertising and promotional services, and online book clubs, as well as e-commerce, including direct sales of books, affiliate referrals, and online consumer data.
In a conversation with PW, Johnson said that he had “been contemplating this for years.”
Since its launch AALBC has sold books direct as well as offered referrals to Amazon, B&N, and other big retail platforms, Johnson said. Using Amazon, he added, was “more convenient,” but over time, visitors to AALBC “basically only used the Amazon button. Everyone feels compelled to use Amazon,” he said, referring to both authors and consumers. He cited self-published authors, who feel compelled by the online retailer to sell their books exclusively via Amazon, as well as physical store retailers, who often use Amazon’s third-party reselling platform to sell books rather than selling via their own websites. “Black book sites have been clobbered by Amazon,” he said.
In addition, he said, the “backbreaker” issue has been the steady decline in Amazon affiliate referral commissions. Johnson said the commissions have been cut over the years, declining from about 8% in 2009 to about half of that today. After averaging roughly $440 a year in affiliate revenue for 17 years, he said, AALBC earned only $160 or so from the commissions over the last 12 months. “Amazon continues to relentlessly push for lower prices and urge exclusivity,” he said. And, he claims, “their search is biased and favors their own e-books.”
Johnson said he now uses Big Commerce, an e-commerce vendor that provides shopping cart technology to other book sites, to fulfill book sales on the AALBC site. In addition, he’s attempting to create an affiliate program that will send readers to the websites of black publishers and indie bookstores to buy their books.
“It just doesn’t make sense to send Amazon traffic and contribute to their monopoly, and [still not be able to] make any money,” Johnson said.