Updated: Feb 23
I have long since come to the conclusion that the only person or indeed people, who understand Amazon is yep, Amazon, and here is why:
How The Hell Does That Work?
Amazon - a necessary evil? If you're serious about publishing a book, then that is a most definite yes. Ask any reader where they first look up their next book purchase and almost every time the answer will be Amazon. The distribution giant ships around the world, usually within 24 hours, and undercuts most independent booksellers by a healthy margin. In recent years it's developed its KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) angle considerably, offering fiction for as little as $1.99 for a collection of 8 books. My opinion on that price marking is fairly well documented on this blog, but let's look at that for a minute. How? How does it even work? Surely the simple print costs must be more than that, right?
Let's take the average author as I would describe myself. It would be ludicrous not to ensure that my book did not reach Amazon's distribution BUT as I have said many times before, each time your hard written work is touched by new hands, a cut of the profit is removed. Amazon has a 30% listing fee! That means that they simply won't touch the book if they do not have at least a 30% discount on the retail price. For that considerable cut, they do not guarantee your book is stocked, nor do they guarantee that they will list it beyond their first stock order, and they reserve the right to amend the price tag above the RRP without informing customers of the RRP in the first place (unless of course, it's a discount).
90% of my book sales are made through Amazon. Drau: Blood retails at £8.99 (UK) obviously after print costs which includes the cost of a colour cover, and the publisher's cut, after Amazon, my profit per book is approximately between 50p and 25p. That's not unusual either at least for those traditionally published.
For those going direct through Amazon, while a greater cut is available, your work becomes the sole property of Amazon. Their terms and conditions clearly state that distribution is solely theirs in perpetuity. That means you cant look for a different publisher, nor can you so much as sell your own work at a convention!
2 - 2 = 1 ????
So having realized the pros and cons of allowing Amazon to distribute (and let's face it - there isn't a choice if you want your book to reach your intended readership), let's look at the online warehousing system of the Amazon store.
I have long suspected something strange about the little green, amber, or red stock number given to customers. Over time I was getting the feeling that maybe, just maybe they were a bit of hoax. So I conducted an experiment. According to Amazon's warehouse system, two copies lay in the vaults of an Amazon warehouse somewhere in the UK. I had recently done a big push advertising Drau: Blood and I had two prospective readers interested. Naturally, I directed them to the Amazon page (it helped that Amazon was flash selling my work in a sale with a 1% discount - oh my!). At that time I was offering the free digital copy to those who bought the paperback upon proof of purchase. A few minutes later and PING! Two copies sold, both from Amazon UK. A few minutes later I check back and behold both copies gone - so far so good. Half an hour (30 minutes) I checked back again and what do you know there is suddenly 1 copy in stock! Now before people point out to me that clearly an order cancelled, let me allay your fears. I knew both the customers very well and so I checked that this wasn't the case. It wasn't. In the wonderful and nothing short of the miraculous world of Amazon, a single copy had appeared ready for Prime delivery inside 24 hours.
"Did these fresh spawnings actually exist?"
The More Coming Soon Monika
Of course, the online stock system of Amazon doesn't just spawn fresh copies for purchase, it advises customers whether there is a fresh order coming into the warehouse. You know what I mean. You've seen it before: "1 in stock but more on the way!" It's a great way to encourage their customers to purchase that item now - a heavily used marketing tool. Except that it's not true! Having witnessed the miraculous book spawning I was now intrigued. I followed closely and sure enough within 24 hours, that little red note was applied to the page. Well, maybe they miscounted. Maybe there was one sitting at the bottom of the box that nobody realised. That's fine, mistakes happen, and they've placed an order for a fresh unit (that's the term for stock - usually a unit means 1 copy but in the case of massive businesses a 'unit' usually refers to a purchase order of either a half box of 6 copies or a full box of 12). Luckily for me, I have an excellent rapport with my publisher. I asked whether Amazon had made a purchase order yet. The answer? An emphatic no!
That monika of "more on the way" came and went from the item page no less than 4 times over a month. I have no idea how many fresh copies magically spawned during this time, but when I checked recently, ALL copies had now sold. Did these fresh spawnings actually exist? I can't give you an answer.
This Is Not About Buyers...
This is not a blog to dissuade readers from buying from Amazon. There is no question that Amazon provides probably one of the best services and has certainly kept it's customers, for the most part, home and happy while the world shut down around us. This isn't a blog about the foibles of Amazon's system, it is simply one author's experience. Of course, I still want my readers to have access to my books and if Amazon is what works best for them, I am all too happy to oblige - even if I disagree with the methods used to coerce them into pressing that "Buy Now" button. For my part, I wish Amazon was a little more honest but I recognize that this is just my experience and it may not by the experience of every author - I doubt that Stephen King or Elizabeth Chadwick have such issues, but that is a blog for another day!
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