While I want to write that COVID19 has created some issues for Authors to sell their books, the reality is that this pandemic has shone a blinding light on what already exists for authors and small presses. That is the unfair practices that Amazon and the big five, soon to be the big four publishing houses have established to keep control over the indie author and small presses.
Let’s start with the issue of Retail Prices
With both Amazon and the Big 5 controlling the general retail price of books sold, indie authors and small press have been faced with the challenge of not able to adjust their retail price to accommodate the ever-increasing print increases. Which over the past five years has slowly ebbed away at an author’s profit margin. If an author increases their retail prices to adjust for printing charges, then they price themselves out of the market. Who after all can order 100,000 copies of a book to compete with a large publishing house?
Now let’s talk about Distribution
Ingram which is a part of Lighting Source has a monopoly on distribution for small press and indie authors. With their ability to have books printed in most continents, it’s a good avenue for POD/self-published books. While the Big 5 can afford the warehousing of their books with distributors like Baker/Taylor and others, small press and indie authors can not afford the high fees they would be charged with the distribution companies. This then forces authors to work with IngramSpark for POD and distribution. Amazon is not a distributor, only a POD for their system.
But Authors Need Book Sales
This now leaves us with the option of bookstores. We as authors count on them to generate sales and opportunities for us to get a chance to do readings and other programs at these bookstores. No matter if it is Barnes & Noble, or an indie bookstore. The more chances we have of being able to get face time with readers, the greater chances we have of sales and hopefully success. But, to have the bookstores sell our books, we need to have a distributor that will accept the book returns and at a price rate that is appropriate for the store to purchase the book and make some money from it. This brings us back to a distributor like Ingram that prefers but does not require indie authors to sell their books at a 55% discount off the retail price. You can opt to do a lower discount, but if you do, then there is a good chance that you will not get picked up by bookstores as it then prices the book out of their profit margin. Most bookstores need to make a 40% profit margin. When you choose a lower rate with Ingram or any other distributor, then they cut into the rate the bookstores can purchase the book, thus cutting you out of the store due to a lack of potential revenue.
Confused? Wait it gets better.
Let’s do an example. I will keep it very simple with a $10 retail price book (a 6x9, 125 pages, perfect bound, glossy cover). You have it available on Ingram at the 55% discount. The book is then valued at $4.50, your printing cost as of the writing of this essay is $2.73, leaving you a profit of $1.77 before their handling fee and shipping cost. If you were lucky to order 100 copies at one time would come to a cost per book with printing to $3.52, leaving you with a profit of $0.98 per book. Starting to see the challenges?
If you are with Amazon Select, then you may make a little more money for each book sold. But the downside is that you are missing out on over 30-40% of the customer base (bookstore sales). Is it worth it if you can’t reach the readers?
It should be noted that eBooks and audiobooks were not discussed as examples, as that too has many unfair practices that both Amazon and the Big 5 have put into place that have harmed the indie authors and small press. This is for another essay of its own.
The sample is a perfect example of the cycle of frustration that the authors experience constantly and why the Big 5 and Amazon are making more money than the author. The monopoly that both of them have is not fair, but because they control the majority of book sales, they get away with it. The adage of controlling the market is to buy up the competition and price everyone else out of the market. Thus why the big 5 is soon to be the Big 4.
What is an author to do?
The key factor is for an author to learn how to market themselves, not just through bookstores or by buying Amazon ads, but through other sources, that yes, do take time and money. Authors must reach out to readers through social media, book festivals, podcasts, and any other events they can find. It’s not just about doing these events; it’s is about doing this smartly. Thinking outside the box and creating events and concepts that draw people to the author and give the reader a reason to learn about their books and a reason to buy them. Editing, proofreading, cover design, are also key elements that authors should always invest in to be competitive and to offer a product that is of high quality. The major mistake authors make is not investing in these key elements and looking like a poorly rated novel.
What COVID19 has done is to bring these unfair issues to light and force authors to think outside the box on ways to market and sell their books. To find partnerships that help them to succeed, as well as support their fellow authors. As a community of one million authors, it allows indie authors and small press to change the unfair practices and shape the future that is worth supporting them.
It is up to an author to find organizations, events, and programs that help them to be cost-effectively market their books so they can succeed. This also includes working with bookstores like IndieLector.Store an online bookstore that pays authors up to 80% of their book sales, while also teaming up with an organization that teaches authors how to better market and sell their books; AuthorsMarketingGuild.com.
By working through these programs, authors have a greater chance of success and at the same time, can educate readers on the value of buying books from places that help them to earn a fair living.
With any growth process, it is a matter of educating people that there are alternatives that help everyone grow stronger and better. It takes people to get angry at the status quo and be willing to change it. Are you angry enough? Are you tired of not earning enough money from your book sales to make a fair living? You can be part of the change, or you can stay comfortable where you are and accept the results. It comes down to how much you value your work.
B Alan Bourgeois is the founder of several organizations and nonprofits designed to help authors to succeed in a variety of ways. He is an award-winning author and speaker on the subject of marketing for authors. You can learn more about his careers, writing, and speaking at BourgeoisMedia.com
This article appeared on the following blogs:
Award-Winning Author Jan Sikes: https://jansikesblog.com/2020/09/10/where-can-authors-go-for-help-authorsmarketin/