As a writer, a recent article caught my eye. The December 15 Wall Street Journal carried a front-page story entitled, “E-Book Readers Face Sticker Shock,” which discussed the fact that some e-book best-sellers cost more than their paper siblings.
Six major publishing houses have been accused of collusion for setting minimum e-book retail prices. This bars Amazon, for example, from selling their titles through Kindle for less. Apple encouraged the new policy in support of its plans for an iPad e-book store.
Sounds pretty bad, huh? Let’s look deeper. Amazon has amassed an enormous collection of titles, sells some at a loss, and gives others away for free. Want a book? Click the button. It’s yours, and you don’t even have to waste time entering payment information. They already have that. Want to lend it to a friend? No problem, if you’re an Amazon Prime customer. Prefer to check it out from the local library? Absolutely. You don’t even have to visit the library. The library doesn’t have to buy one to put on the shelf and weed out later after the new wears off. Amazon doesn’t have to worry about you visiting any other bookseller, electronic or otherwise, or even the library.
Then those pesky big publishers start demanding full price for their titles, and Kindle can’t undercut Nook, Apple, and anybody else who might like to market the same books.
Amazon wants more than e-book sales. They would like the publishing business, as well. How do I know? I now publish through Amazon. They have made self-publishing virtually free.
It’s getting harder and harder for little-known authors to catch the attention of publishing companies, in part because this is a bad time to be a publishing company. My latest book, Dead Aggies Don’t Drive Trains, doesn’t fit the market served by the publisher of my other three novels. So what did I do? I bought a block of ISBN numbers, those barcodes that occupy books’ back covers. An ISBN is essential if you want to sell through stores. A local print shop quoted me a printing price. Marketing will be up to me, and tax time will be a pain. I am responsible for packaging and shipping, sales tax collection, recordkeeping, and so on. That all has to fit around my day job. There isn’t much margin between my cost and a reasonable retail price, so bookstores won’t make much money from selling the book. If they think they can make more profit from another title, that’s the way they will go. Don’t blame them. They have only so much shelf space, and bookshops are not highly profitable. That’s why so few are left.
I also decided to try CreateSpace, an Amazon self-publishing business. There is hardly any cost, if you trust yourself as an editor. (They will edit, for a price.) Your computer will walk you through the whole process. Then you order a proof for a few bucks, revise if necessary, and click the button. For a little more money, CreateSpace will sell through other venues besides Amazon. Wholesale cost is way lower than the local print shop. I don’t have to order inventory or even touch the books. Shipping isn’t my problem. I’ll get tax statements and royalty checks (if they sell), and tax preparation will be far easier. I can even track sales statistics through Amazon Author Central.
There is a catch. You get what you pay for. I expect the books come out of some machine where you insert a file and it spits out a book. Physical quality is not ideal. Covers are not always printed quite squarely, for example. I am expecting better results from my local printer, but I’ll get a lot less money and more pain for myself. Then again, it supports a local small business instead of the Amazon book-spitting machine.
Those are paper books. E-books are even easier, thanks to Kindle Direct Publishing. You set your own market price, and you can double your royalty rate by allowing your book to be loaned. Every time Amazon loans your book, it is one less potential sale by a competitor.
I recently received another offer from Kindle Direct Publishing. I can make even more money, and all I have to do is grant Kindle exclusive e-book rights. Not Nook, not Apple, not anybody else.
I don’t think I’ll take them up on their latest offer. Although I haven’t marketed my latest through anybody else and don’t quite know how to, I’d rather keep the options open. Monopolies tend to lose empathy for their customers and suppliers. It might even come to pass that somebody else comes up with something that renders Kindle obsolete, so where would I be?
Publishing companies do more than just print and sell books. They make them fit to print and sell. They know the market, and they have access where independent authors do not. Given the choice, I will opt for a publisher and a wider market.