Writer’s Corner: What’s an Author to Do?Posted: June 5, 2023 Filed under: Book Sales, Books, Indie Publishing, Publishing, Self-Publishing, Writer's Corner, Writing | Tags: Book Sales, pricing strategies, Writer's Corner, Writing to be Read 5 Comments
I usually try to avoid letting loose here when something angers me, but I’ve encountered a situation which I feel deserves a good rant, and so I’m going to tell you what urks me, because I can. You don’t have to listen, or continue reading. If I get too caried away, you can just stop, click out of this blog, and go on to read or view something else, but I’m hoping that you will stick with me. If you are an author on Amazon, it concerns you, and maybe even if you are a reader who makes purchases from Amazon, so that’s just about everyone.
As most of you know, I released Delilah through distributors last month. Now, Amazon always drags their feet when I submit for publication, pre-order and distribution, and they are always the last distributor to accept books for pre-order and sale. The print book comes up early, but the Kindle edition is never accepted until the release day. The same happened with Poetry Treasures 3: Passions, and I had folks chomping at the bit to find the pre-order on Amazon, for their Kindle readers. I’m of the opinion that this is their way to express disapproval of my use of a third party aggregator, instead of publishing direct and exclusive to Amazon, and I expect it. This is obviously detrimental to my pre-orders, but what’s an author to do?
Delilah didn’t show up as available on Amazon until the day of release, but then I noticed that the price they had listed for print was listed as much higher than the price that I had set for the book, and down below, where they show third party vendors, it showed that there were at least four copies that were new or like new, at lower prices, with three supposedly used copies available at the price point I had set. I asked myself, how could there exist all these copies of my book, when it just released and hasn’t even sold that many copies yet? And how can they put a $21.81 price tag, (which is a ridiculous pricing strategy anyway), when the price I set, and the price with all the other distributors, is $16.99? What happened to price matching? I mean, seriously. I put a lot of time in to setting that price. Print books are always overpriced anyway, because of the cost of materials, but I was hoping to find a few readers out there willing to pay $17 for a book by a relatively unknown author, did they really think people would pay almost $23? No wonder I wasn’t selling any books. And if someone did buy a book at that price, I wouldn’t get additional royalties for it, it’s all pure profit for Amazon. How is that fair? Since it is my product, shouldn’t I have control of what price is set?
I directed my questions to Draft2Digital, whose support team is excellent at getting back to you and doing whatever they can to solve any issues their authors and publishers my have. The response I got, was the same reponse that they recieved when they inquired at Amazon – a copy of the Amazon ToS, with the section pertaining to third party vendors highlighted. I signed it, I have to abide by it. D2D support claims this is occuring even with traditionally published authors, whose books are still on pre-order, and third party venders claiming that they have used or like new copies before the first copy has been shipped, and Amazon claims, “We see this practice as a no harm, no foul, just some free (if odd) advertising for the book.”
As consumers, we’ve all seen those little third party vendor boxes, claiming to have copies available for cheaper. I’ve even taken advantage of the lower price for the used copy when I needed the book and my pockets were near empty. I didn’t realize that this might really be false advertising which undermines the authors and publishers of the book. What they are doing is not illegal. The customer does recieve a book for the advertised price. They are saying that these books are being offered by third party venders, but I have my doubts when I know those books aren’t even out there yet. The way I figure it, it has to be Amazon, because there is no way a third party vendor could order a book before it is even released, and get it out to the coustomer in a resonable amount of time, but Amazon can meet the demand and make it appear third party.
As authors, there is only so much much we can do, and the effects of what we can do are very limited. We either sign the Amazon ToC, or we don’t sell on Amazon. As a proponant of going wide, that doesn’t sound so bad, to eliminate Amazon distribution, which you have to jump through extra hoops to get anyway. But I think I need to really evaluate where my book sales are coming from, but I’m guessing that a majority of my book sales come from Amazon, because that’s where most readers go when looking for a book. I know I get some through Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and Kobo, but I’ll bet the sales from all of those channels don’t equal the sales I get from Amazon, regardless of their slightly shady sales tactics.
So, it looks like Amazon has authors right where they want them. They don’t even have to price match anymore. They can set whatever price they want for your book, claim third party vendors, (who may or may not truly exist), have copies which they couldn’t possibly have, regardless that their shady marketing strategies may be sabotaging our book sales. What they are doing is no accident. No. It is purposeful. They are aware of what they are doing, and they covered their butts by writing it into their ToC. Basically, we are helpless to do anything about it. I really am going to take a close look at my numbers, but I doubt I will find that Amazon isn’t as big a part of my sales as I think they are. It would be nice if I could drop Amazon to show them I won’t put up with dishonesty surrounding my product, but the truth is, authors need them, bacause they have become this big conglomerate monster who is the biggest global book distributor, for better or for worse.
I can shout from my blog site, alerting my readers that they can purchase from other distributors and not pay the extorted Amazon price, and I feel I need to, because what Amazon is doing may be legal, but it still feels dishonest, and they are doing it with my product and misrepresenting my brand. I can encourage readers to purchase from other distributors, but I can’t change the reality that most of them will buy through Amazon. I can cancel my Prime subscription, which I did, but I doubt Amazon will loose much sleep over that.
But there may be some hope in sight. Angela, over at Writer’s Weekly, talks about this same problem for other authors, explaining what Amazon has been doing, but not why, and offers some hope that these practices may change soon. It seems backm in 2011, Amazon purchased Book Depository, and they’ve been making them the main buy button on some books, with a higher price and no free shipping. I think the higher prices would be detrimental to sales, and certainly having to pay for shipping would be, especially to Prime memebers who already payfor that benefit in their monthly subscriptions, but apparently Amazon felt they could make more monhey that way? What happened to their price matching strategy? They can’t even match the price the author set for the book, let alone match a discounted price for a book. The good news is it seems like this problem may be ending, as they are getting rid of Book Depository, but I brace myself to see what Amazon will do next to put the screws to authors.
We are not totally helpless. As a publisher, (and if you self-publish, you are a publisher, too), we can publish wide, and offer readers a choice of book distributors. Many may still choose to purchase through Amazon because of ease, because they pay for Prime, because they read digital books on a Kindle device, or just because that’s what they are used to, but at least this way, they have a choice. And to make it easier still for readers, we can use a linking service, such as Books2Read, which gathers all available distributors into one link and visually shows readers that they have a choice. It’s much easier than posting links for each distributor with each promotion, even if you copy/paste. You get Books2Read links automatically when you publish through D2D, but I think it’s free to create an independent account. I’m not sure on that last point, because I have mine through D2D, but I believe it to be true. Let me show you one of WordCrafter Press‘ Books2Read links. When they click on the purchase link for the book in your promo, this is what potential readers see. Then they can choose the distributor of their choice to make a purchase.
This works for authors who choose to hybrid publish, too. Say you want to publish to most distributors through D2D, but you wish to publish direct to Amazon, because they get better service that way, and you want to publish your book in hard cover, which D2D doesn’t do. Books2Read allows you add those other distributor links, so everything is found in one place. WordCrafter doesn’t do this, but I’ll show you what Mark Leslie’s Books2Read landing page looks like for his latest release, Hex in the City, because I know that he is a hybrid publisher, meaning he has some books published traditionally, and others that he’s published himself. I don’t see anyway to purchase direct from his site. That may still be down the road a ways. Publishing wide and using Books2Read to give readers a choice of distributors is one small way that authors can encourage readers to use distributors other than Amazon, distributors that won’t deal with your book in a shady manor or try to screw authors just because they can and get away with it. It probably won’t bring about any drastic changes, but it’s something.
Again, according to Writere’s Weekly, I’m not the only one unhappy with Amazon. Even their own KDP authors appear to be grumbling about the way they treat their own authors by falsely marking books “In Stock”, a determination which apparently effects the costs for shipping authors pay. It’s not exactly the problem which I ran into, but similar. If you think I’m upset, you should check out this story. Some authors are having to fight for their royalties due, it seems, because they spoke out against the big A. Now this is scary. Just think about being an exclusive KDP author and having Amazon decide they don’t like you for whatever reason. If you are exclusive, that’s all of your book sales income. By going wide, you couls at least fall back on the income from other distributors. Even if it isn’t much, it would be better than just loosing everything. You can read more about that here:
It seems like, whether we publish direct through Amazon, or through a third party aggregator, authors are all in the same boat, and Amazon is going to do whatever they want. They aren’t going to change their pricing practices, or their shipping processes, for anyone. They have us over a barrel, because they are the biggest global book distributor. Most book sales come from Amazon, because most consumers chose the ease of shopping and satisfying customer experience which Amazon offers and the other book distributors cannot compete. We could all pull our books and only sell through the other book distributors, but that might be like cutting off our noses to spite opur faces. Let’s face it, for an author, not having your books available on Amazon would be like commiting writing career suicide. Publishing wide and offering readers a choice of distributors sounds like a much better option to me not matter how much Amazon peeves me.
For Kaye Lynne Booth, writing is a passion. Kaye Lynne is an author with published short fiction and poetry, both online and in print, including her short story collection, Last Call and Other Short Fiction; and her paranormal mystery novella, Hidden Secrets. Kaye holds a dual M.F.A. degree in Creative Writing with emphasis in genre fiction and screenwriting, and an M.A. in publishing. Kaye Lynne is the founder of WordCrafter Quality Writing & Author Services and WordCrafter Press. She also maintains an authors’ blog and website, Writing to be Read, where she publishes content of interest in the literary world.
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