Removing EBooks from Amazon: It’s Not That Easy

Here’s something of interest to anyone that is self-publishing e-books out there.

Recently, one of my clients decided to take down an e-book we had worked on together a few years ago and published on Amazon.com. The e-book was specific to an area of the law that I won’t rabbit trail here; suffice to say that things had changed in federal law and what was being shared online was out of date.

My client is shown as the sole author. I worked with her on editing, fact-checking, cite checks, etc., along with getting a nice cover, moving the content from Word to the Kindle format, and getting the final e-book listed on Amazon.com.

She didn’t care about other sites; her goal was to share this stuff with non-lawyers who needed an overview and Amazon served that purpose. ("Hey, client, great question.  I've published a short e-book with that answer and a lot more that may be helpful to you.  Why not pick that up and read it -- it's faster for both of us and lots cheaper than my hourly rate?")

 This worked well for everyone for a long time. Then the law changed and the book, as written, wouldn’t be helping anyone any more.

Makes sense that she wanted to remove the e-book from Amazon and get it off the shelf, right?

Here’s where I enter the story. Seems that my savvy, smart, sophisticated attorney-client wasn’t finding a way to get the darn thing offline. Nope, it’s not that easy.

First off, you have to enter the author section of Amazon (authorcentral) to work on your stuff. Going to basic Amazon.com or looking at your official author page from your e-book's page won’t get you there.

So, you enter the special world of authorcentral and guess what? You still cannot simply take the book off the shelf.

Surprise, surprise. At least we were both surprised.

What happens next is that Amazon asks why you want to remove the book from the site. You must give Amazon a reason to remove the book from its sales catalog. And after you explain why, you get a message where Amazon replies that someone will get back to you on it.

Now, my client had an obvious reason, who could argue with not selling a law book that had old law in it?  Turnaround was short: the book was offline within 48 hours.

Thing is, what I’m wondering … what about if you have no good reason except you’ve changed your mind? You just don’t want to sell that e-book any longer because, well, you don’t feel like it? Or the cover is ugly? 

Or it’s a fiction piece and your cousin just now figured out that the blithering idiot in chapter three is based on him, and you’d rather not have the ebook available for reading during the family reunion next month?

Well, apparently, that’s not necessarily your call. It’s Amazon’s.

Now, I realize that Amazon is competing with other sites for e-book dollars and that Amazon may be worried that authors will be trading around e-books like baseball cards, trying to place their work in the spot where it may reap the biggest revenue return for them. (There’s even a suggestion in the Amazon response about not republishing on another site within 30 days.)  If this is all to avoid some kind of musical chairs marketing strategy, then I get it.

Still, I found it interesting that an author cannot take down their own work whenever they choose to do so.

And I wonder if there are scenarios where that turnaround might be harmful to someone, where they need to remove something immediately and are damaged by the delay.

Thought I’d share.