Harold Walker’s latest book, The Grotto, recently went online at Amazon for $19.99. But, something weird happened. Before his Amazon listing was available, a third-party outfit called Prepbooks offered his book for $27.34 on Amazon! How did they get online before Harold’s own listing got online? One person, that Harold knows of, bought the book at this price. Equally mysterious, when the Amazon listing came online at $19.99 (within an hour or so of the Prepbooks listing), the Prepbooks $27.34 listing disappeared! I never really solved that mystery, but third-party sales of your books are an issue that you should be aware of.
I checked the Amazon and Createspace forums for information on this and the vast majority of posts said to chill – that for self-publishers like us this isn’t that big an issue. The third-party will buy the book from Amazon, you will get your royalty (on your list price, not their price) and ship your book to the buyer. (Note: It does appear that is what happened yesterday with Harold’s book – there is a sale recorded.) However, a couple of issues still loom. First, one of your dear readers, or a friend, might overpay for your book. That stinks. Worse yet, the third-party listing might say “Out of Stock” - since they technically are, and that might make people not order your book.
I also found some articles online about this issue, but it’s a much bigger deal for the big 5 publishers than us. Apparently these third-party outfits are getting their hands on returned books from bookstores and selling them as new online. Then, the publisher and author gets nothing. That doesn’t happen to our books because we don’t have large inventories or returns to deal with. (Though piracy may occur sometimes.)
What to do? First, make sure when you advertise your book to include the price. That way people will not be so inclined to overpay. Encourage your readers to buy either directly from you (at a reading or event) or directly from Amazon – NOT through third parties. When they click the Buy button on Amazon, it says who they are buying from. Lots of people probably don't look, but we should encourage them to pay attention. Here’s how it shakes out:
- You buy at author cost and sell yourself: even with shipping, depending on what you sell it for – you’ll probably make the most profit.
- Direct from Amazon. Usually at least 3 – 4 TIMES the royalty you make at expanded distribution.
- Expanded distribution: you make the least royalty. This includes third-party sellers and places like Ingram – that bookstores order from.
You could opt out of expanded distribution, which would lock out third-party sellers. But by doing this you also lock your book out of Ingram and other legitimate distributors. If your book is not likely to be carried by bookstores, then there is little downside. I took my sole book out of expanded distribution just on principle. It’s a short 52 page book that will never see a bookstore unless I put it there.
Here are some of the articles I read about this, but remember they are whining mostly about the large publishers and I have a difficult time feeling sorry for them: