On January 28th this year I got a newsletter e-mail from HarperCollins Book Blast, informing me that a free Septimus Heap book was available, in formats including Kindle.
I'm not a huge fan of e-books, but this is a book I've seen in Norwegian translation in the bookstores here. So I wanted to take a look. I downloaded Kindle for PC, and clicked on the e-mail link. What happened next surprised me:
Amazon.com wanted to charge me $2 for the book whose buy page listed the book's title as "Septimus Heap, book one: Magyk Free With Bonus Material".
This got me curious, so I started to investigate.
AMAZON.COM'S HIDDEN INTERNATIONAL CHARGES
After encountering what I related above, I started checking out Amazon.com. (NOTE: In Norway you get directed to Amazon.com for Kindle purchases.) It turns out that Amazon charges an extra $2 for many of its Kindle books, but not all. However searching for Kindle books, with lowest price first, shows up no books under $2. But I have found other books as low as $0.99, this could be a glitch based on other findings I have made.
When I first looked at this on January 28th, most books on Amazon's official list changed price. This has been rectified, and they now show up with a $2 higher price. A reason I stated above that the books who doesn't get the $2 price raise could be a glitch.
I asked a US blogger I know to check the price of A Game of Thrones on the Kindle some hours ago, the answer was $5.00. Here's the image I got on my buy page here in Norway:
And it even says that it "includes free international delivery". (Amazon Whispernet looks to be another name for the internet as far as looking at Amazon tells me.)
I tried to get an answer to this on Amazon's forums. I could find no answer to it from anyone officially affiliated with Amazon. Several international Kindle users reported price hikes in the $0.99-$3.20 range, even on free Kindle books. And the same users had bought the Kindle with free delivery stated. Someone even on the day before their forum post.
American forum users blamed this on European governments. Answering this, several posts from Europeans stated that VAT was a percentage, not a flat fee, and that however many percent of 0 = 0. (Some of the posts pointing out it could not be VAT were flagged as "Does not add to the discussion"...)
I checked Norwegian VAT laws. They were a bit difficult to sort through as I don't speak legalese, but there is no VAT for imports under 200 NOK (Norwegian Kroner) to Norway. (At 06.10 February 8, this is $34.65.)
And I would think that Amazon would tell me if I was paying any charges they have no control over.
I wanted some concrete examples from today, so I found a user list on Amazon that had different prices than the buy page. Prices on the list have been updated, I assume automatically, since it was written. Many books are priced above the "Free to $2.99" the list is said to cover. However, as opposed to the above example with A Game of Thrones, this list has not been updated with the automatic $2 hidden charge.
I asked author John Locke, on twitter, if I could use his books as a pricing example. He said yes, and here is what the list above shows:
This is what the buy page shows:
This is the $2 hidden price raise for buying in Norway I have been talking about.
DOES AUTHORS AND PUBLISHERS GET A CUT?
So to the question in this blog post's headline: Does authors and publishers get a cut?
This to me is the interesting question. Where do the extra $2 go? It doesn't actually matter to me personally. I'm only going to download free e-books to my Kindle for PC. But since there is absolutely no mention of it on Amazon, that I managed to find, I started to wonder. I could have asked John Locke, but I wanted to write this blog post based on what an average customer could be expected to find out.
It is very interesting if Amazon alone pockets the extra $2. For John Locke it means that international Kindle sales, of at least some of his books, should have given him three times as much money.
For a publisher we could potentially be talking huge sums if they are not aware of this. And if they are not, Amazon could be in some trouble.
There is of course a chance that both authors and publishers are aware of this, and get their cut of the extra money. Something I don't have a big issue with. But it means that free books for Kindle is not something an international customer can see as an argument for buying the Kindle. (NOTE: Gutenberg.org does have Kindle editions of their free books. But most of these are out of copyright books.)
It seems at best very immoral to me that international customers have to pay an extra charge that is, judging from Amazon's own forums, not defined. And not in any way made public knowledge.
I would love for authors and publishers to comment on whether they were aware of the hidden $2 charge. And also to give their reactions to it.
I would of course also welcome comments from international Kindle customers about their experience with this, and what they think of it. And I would like to hear from American, and other Kindle customers with regional Amazon shops too.
NOTE: I have other examples. But felt it was enough with those I have used.