Making Amazon-Free

amazon-logo1Let me give you an update on our issues with Amazon and the iPhone apps. First, a quick summary of what the issue is about exactly:

Our online media database systems use Amazon searches as a fallback, only for items that are not in our own databases yet. Users of our Windows or Mac software can use that downloaded data (*possibly* containing Amazon data) for cataloging their CDs, DVDs, books or video games. Then, if they also have our iPhone app, they can export the data to the mobile device. Our iPhone apps do not access the Amazon data feed directly.

But last week, I received an email from Amazon, saying that we must stop using Amazon data in mobile apps, because it is a violation of their agreement. Or else they would turn off our access to the Amazon data feed. So to play it safe, we removed our iPhone apps from the App Store.

What’s Next

Of course, I tried contacting Amazon to discuss the issue, but it took 10 days to get someone on the phone (see below).
In the meantime, I found that Bruji (one of our competitors and the creators of PocketPedia) had received the same email and had an unfruitful phone call with Amazon a couple of days later:

Amazon made it clear that they are not okay with Pocketpedia2, even though it censors their data. We were told that even the most common of attributes, the title, cannot be synced to a mobile device.

That didn’t sound like there was much hope we could modify our iPhone apps to meet Amazon’s demands. So it slowly dawned on me that the only solution would be to stop using the Amazon Product API in all our products. Mobile applications are a big part of and they are only going to be more important in the future. If we cannot do mobile apps while still using Amazon data, then Amazon will have to go.

So a couple of days after Amazon’s cease and desist email, we started on a huge project: Making Amazon-Free.

My phone call with Amazon

Finally, last Thursday I was allowed a call with “the powers that be”. Here’s a summary of my conversation with two very reasonable guys at Amazon:

Alwin: What exactly is the nature of the problem, as we are not directly using the Amazon Product API from the iPhone apps?
Amazon: Any usage of Amazon data on mobile devices is not allowed. We can’t tell you why, that is just our policy.

Alwin: No problem, if that is your policy, then we will have to deal with it. So does that mean that the only solution would be to either stop doing mobile applications OR stop using the Product API?
Amazon: We don’t need you to stop doing iPhone applications, but you just cannot use any Amazon data on them.

Alwin: Okay, but then for us, the only solution is to stop using the Amazon Product API altogether. Can you please confirm that once we completely stop using the Amazon Product API, we can put our iPhone apps back in the AppStore?
Amazon: Yes, if you do not use the Amazon Product API anymore, you can put all iPhone apps back into the App Store.

Alwin: Great, good to hear that. Now, would it be possible to address this problem per program? For example, if we stop using the Product API for movies, can we then bring our Clz Movies iPhone app back to the App Store?
Amazon: Yes, that would be possible, but we *will* verify that you are not doing any searches in the Movie category anymore. We can track that on our end. But please make sure that you will stop ALL Product API searches as soon as possible.

Alwin: We will probably be ready to stop Amazon searches for movies and games next week. Implementing alternative sources for books and music will probably take longer, say about six weeks. Is that okay?
Amazon: That is okay.

Alwin: Thank you. Can you please confirm that you will keep our Product Access Key enabled during this period, while we implement alternatives?
Amazon: Yes, we will keep it enabled. As long as you don’t suddenly start doing more searches to populate your own databases. Please know that we will closely monitor your API usage.

Alwin: That will not be problem. You will probably see the number of searches decrease next week, maybe even tomorrow. One final question: would it be possible to re-open our Associates accounts? Our users like getting the Amazon links, so we would like to keep delivering Amazon links in our software and on our website (and of course make some money from the affiliate fees).
Amazon: Yes, we can do that. Please email us with the details and we will re-open them. Also, please email us your plans and planning and keep us posted on your progress.

Alwin: I will.

A good conversation IMO. These guys were very reasonable and clearly willing to help us resolve this problem. I am also happy to receive confirmation that our Amazon-Free strategy is accepted as a good solution and that we can tackle the issue one program at a time.

The Amazon-Free Project

Sooo… we’ve got some work to do… My guess is that the entire team will be working on this Amazon-Free project for the next couple of weeks at least, probably longer. We will be removing all usage of the Amazon feeds from our online database systems, and replacing it with alternatives where needed.

For Movie Collector and Game Collector, we aim to be Amazon-Free within a week from now. Our online databases for movies and games are pretty complete already, we only used Amazon searches there as a fallback datasource, for barcodes that were not in our own online database yet. We are now adding a couple of freely available lists of DVD and Blu-Ray barcodes. Plus we have implemented a new tool in our content management system that lets our admins spot and add popular missing barcodes with just a few clicks.
If all goes well, I expect to re-launch our iPhone apps for movies and games in about 2 weeks. The Clz Movies app is the most popular by far, so that will return most of the App Store profits as well.

For Music Collector and Book Collector, we are more dependent on Amazon searches. So we will have to add complete alternative sources for barcode lookups and cover images. This will be a lot more work and thus take longer (4 weeks? 6 weeks?).

All other projects we were working on have been put on hold at the moment (Connect editions for music and comics, major upgrades for Movie and Book Collector, small Mac updates, etc….). All of us are working to free of Amazon.

But can you imagine how happy I am that we started to create our own online media databases 5 years ago? Best idea ever 🙂

2 thoughts on “Making Amazon-Free

  1. dear Alwin

    making an “amazon-free” cataloguing software is the most absurd and silly idea I have heard of in years, and as expectable it is a complete failure. Your databases are simply light years from being up to the task; and while you fight your ideological battles and put your frustration on the worktable, I and other customers have just gone to other suppliers who put on the table the Amazon databases and who easily offer the most important feature of any cataloguing software: auto-catalog through ISBN or UPC search.

  2. Hi Enrico

    First, thanks for your purchase of the “3-pack” with Music, Movie and Book Collector!

    Also, thanks for your feedback above.

    Time has proven that I was right to make Amazon free. Because in the meantime, Amazon has changed their Terms of Service and is now forbidding ANY desktop program or mobile app to use their data feeds, for any other purpose than advertising Amazon sales.

    “You will not use the Product Advertising API, Data Feed, or Product Advertising Content with any site or application, or in any other manner, that does not have the principal purpose of advertising and marketing the Amazon Site and driving sales of products and services on the Amazon Site”

    So these “other suppliers” are going against Amazon’s ToS and will soon be shut down.

    – the blog post you replied to is over 4 years old. is still alive, still Amazon free and doing better than ever. None of our competitors have been able to move with the times as we do, offering iOS apps, Android apps, web-based editions, free cloud storage, etc…
    – our own online book database now recognizes 29.3 million ISBNs, which results in a 93% hit rate on ISBN searches. Amazon has never been able to give us a hit rate that high.
    – our own online movie database now recognizes 1 million DVD and Blu-Ray, which results in a 94% hit rate on barcode searches. Again Amazon has never been able to give us a hit rate that high.

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