As a self-published author, one of the most frequent questions I get is, “Are your books on Amazon?” While some other questions like, “Is it an audiobook?” or, “Can I buy it at my local Barnes and Noble?” are increasing in frequency, the basic fact of the matter is that Amazon rules the online retail platform. Look, I get that people want to get free shipping on a copy of my book and I can’t offer that via any other sales avenue. I understand there’s an amount of trust that goes into buying books on Amazon. After all, that’s how they got their start: selling books.
Unfortunately, because Amazon is the ubiquitous place to buy practically everything, some people won’t bother to head to other retailers or online sites to buy a book by a self-published author. For those independent authors who only want to do print-on-demand (POD) paperbacks and/or Kindle eBooks, this is great! I’ll admit that I can purchase relatively cheap author copies of my books from Amazon when I need to maintain my stock for conventions. Heck, even the eBook royalties are a nice perk to my end-of-month finances since they offer 70% royalties for every eBook I sell. Once I decoded their customer support section, they were also quite helpful in dealing with troll reviews as well.
Amazon is the ubiquitous place to buy practically everything.
Now, if readers only wanted paperback and Kindle eBooks of my books, then Amazon is the only retailer I would need to use (as an aside, I’ll ignore the “algorithm” they use to promote these books for another blog post). The trick is that some readers have different preferences. Some might prefer reading eBooks on a Nook instead of a Kindle. Others might want a hardcover version. In the end, I decided to try and give my readers as much choice as possible when it comes to my books. While my first trilogy is available in many other eBook formats via Smashwords, I never found the sales from anything other than Kindle sales on Amazon to be significant. As a result, all my recent books have been exclusively available on Kindle (the KDP Select is a nice perk as well). Despite hedging my bets that the Kindle will win the e-Reader wars, it does take a lot of work for me to get the other eBook formats out there for readers to buy.
In my mind, a legitimate author has hardcover copies of their books. I know many of my books are vanity projects; I also like having the option of a hardcover version of these books. About five years ago, I was introduced to Lulu, which allowed me to expand into the world of POD hardcover books. In recent months, I’ve read how other POD services like Ingram Spark have reduced their hardcover services. Lulu has continued with fairly consistent hardcovers, but it comes at a price…literally. It costs a lot more for me to have hardcovers printed, which means my POD royalties are a lot thinner than their paperback counterparts. In the end, I chose to continue making hardcover copies of my books to provide options for my readers.
Books that are available everywhere limit the author.
Just like Amazon offers distribution to a variety of locales, one of the options that Lulu offers is “Global Distribution,” which essentially makes the books I publish through them available in other storefronts…like Amazon. The trick with this expanded distribution is that I don’t get nearly as much in royalties. As an example, my first hardcover, The Fluxion Trilogy, sells for $45, of which I’d see just over $1 in sales if it was bought via Amazon. Similarly, while I want to keep prices reasonable for my readers (I try to make the hardcover only $10 more expensive than the paperback), my second hardcover, Fourteener Father, had to be priced $15 more than its paperback counterpart because of the minimum price needed for global distribution. While I still want people to buy the hardcover books, I wished that they’d go through Lulu directly instead of through Amazon.
With my most recent project, Cinema Connections, I ran across a different issue: I couldn’t enroll it in global distribution. Because the page size was 8.5″ x 11″, this non-standard format limited its distribution (this was also the case for the paperback as well). It was at this point where I wondered, “Is global distribution even worth it?” Financially: no. Artistically: no. If I wanted to do things my way, I had to come to grips with the fact that the average consumer wouldn’t be able to buy my hardcovers via Amazon. Considering how frequently I post via social media to inform my followers of sales on Lulu to buy directly from them, I didn’t worry that my fans wouldn’t know where to find my hardcover books. Consequently, I decided to pull my hardcover books from global distribution.
Buying direct is a curated experience.
Recently, you might have noticed that my hardcovers aren’t available on Amazon (they’re still there, because Amazon allows re-selling). Additionally, you’ll notice that the hardcover for Fourteener Father is now $5 less than it used to be. Weirdly enough, I actually make more on these hardcovers now that they’re sold exclusively through Lulu’s store. I also found that getting rid of the global distribution option allowed me to change a few things about my hardcovers that I had to live with until now. For instance, I can now have matching matte covers for Fourteener Father‘s hardcover and paperback editions. Also, I can use a different color for the hardcover itself (without the dust cover). This means I can customize my hardcovers to be the experience I want the reader to have instead of the one I have to settle for just to have the books sold on Amazon.
Ultimately, what I want to get across here is that potential readers should ask the author how they’d like to be supported. It means a lot to me when someone I’ve just met wants to buy my book but asks if I’d prefer they get it via Amazon, purchasing from another site, or buying from me directly. If you genuinely want to support a self-published author, try to think which way will help them the most. If there’s a minimal cost difference to the customer between buying on Amazon or on Lulu, then asking which method would help the author more is a great way to support those writers who are trying to make their passion a viable income stream. Convenience may mean a lot to you, but supporting the arts can reap numerous benefits for the community as a whole.
What about you?
Have you ever bought a book from somewhere other than Amazon?
What other options do authors have to purchase their books?
When prices are the same, what do you care about: convenience or supporting the author?