A Truth About Partnering with Amazon …
Continuing where last week’s beat A Harsh Truth About Poetry Publishing… (and the comment discussion) left off, I want to explore some more about independent (usually small) press publishing. Amazon anyone? On Monday of this week Lynn Michell of UK based Linen Press wrote an article in The Guardian titled “Amazon, the greedy giant with small publishers in its grip.” I would recommend that you read the whole thing, but I will attempt to summarize it below.
Michell writes about the 2 options that a publisher has when using Amazon. The first is called Amazon Advantage and the second is Amazon Fulfillment. To set the stage, let’s learn about the press — Linen Press is a small independent publisher:
We read the 20, mostly unsolicited submissions that arrive each week. Having signed up an emergent writer (emergent is a polite way of saying unknown), we usually do a first run of 400 copies, which works out at a basic production price of £3 per copy.
But after costs for the book such as artwork/cover image, typesetting, the creation of digital files, marketing and postage, Amazon Advantage turns out not to be financially viable or responsible for a small press like hers because:
The final cost per copy for us is nearer £4. Amazon Advantage takes 55% of the recommended retail price, so on a £7.99 novel, it takes £4.40 and we get £3.60. We have to post books individually, as they are ordered, at £3 postage plus the cost of an envelope. We’re down to a profit of 60p. Out of that comes the author’s royalty of 80p, so we’re in minus figures.
How about Amazon Fulfillment? Any better?
Yes, this costs less. The fees vary, as do our prices because there’s pressure to discount our books, but Amazon takes 30%-40%, so on a £7.99 book we take home a more reasonable £5, approximately. And we can send boxes of books by courier to Amazon, a more economical way of getting copies out (although this involves hidden costs).
And what about those hidden costs? Well for one, if you use Fulfillment, you are not the top listing (the “main seller” that one gets when clicking on the cover image on Amazon) as you are if you use Advantage.
At the time of writing, I found we were listed beneath a seller offering our book new, and more cheaply: OrendaBooks in Leighton Buzzard, selling the same book for £5.19 plus £2.80 postage. We are hidden in the “new and used” category and don’t get the quick breath of publicity given to publishers who can afford to go down the Advantage route.
The other hidden cost is storage fees. Amazon does not like having lots of inventory on hand and it is not shy about charging you for inventory that has been there for 365 days or more. And if you decide to pull that inventory, guess what? There is a fee for that as well. The article ends with this justification for a small press using Amazon:
The alternative to selling on Amazon is to rely on readers to search for us online and to order a book from our own website, but we don’t have the same kind of visibility. We are David to its Goliath. Amazon may be responsible for closing down independent bookshops across the UK, and may have a shocking record in terms of workers’ wages and conditions, but for a book buyer, it’s cheap, reliable, fast and we all know how to use it. There’s no competing with this bad giant of book buying.
But what if there was? Similar to the discussion around last week’s beat, the issues that Michell writes about with Amazon are not unique to her press. They are issues that all independent small presses have to deal with. I want this beat on Real Pants to actually offer a solution or at least an idea for a solution to these problems that independent small presses face and have with regards to things such as selling books and distribution, etc…
So on next Wednesday, in my next beat I will explore an idea that I have been working on (and talking about with a few other small press publishers). It is an idea that I think can help independent publishers of all sizes. It is not necessarily an original idea but as far as I know has not been tried before in the way we have been discussing it. It is an idea that I hope to have something concrete for by summer.