Market Manipulation
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I want to get up on my soapbox and rant about Amazon’s market manipulation, but I  can’t because I’m an accountant who understands how the free market works:  Badly and for the detriment of the poor and uneducated—but that’s not my rant.

More specifically, I’d like to complain about Amazon Createspace’s deliberate price manipulation of paper editions of our books.As a few of you may be aware, I have a continuing Regency romance series that was bought by a major publisher years ago. Due to the economic climate at the time, the last two books never made it into print even though they’d been edited and paid for. Thanks to the wonderful crew here at BVC, I’ve been able to make these stories available in e-book format. (Irish Duchess will be out November 6th here at BVC)

The series is selling exceptionally well, thank you, everyone. But my readers have been reading my historical romances since the early 80’s. Some of them simply cannot make the technological leap to e-readers. Others want the entire series in print on their shelves. I am reluctant to dump this loyal print audience if there is any way of complying with their wishes.

So very reluctantly, because I’ve been watching other authors enter into this painful process, I decided to experiment with turning my e-books into print. Lightning Source is probably the best means of doing so, but they’re set up to deal with large publishers. BVC isn’t there yet.

Vanity presses are another option.  I am not arrogant enough to believe the demand for my print books will be high, and I have no intention of selling them out of my trunk, so there is unlikely to be enough profit to pay anyone to turn them into print.

That leaves Createspace as my best alternative for print publishing. They cost nothing. They’re simple. They’re set up for the indie author. And they actually do a terrific job of putting together a very nice book. I respect the fact that they should be rewarded for their forward thinking and excellent programmers. B&N has certainly made no strides in this direction.

But in return, Amazon demands loyalty to their customer base or pay the price. I might understand if they set their distribution up so that every book sold had the same profit percentage. Obviously, a single POD print book will cost far, far more than an e-book. I accept that my $6.99 e-book will cost $10.99 to print. I make a great deal more money on the e-book and pennies on the print, but this is about pleasing my customers. Unfortunately, this is not how Createspace works.

If I dare to pay Amazon to distribute my book to Ingram’s and other wholesalers, Amazon wants  40% of my retail price, over and above the cost of publication. (It actually only costs them about $4.50 to print. The rest is their profit and my pennies.)  Do the math. If I’m making pennies of profit at $10.99 and have to pay Createspace $4.40 to sell the book at B&N, I’m losing $4 a book. So I have to list the book at $14.99, not $10.99 to sell anywhere but at Amazon.

Which leaves me on the horns of a dilemma—do I keep my price low and sell only through Amazon, or insist on market competition, raise the price, and sell everywhere? You know what Amazon is betting on. Does it matter to you where you buy your books?


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About Patricia Rice

Patricia Rice is an award-winning, bestselling romance writer who loves history and fantasy and thinks sometimes they're the same thing. Her most recent fantasy title is Damn Him to Hell and her most recent original romance title is Risk of Love and Magic, now available from Book View Café. You can reach her at her website or through Facebook or Twitter.
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13 Responses to Market Manipulation

  1. pooks says:

    For years, that was how I detected books that had been self-published as POD–overpriced compared to traditionally published books. From what I can tell, most authors do go with the higher price, though I certainly understand wanting to provide a service to one’s loyal readers of longstanding and sticking to less. You’re blazing this trail ahead of me, since I haven’t made my ebooks available in print yet.

  2. I just resign myself to making pennies on any book that sells through Amazon Distribution. Both my print books sell for $10.99. I think I get 40 cents. I CAN spell “rip-off.” But like you, I’m not going to sell books from the trunk of my car.

    I have the vague idea that if I ever become more well-known, then I can charge another dollar for my print books.

    For me, the price of a book is at least partly based on its size. I will rarely pay more than ten dollars for a paperback, unless it’s at least 200,000 words, like Neal Stephenson or Diana Gabaldon write. A paperback that size is worth $15 to $20.

    If I look at books that are similar to mine, I know I’m willing to pay $10, but I’d rather pay $8. Based on that, I’d rather charge $8 for my book. But I can’t.

    • As an avid reader, I am still unable to force myself to pay full price for e-books that I can buy at a discount in paper. It rubs me the wrong way. So being forced to do the reverse to my readers raises Ye Olde Blood Pressure. This is my first attempt at print. I guess I’ll learn from the experience.

      • pooks says:

        As someone who was being swallowed by clutter, most of which was stuff I somehow thought I really needed/wanted, the idea of having a book that doesn’t take up space is magical. I don’t like paying more for digital, but I will.

  3. Have you considered lulu.com? It’s similar to CreateSpace but not tied to a single seller as CreateSpace is. I have used it with success for my self-published book The Mars Diaries.

    If you have already considered and rejected lulu.com, why did you do so? I’m seriously curious.

  4. Doesn’t Lulu require you to order a large print run?

  5. Pat Rice says:

    As far as I’m aware, Lulu isn’t free. They’re selling services. Since I don’t expect to make any money on these books, I was going for cheap, cheap, cheap. I know, I get what I pay for. But given Amazon is making more money off these books than the authors, they really don’t need to tack on that extra 40% if we sell the books elsewhere. That’s all gravy.

    Am I wrong about Lulu?

    • You can publish a book at lulu.com for free. You upload your content, set your price, and they set up a storefront for you. People can go to lulu.com and order your book — they get the book, lulu keeps the cost of manufacturing and a cut for themselves, and they send you the rest. The free service includes a lulu-provided ISBN (i.e. lulu is listed as the publisher) and “extendedREACH” distribution (which means that the book appears on amazon.com as well as lulu.com). You don’t have to pay a dime for any of this, except for any proof copies you have printed.

      In addition to the free service, lulu offers “globalREACH” distribution which lists your book in the Ingram Catalog, making it available for bookstores to order, for $75. Above that there are promotion and publicity services which can cost hundreds of dollars. But if all you want is for people to be able to order the paper book from Amazon — they get the book, you get the profits — that’s free.

      What does CreateSpace offer above this? Keep in mind that “free” services which you pay for in reduced royalties are not actually free.

  6. green_knight says:

    I’m surprised that you say Lightning Source deals with big publishers, because when I looked into them, they were very happy to deal directly with small ones – what exactly are the limitations you are running into?

    • Pat Rice says:

      Essentially, Lightning Source requires a lot of business info whereas Amazon just asks for your bank account without inquiring further. Obviously, I haven’t tried their process, so I can’t speak for that personally, although I’ve heard others say it’s more difficult. I am technology-challenged. Once I gain a little confidence in the process, I’ll take another look, but I’m changing business formats right now, and it’s not a good time to set myself up as an LLC.

      • Pat Rice says:

        Oh, and that’s just as myself. Once BVC is ready for that transition, we’ll probably take a strong look at LS. We’re just not there yet. A few more hoops to jump.

  7. Randolph says:

    There are other alternatives. Have you considered BookMobile/Itasca? They are short-run digital rather than POD, which makes for some up-front costs, but last time I looked, they made better-quality books at a better price, and they didn’t demand control of your pricing like CreateSpace did.

    Important point: Jeff Bezos started his career as a hedge fund manager.