Author Gets Shafted On Royalties By Amazon

Amazon goofs, author loses out on royalties

People talk about how great self-publishing is because you get more control over your product and get to keep more of what you earn off sales. But it's not all sunshine and kittens. Just ask James Crawford, who recently got screwed out of royalties on 5,104 books. 

Crawford's zombie novel, Blood Soaked & Contagious, is currently for sale in the Amazon store through Amazon Digital Services. And one night he noticed a huge spike in downloads. That's pretty cool, right? But as it turns out, that's only because Amazon decided to drop the price of the eBook from $5.99 to $0.00. 

The company's terms dictate that if they find the book for less on another website, they have the right to drop the price. And they claim the book was for sale for free on Barnes & Noble's website. 

Except all Crawford did was offer a couple of free chapters as a sneak peak, which doesn't actually qualify him for a price drop. The price has since been corrected, but Amazon won't pay out the royalties he lost on the sale of 5,104 downloads of his eBook. 

Let's all put on our math hats for a moment. 

If the standard split for a self-pubbed book on Amazon is 70 percent for the author and 30 percent for Amazon, Crawford is earning $4.19 per book, so he just lost out on... $21,385 in sales.


Crawford, of course, is not thrilled. 

“KDP’s terms stipulate that they will change the price if they find the SAME work priced differently elsewhere. This isn’t what happened with me. They found something that is quite similar, asked no questions, and used their power to discount my novel 100%.”

Now, in one sense, the book probably wouldn't have been downloaded so many times if it wasn't free. But at the same time, Amazon goofed, and that's 5,104 potential customers who don't need to spend their money now. And it's not like Amazon bothered to check with Crawford before slashing the price of his book. 

There's at least one interesting argument to be made here: Crawford wrote a blog post about how he's not really too hot on filing a legal claim, because Amazon is a humongous company with a powerful legal team and a near-monopoly on the eBook market. This is a great example of an instance where an agent and a publisher would come in handy, because they can more effectively fight those battles for you.

So, should Amazon pay up? 

Image of Blood Soaked and Contagious
Manufacturer: Permuted Press
Part Number:
Rob Hart

News by Rob Hart

Rob Hart is the class director at LitReactor, as well as the publisher at He's the author of New Yorked, nominated for the Anthony Award for Best First Novel, as well as City of Rose and South Village. Short stories have appeared in publications like Shotgun Honey, Thuglit, Needle, Joyland, All Due Respect, and Helix Literary Magazine. Non-fiction has appeared at Salon, The Daily Beast, Birth.Movies.Death, The Literary Hub, Electric Literature, and Nailed. He lives in New York City. Find him online at

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jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like November 3, 2011 - 8:42am

If the terms don't specify whether or not the first couple chapters qualify as a whole book (and when do they ever) he got screwed.  But I doubt he could successfully argue that he should get the full amount of what would have been the royalties.  

I think he should at least get a bunch of gift cards or something.

Dan's picture
Dan from Santa Monica, CA is reading Beautiful You by Chuck Palahniuk November 3, 2011 - 9:05am

Hah. Gift cards.

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading Stories of YOUR Life November 3, 2011 - 9:17am

I second that "hah."

I understand why he's upset, and it is Amazon's fault, so they should probably give him some sort of compensation. That being said, 5000 new people have now read his book. That's WAY more than would have bought it. Plus all the publicity this story is getting, that can't be beat. If I were him, I'd totally take 5000+ reads and the increase in media attention over the actual sale of even a few hundred full priced eBooks.

bryanhowie's picture
bryanhowie from FW, ID is reading East of Eden. Steinbeck is FUCKING AMAZING. November 3, 2011 - 10:32am

Amazon should pay him; Amazon will never pay him.  If they do, I'll buy every book I ever get from them, because they'd be showing an amazing ability to say "Sorry, my fault".  If they give the money to the author, then they are my heroes.  If not, they are just another company.

misskokamon's picture
misskokamon from San Francisco is reading The Moonlit Mind November 3, 2011 - 10:46am

Amazon should pay him. Like Bryan says, Amazon won't... but they should. Or they should give him something else in return, like prime advertisement or something. Amazon made a mistake, and at least a portion of those people would have paid for the book. How disappointing that Amazon seems to be taking the I'm-big-you're-little route and ignoring the author's anger.

But yes, it is a good thing that so many people grabbed a copy of his work. He might earn some fans and he definitely has some exposure going. Still, no author should lose out on what he's owed. It wasn't this guy's intention to work for free and he shouldn't sit down and take it because Amazon says he should.  

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading Stories of YOUR Life November 3, 2011 - 7:19pm

Someone posted THIS on the Facebook. Looks like James has read our piece. LOL at this part:

Not an inconsequential number, to be sure, but not quite so horrible as LitReactor’s math.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated November 3, 2011 - 8:30pm

They could do something less costly that helps both like give him a review in the emails they send out or such. It would up his sales without costing them directly and I'm pretty sure they do a "Didn't get enough scares at Halloween?" email.

James Crawford's picture
James Crawford from Virginia November 4, 2011 - 3:49am


Of course I read it!

-James Crawford

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading Stories of YOUR Life November 4, 2011 - 7:46am

Nice, James. Welcome aboard!

theidiotbox's picture
theidiotbox from New Rochelle, NY November 4, 2011 - 7:53am

Amazon should be paying James. I'd be pretty PO'd if I got jipped off 10 grand as well, but on a positive note, at least he's getting more exposure. 

James Crawford's picture
James Crawford from Virginia November 4, 2011 - 8:58am


There is a massive downside to having your metaphorical panties aired on the web: you are open to criticism far beyond your expectations.

Whether or not I've been gypped is open to debate, and there's quite a bit of debate out there. All I know for sure is that the customer service sucked.


James Crawford's picture
James Crawford from Virginia November 8, 2011 - 2:23pm

For your reading pleasure:

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated June 18, 2012 - 9:24pm

How did it affect sales after you started charging again?