This roundup concludes the three-part series that began in the February issue with “All About Amazon,” featuring accounts that mixed praise with complaints, and continued in the March issue with “Anti-Amazon: A Sampling of Critics’ Concerns.”
Roughly a third of the responses to our invitation about Amazon experiences were somewhere between approving and ardent, and many PMA members who are enthusiastic talk about how working with Amazon compares to working with wholesalers and other retailers–always noting that Amazon performs better.
As in earlier installments, some PMA members also offer solutions to common problems that plague others.
So far, no solution has arisen for the problem that this series of roundups highlighted: Amazon’s handling of new editions. But see “Why Doesn’t My New Edition Pop Up at Amazon?” in this issue for coverage of that, and stay tuned for reports on PMA’s ongoing efforts to get new editions the attention–and the sales–they need and deserve at Amazon.com.
In Praise of Reaching Readers
We get a monthly check, usually for $500—$800, for our 1999 title Conquering Chronic Disorganization, not a fortune but a nice, reliable amount. Though we are aware that profitability is slightly undercut by the discounts and the used-book deals Amazon offers, our opinion is that it’s hard to beat for sheer audience reach. What it may lack in quality sales, it makes up for in quantity.
What Works Well
We participate in Amazon Advantage and Amazon Marketplace (for both new titles and returns), and we recently set up a link from our Web site to Amazon as an Associate. Yes, there are glitches from time to time, but after the first panic attack, I discovered the Marketplace Seller Announcement Board and the Seller Support phone system; both have been useful in resolving problems or discovering that others have already reported them and Amazon is working on them.
A publisher selling in the Marketplace program needs to check both email and the Amazon Web site on a regular basis to receive orders and to discover whether other booksellers are undercutting its price. A unique feature in the Marketplace program lets a seller indicate that the business is “on vacation” and not immediately available to ship books to individual customers.
I was surprised to read so many responses re dealing with Amazon which bemoaned the small orders that come within a few days or a week of another small order. I agree that shipping charges on one or two books can eat up profits, but don’t know why these publishers don’t take advantage of Amazon’s allowance of several business days before you must confirm an online order and several more business days that are allowed for shipping. If you wait to the outer limits of those allowances, those several-days-later second or third orders can be shipped with the first one, saving shipping costs.
Since we must wait 90 days (ha!) for other national distributors to pay invoices (stretching to 120—180 days lately), Amazon’s policy of paying for the previous month’s Amazon Advantage sales is great, as is the online report system where a publisher can track orders, sales, and payments at any time. In our experience, reports of infrequent errors in orders or payments have been fixed promptly.
North Country Publishing
Small and Satisfied
I’ve had only positive experiences with Amazon.com. That is, aside from the 55 percent discount they require. Amazon automatically posts sales to my checking account in a timely manner. The reports are easy to read and always available from the site. And checking order status is quick and convenient. I’m continually amazed that such a giant can track and remain sensitive to the inventory of such a small house: we have only three titles listed with Amazon.
Robbin Brent Whittington, Publisher
R. Brent and Company
The Review Led to…
My acceptance at Amazon early on made me more confident about trying to get major bookstore buyers to accept my books, which they subsequently did. Also, the five-star review of my first book, Healing from Childhood Abuse, was a great marketing tool and led to feature stories and appearances on radio stations throughout the country and the front cover of a magazine. I even received a letter from Harpo Productions (Oprah) and a call from Montel and look forward to sharing my story on national television.
Julie Martin’s Miracle System
Added, Sometimes Instant, Exposure
Once you get past the 55 percent, all our experiences have been positive. If only my experiences with two major distributors were as good. I upload descriptive information and graphics for our books to Amazon. It acknowledges promptly and gets the titles online in a reasonably short time. It sends email statements, and payments are made to my bank.
Title exposure has been expanded to Amazon.co.uk (England), Amazon.de (Germany), Amazon.fr (France), and Amazon.co.jp (Japan), sometimes in response to our requests, and sometimes when we didn’t even ask.
If we receive unexpected publicity, Amazon.com is our first clue that something has happened. It is almost instantaneous. This morning we had an author interview syndicated to 120 radio stations. Before the program ended, we had an order from Amazon.
Leonard Flachman, Publisher
Kirk House Publishers
Lots to Like
Corinthian Books has been selling on Amazon.com since we started publishing in 1998, although Ingram and Baker & Taylor stock all our books and we also have our own online bookstore. About 10 percent of our sales come from Amazon, and those revenues have grown every month since we started with it.
From our first business day, we assumed that it was our job to promote the books and Amazon’s to complete the sale. With every promotion we do, we mention our books’ availability through Amazon. Our primary objective is to get the books into the hands of their intended audiences. Although we have our special friends in the bookselling trade–notably independent booksellers–we know that it’s vital for readers to get our books the way they want to. After any book promotion, our Amazon sales go up. That’s because travelers who hear about our books in historic Charleston, SC, wait to buy them so they won’t have to carry around a lot of stuff or haul it back home.
Ordering with Amazon is a joy. The system is 100 percent online and paper-free. Check your email, and there’s the P.O. Amazon even generates its own packing list and shipping label for you. Just got one for 17 books while I was typing this!! And at book-launch time, Amazon is always the first dealer/distributor to place an order and make our books available. Because they’re listed with Amazon, our books are for sale worldwide on the same day they’re ready for shipment from our warehouse. Other distributors can take three to eight weeks to order books and make them available for sale.
Amazon trumps every other online bookseller when it comes to presentation options, and links books with others likely to boost sales. The #2 online bookseller doesn’t offer a tenth this exposure, generates only 10 percent as many sales for us, and has a Stone Age paper, fax, and labor-intensive ordering system.
Amazon ships worldwide and accepts any major currency (but pays publishers in U.S. dollars). We’ve developed a healthy readership for our books in England, Germany, and Asia as a result. And our books sell overseas for virtually the same price as in the U.S. Amazing!
Payment is another category in which Amazon shines, with payments 45 days after the end of a sales month for books shipped on consignment, intelligent reports, electronic direct deposit, and no $50-per-title stocking fees. Contrast that with the get-paid-in-180-days-if-you’re-lucky terms from large distributors, and the risk of default and bankruptcy by smaller booksellers. With Amazon you get guaranteed fast cash flow.
And if Amazon discounts the books it sells (it has mine for 30 percent off today)–it means nothing! We get the same price, no matter what Amazon sells it for.
Of the 10,000 or so books we’ve sold through Amazon, we have gotten exactly seven returned, and they had arrived there in damaged condition. On the other hand, we get about 8 to 10 percent of our books back from Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and independent retailers–and they are often so beat up that we have no alternative but to declare them a total loss and donate them to disadvantaged libraries. And guess who has to eat the freight on the returned books–even when they’re damaged?
Are there things I’d change? Yes, but only the buying discount rate (55 percent) and who pays for shipping (the publisher) <BG>!
Richard N. Côté, Editor-in-Chief
Sales That Wouldn’t Have Happened
We are a research and education institute and professional publisher with a small trade division and 60 titles in print. Amazon.com is a major account for us, generating sales we would otherwise never have had. While it took some time to set up our relationship, to get our books to ship within 24 hours, and to identify real people to call in accounts payable, dealing with Amazon is now relatively trouble-free. They order and promptly pay electronically.
The only negative experience we continue to have involves the length of time it takes to add covers, correct descriptions, reviews, etc.
Urban Land Institute
Comparing Payment Practices
I have been with Amazon Advantage for over four years, and I am enthusiastic about the program. Yes, I know Amazon puts used books right next to new ones, and I wish it didn’t do that, but it does deposit money monthly into my account. At a time when distributors can take nine months to a year to pay and then send back books, it is refreshing and encouraging to get paid monthly. I have had no returns from the Amazon Advantage program. Of course, the quantities sold are not huge, but I am happy with them.
Mary Ellen Cooper
Padlock Mystery Press
The Discount in Context
What I particularly like is:
- No returns! That’s a biggie for me.
- I don’t have to invoice Amazon. It tracks the books sold and sends me payment.
- Amazon pays promptly directly into my account at the end of the month following the month when the books are sold.
- The shipping process is easy. Amazon provides a packing slip that I print out and include with my books.
- Amazon provides an online running record of the books sold during the current month and a record of books sold in two previous months.
- Amazon orders books, lots of them! In the past month alone I received 13 separate orders for a total of 1,388 books.
- The 5-star ratings are a great help.
- An Amazon sales rank that indicates high popularity encourages people to place orders. Of course, a poor rank can be a negative force, but with my latest book at 790, the ranking system is surely a plus.
The bad news is that Amazon takes 55 percent of the retail price. Hey, you don’t get something for nothing.
International Puzzle Features
Outside the Advantage Program
My experiences with Amazon sales have been wonderful. I think that’s because Perspectives Press, Inc., is large enough (though only 20-plus titles) and has a long enough history and enough credibility in a niche so that, despite our small size, we are stocked by Ingram, which also treats us quite well–and because we price our books so we can afford to sell at the required discount.
Amazon tends to order from Ingram, rather than directly, and I have had zero problems with my titles being available and listed as shippable in one to two business days. Therefore we are not in the Advantage program that so many small publishers complain about. What’s more, because Ingram is the provider, we have had no difficulty in 2005 getting our new titles up, listed, with images.
We have had one title that sold so rapidly that Amazon decided to order direct. In a six-month period they ordered, and promptly paid for (with shipping), about 1,400 copies, or $14,000 worth, of books in three batches to multiple warehouses. There were no returns–including to Ingram.
Do I wish used books didn’t get sold through Amazon and its affiliates? Yes, I do, but this isn’t exclusively a problem with Amazon. In general, the Internet has made used-book selling easy, and the result is definitely a loss in first-quality sales of books, which translates as well to lost royalties for authors. But that problem is an entirely different can of worms!
Perspectives Press, Inc.
Ask and You May Receive
Recently, we had a book signing for more than 500 people scheduled for a week after the book was to come off press. Since Amazon’s policy is not to show a title as available until it has placed an initial order–which it doesn’t do until you have the book ready to ship–I emailed to say that I needed it to hurry the process along. It obliged, placed its first order, and made the book available on the Amazon site in time for the event.
Authors of Unity
Putting Negatives in Perspective
My experiences with Amazon Advantage have been idyllic, especially since I figured what it needs to do to conduct an efficient online retail business. Amazon stocks my books, thus justifying its cut, which is about the same as a wholesaler’s.
I get orders regularly, especially around the beginning of a month. Amazon makes it very quick and easy to confirm and ship orders and to manage my account. Amazon also pays regularly and promptly once the minimum of $100 has been attained, which makes perfect sense to me.
The only difficulty I can report is unpredictable delays in getting Amazon to correct or update its database, apply appropriate classifications for searchers to find my titles, and add new titles. I confess I was a little dismayed to discover that my 2003 title was being offered with a competing book in a two-for-one special without my knowledge, but then I would have no say in how a brick-and-mortar bookstore resold books it bought from me.
Although I pay for shipping, Amazon often passes on the savings to customers by shipping to them for free, so I can’t get too excited about it.
Mary Ellen Lepionka
Atlantic Path Publishing
Outperforming a Distributor
I am happy to explain why I have a soft spot in my heart for Amazon. Moving Finger Press is a very small operation, without resources for major publicity campaigns. Our first title, People Farm, was released in January 2003. We spent about $5,000 on advance advertising in national publications. Amazon, through its Advantage program, was selling books within a week.
That same week, 1,000 copies were shipped to a major distributor’s warehouse. That distributor, for reasons that never made sense to us, was unable to fulfill bookstore or library orders until mid-July.
If it hadn’t been for Amazon, the thousands we spent on advertising in national publications would have been a wasted investment. But readers (and neighborhood bookstores) were able to order from Amazon, and the books kept moving.
Moving Finger Press
The Pluses for a Tiny Press
We are a very, very small publisher selling multiple formats of a single title through Amazon.com and other online book retailers. Given that Amazon displays our title pages just like those of the largest publishers, that we can sell our own inventory through Amazon, and that we can link to our Amazon titles from our own Web site (for those who are not comfortable ordering online from a small business), it would take a whole lot of negatives to make the relationship anything but positive.
Howard A. Richmond II
Trailing Edge Publishing