I received an email from a friend the other day that had a line reading something like, “I know you don’t like traditional publishing but…” Let me be clear – I love traditional publishing. I really do. Nothing would give me greater pleasure to see traditional publishing make a glorious comeback to full profitability. And I’d very much like to be part of that.
My problem with traditional publishing is a business decision, not a creative one. I can’t make money writing gardening books anymore for a traditional publisher. Just doesn’t happen. Right now, traditional publishers want it all – low advances, all rights including e-rights and low royalties. These are not terms that allow any writer to make a living. So, let’s be clear. I like traditional publishing, I just don’t use them because I can’t make money from them. If we could both make money, I’d use them in a heartbeat.
And while we’re at it, let me clarify that all e-retailing publishers aren’t in the author’s corners either.
Amazon is pretty good but really, their “delivery” charge is a money grab compared to what it really costs to deliver an ebook. If you don’t know this, there are two royalty rates within Amazon, the 70% and 35%. From that, you’d assume a book selling for 3 dollars would either produce an author return of $1.05 (35%) or $2.10 (70%) but hold on. If you elect to use the 70% option, Amazon tacks on a delivery charge depending on how large your ebook file happens to be. So you could pay an extra .13 or .55 depending on the size of the file. Put in a lot of pictures and you’ll find yourself losing a good percentage to “delivery”. The actual cost of delivering an ebook is a penny or two but with their delivery costs, Amazon has taken it to a new level of charging. So Amazon is the 950 pound gorilla in the jungle but it still stinks a bit downwind from them.
Apple and I got off on the wrong foot due to some tech issues (to be fair, probably my fault) in that I had a developer account and wanted a book account as well. The entry point is the same – and they expect you to “know” you have to have a separate account for each activity. I did this but the software kept shuttling me back and forth between the two accounts and then it locked me out of the author account. Given the developer account was outdated and disabled with nothing in it, problems developed with uploads. To their credit they fixed the problem within 48 hours of me emailing them. Their royalty rate of 70% is indeed a straight percentage with no “distribution” cost but because they’re only a fraction of Amazon sales, it’s still experimental.
Barnes and Noble is a big “Who?” in my world. The first thing of course is they don’t allow Canadians to upload ebooks directly. You just never know about them-there Canucks and what they’ll write about next! Every other tech company has sorted out the cross border tax issues but not B&N. I access them through Smashwords. So I am unable to give you the definitive answer to how they work so you’re on your own there. I can tell you sales through them are slightly higher than Apple.
Smashwords is both a software system (they modify a basic file to fit into all e-retailer systems) an aggregator (you can use them to upload your ebooks to every retailer except Amazon) and a retailer themselves (selling your ebook as well). Their software demands a specific system of formatting but once you figure it out, Smashwords can be a one-stop uploading system for everybody except Amazon.
Kobo, Sony etc etc. I have no idea – the sales through these channels are next to zero. I believe I’ve sold one book through Sony ebooks in the last year and Kobo isn’t a heck of a lot better for me selling less than a hundred a year. Note that Kobo just opened up direct uploads for authors/publishers to deal directly with them but I haven’t done so yet.
To give you some sense of the size of Amazon versus the rest of the world. I’ll sell 90% of my ebooks through Amazon. Again, it would be convenient to have several retailers of equal size competing for the ebook market but that’s not the way the ball is currently bouncing.
The bottom line here is that Amazon is more author-centric than the other retailers and has a bigger audience. They aren’t perfect but they’re the best game in town. It would be very nice if there were meaningful competition but each of the other retailers has their own unique set of issues that may not revolve around me as an author. 😉
So when you ask why my book isn’t in your retail system, it’s because I’m focussed on Amazon sales and enhancing them. Your system – 10% split between 5 retailers – doesn’t come up very often on my radar. And given that Amazon pays monthly and I get paid every three months by the others, well you can see where my energy goes.
My new publishing system uploads to Amazon. I introduce the ebook, get the pricing sorted out (each book has a price range that works best for it) and use Amazon to build my publishing channel. I also enroll the books in the KDP programme because I get paid for every reader who “borrows” it as well as having some other marketing system (mostly being able to offer the ebook for free) advantages. After the three-months of this program, I’ll upload the ebook to other retailers through Smashwords.
Note I do the price testing at Amazon because some of the retailers don’t adjust their pricing very quickly. Sony can take a month to adjust their prices while Amazon can do it often in hours.
From an author’s point of view them, while Amazon is not without flaws, it is the biggest and most profitable game in town.