However satisfying it might be to see your book physically in a high street bookshop, it’s online where the real action happens for self-publishers. The traditional book distribution network is very difficult to break into. The internet, on the other hand, gives self-publishers the power to reach potential customers anywhere in the world. It’s here, not in bookshops, that most self-published books are sold.
I’ve already discussed selling directly through your own website and those of bookshops, such as WHSmith and Waterstones but the marketplace you really want to crack is Amazon. There are three different ways for an independent publisher to access Amazon:
- Amazon Advantage
- Amazon Marketplace
Amazon Advantage currently costs £23.50 a year and is a service whereby Amazon distributes your books for you. Basically, you send stock to one of Amazon’s warehouses and then, when an order comes in, they dispatch your book and pay you. This has two advantages: firstly, your book becomes eligible for free Prime/Super Saver delivery and secondly, your listing will state that it’s in stock. Both of these make your book more attractive to buyers.
The disadvantage is that Amazon charge a whopping 60% trade discount for books sold through this method. That means you only get 40% of the cover price with which to print and post your book. The economics aren’t pretty:
Of course, this assumes you’re sending a single book to Amazon’s warehouse. The quantity Amazon stocks varies depending on customer demand. They’re likely to request between one and five copies to begin with. If sales of your book really take off, you’ll be posting in bulk to Amazon’s warehouse which will significantly reduce the postage cost per copy. However, you’ll still be pushing it to break even, let alone make a profit.
You can choose not to fulfill Amazon orders but you can’t remove your book’s listing from the site. The information from Nielsen is in the public domain. In order to stop receiving Amazon orders, you’d need to tell Nielsen the book is out of print. This would render it unavailable at all bookshops and rather defeat the purpose of having an ISBN in the first place.
If you decline to fulfill orders, the book will simply show as hard to stock. Another wholesaler might step in to source it. As you’re the sole distributor, that wholesaler would have to get the book from you. However, they’ll still expect a trade discount at a level which is unlikely to see you making a profit. Additionally, an unstable supply route isn’t exactly encouraging to customers.
This presents self-publishers with something of a dilemma. You can’t ignore the biggest online marketplace but it’s almost impossible to make a profit selling through them. Luckily, there are two ways round this. The first is using Amazon Marketplace and the second is to list your book via CreateSpace. Both of these offer much more attractive financial terms for small-scale selling.
On most Amazon listings, the buyer is presented with a variety of purchasing options. The most obvious is to buy directly through Amazon where postage is often free and you have the security of knowing who you’re dealing with. However, most customers are also familiar with the marketplace alternative. Here, individuals or companies can sell the product in question, either in a used or new condition. Amazon lists this option below its own price, as in the example below:
Anyone can register for Amazon Marketplace. All you need is a standard Amazon account. Most people already have one of these but you may consider setting up a separate account for your bookselling activities as it makes record-keeping easier. If you want to do this, sign out of your existing account and sign up for another with a different email address.
To list an item on Amazon Marketplace, navigate to Your Account:
In the right-hand sidebar, under Your Other Accounts, select Sell Your Stuff:
Re-enter your password, agree to the terms and conditions and enter all the information Amazon requires: credit card details, address, phone number etc.
Once you’ve set up your account, you can sell used or new goods for any product on Amazon. You can’t create a new listing, like you do on eBay. You can only sell your book on the Amazon Marketplace if you’ve purchased an ISBN from Nielsen and your book is already listed on Amazon.
Assuming it is, navigate to the product page and in the right-hand sidebar, usually level with the Frequently Bought Together section, you’ll see a notice asking if you wish to sell the item:
Click the Sell on Amazon button and you’ll be taken to a page which asks you to enter various details:
- Condition: New (unless you’re selling off damaged stock).
- Condition Note: This is the only place Amazon allows you any descriptive freedom so, although it’s not strictly related to the book’s condition, I’d suggest using this box to make your listing stand out. You could, for instance, offer signed copies or state that the book comes directly from the manufacturer/publisher.
- Quantity: Self explanatory but remember to list enough to fulfil orders. You can update this information after the listing goes live on your seller page.
- SKU: Ignore this. It should be pre-filled with the correct code.
- Your price: Ignore the Match Total Price option and enter your book’s price in the box below.
- Delivery speeds that you want to offer: For the moment, tick the first box, stating that you want to deliver the item yourself. If your sales take off, you might consider FBA (Fulfilled by Amazon). This is a little like Amazon Advantage in that you post off copies of your book to one of Amazon’s warehouses and they then package and dispatch orders for you. Your product will be included in Prime/Super Saver delivery options. However, Amazon charge around £1.75 to store and dispatch each book. This is in addition to the cost of posting the books to their warehouse in the first place so it isn’t really an attractive option, unless you’re selling in large quantities.
- Delivery Speeds: Decide which postal services you want to offer. Then, select Calculate fees at the bottom of the page. This will show you how much money you’ll receive, depending on where and how you’re posting the book. Bear in mind that you’ll be expected to cover postage out of this amount so throughly investigate each delivery method before confirming your listing. If you decide one of them isn’t economically viable, untick it.
- Finally, select Submit your listing.
If you need to edit your listing, you can do so at anytime. Select Your Account:
Then, click on Your Seller Account:
After log in, you’ll be taken to your account overview. From the tabs at the top of the screen select Inventory -> Manage Inventory. A list of all your current listings will be displayed, with the option to update price, quantity, condition etc. Don’t forget to press Save when you’ve finished editing.
When an item sells, you’ll receive an email instructing you to dispatch it. Log in to your seller account and from the tabs at the top of the page, select Orders -> Manage Orders. You’ll be shown full details of each order, including the address to send it to.
Once you’ve confirmed dispatch, Amazon will deposit the revenue for that book into your seller account. You can see your current balance on the right-hand side of your account overview, under Balance. Every fourteen days, Amazon transfers this to your bank account.
The most attractive thing about Amazon Marketplace is that there’s no 60% commission. Exact fees vary depending on what type of account you have:
- On a basic seller account, they’re 75p per item + 15% of the sale price.
- With a Pro account, there’s a monthly fee of £25 but you don’t pay the 75p per item sold, just 15%. Adding in VAT, this works out cheaper providing you sell more than 28 books/month.
Whichever type of account you have, the buyer pays £2.80 postage. Amazon take 43p of this and pass the remaining £2.37 on to you.
In addition, there’s 20% tax to pay on all Amazon fees.
On a standard seller account, the economics look like this:
Yes, you read it right: you’re actually making a profit for a change. Before you get too excited, though, take a closer look at the figures. They might look good from your point of view but that’s largely because you’ve passed the burden of postage costs onto the buyer. They’re paying a rather steep £10.36 (£7.99 + £2.80 postage).
The £2.80 fee is set by Amazon and can’t be changed. The only way to make your listing more attractive to buyers, is to reduce the cover price but even then, you can’t fully compensate for the postage charges and still make a profit.
The economics will, of course, improve with larger quantities. A Pro account reduces the per copy fees and Fulfilled by Amazon could potentially save you money, if selling in very large amounts. Here, you may benefit from Amazon’s lower postage rates (£1.75 as opposed to Royal Mail’s £2.80). Bear in mind, though, you’ll need to get your books to their warehouse first so this will only be a saving if you’re sending in large enough batches to compensate for the fact you’re paying two lots of postage.
Whichever method you choose, unless you’re printing and selling in the thousands, it’s hard to make a profit whilst offering the customer a reasonable purchase price. Furthermore, although customers may be tempted to choose the marketplace option if the price is lower or the product they want is out of stock, being a third-party seller, isn’t ideal for inspiring customer confidence.
This is why, although I regard Amazon Marketplace as an option, particularly for selling off damaged or excess stock, I believe it’s Createspace which really offers the average self-publisher a realistic opportunity to sell profitably on Amazon.
Next time: CreateSpace