Let 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 Collectorz.com 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.
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 Collectorz.com 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 Collectorz.com 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 Collectorz.com 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 Collectorz.com 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 🙂