A big part of Front Edge Publishing’s service is fulfillment and distribution of books through Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, assorted eBook retailers and worldwide partners through our print-binders: Lightning Source Ingram. Worldwide fulfillment is a gold standard in publishing because it enables readers to find and read any printed or eBook edition anywhere, on any device. Listing a book on Amazon.com is the first step for many published authors.
So why would an author or publisher consciously avoid Amazon.com distribution?
The answer is that some authors and small publishing houses choose to become the exclusive distributors of their books—at least for a period of time. This is a very challenging marketing strategy, because it relies on that individual’s (or small publisher’s) existing network and marketing abilities. But, this option also can provide significant advantages.
ADVANTAGES OF AVOIDING AMAZON
One is a supportive connection. Authors or small publishers who decide to exclusively control the sale of their books are betting that their readers will welcome a personalized connection. This includes an awareness that direct sales cut out Amazon.com’s share of the transaction. If your readers support you and your work, they may welcome a direct purchase that they know will put more of that purchase price into your pocket.
Another advantage is personalized shipping. There are lots of stories throughout the publishing industry of innovative authors and small publishers who made loyal fans by including “extras” in each shipment of books. Longtime publisher Stuart Matlins used to put a customer-feedback postcard into every book shipped by his staff. Then, Stuart read every card that was returned to him and used that direct feedback to shape his publishing strategy. He wasn’t alone in slipping something extra into each box. Part of the mystique of ordering from best-selling author Rob Bell—back in the early days of his publishing career—was finding blue gumballs in the bottom of the box. This became a true test of long-time Rob Bell friends. Remember those blue gumballs?
Of course, there are other more practical things you can add to a shipment, including your own catalog, newsletters and invitations to future events.
You control the mailing list. The other huge advantage is getting to know your customers in a way that’s not possible through sales on Amazon, which is famous for keeping customer contact information private. It’s much easier to keep in touch with your readers when you control the mailing list. Direct, ongoing support from readers builds a strong base for both your backlist and new releases.
How much of a book’s price goes to Amazon?
Selling on Amazon.com and any other retailer requires publishers to establish a “retailer discount”—a share the retailer can take off the top. The discount offered to retailers usually ranges from 25% to more than 50% of the suggested retail price. Traditional brick and mortar bookstores usually require a minimum of 53% to even consider stocking a book. Front Edge Publishing typically lists books on Amazon.com with a 30% retail discount—a share that seems to balance Amazon.com’s responsiveness with maximum author royalty.
That means 30% of a book’s suggested retail price is going to Amazon to pay for shipping, warehousing, customer support and all the other aspects of a retail business. If you choose to fulfill book orders directly, that 30% goes directly to you as the author or publisher.
What is the disadvantage of AVOIDING amazon?
The short answer: It’s hard work!
Amazon is the world’s super highway for retail sales. Other online retailers, such as Barnes & Noble, also have vast customer networks. Deciding to sell books yourself is a big gamble, unless you’re an author or organization who knows the size and scope of your network of supporters.
The most successful use of this exclusive strategy that we’ve seen at Front Edge Publishing was a decision made by Cass Community Publishing House (CCPH), a nationally known nonprofit based in Detroit. Even Cass balances this strategy by marking out a period of exclusivity—then adding an Amazon.com launch down the road for a secondary pop of public interest and news value.
Cass also likes this exclusive fulfillment strategy to set up book launches, author tours and stock their own campus bookstore with books you can’t get anywhere else. The CCPH book, Tiny Homes in a Big City, recently went live on Amazon after a year of exclusive fulfillment. CCPH opted for this plan to take full advantage of the viral videos depicting their affordable tiny home projects in Detroit. By fulfilling books directly, CCPH ensured a personal connection with their readers, which is vital for the publishing house because their book revenue is used support Detroit nonprofits.
WE USE BOTH STRATEGIES
One of FEP’s biggest appeals to our authors and partner publishers is that we automatically set up—and monitor—distribution to Amazon.com and other major online retailers. That’s still the gold standard.
But, we actually use both strategies for book sales.
The bookstore that is part of this FEP website doesn’t fulfill through Amazon.com. We encourage our supporters to purchase directly through our bookstore. We let our friends know that ordering through this FEP bookstore helps our authors to earn a higher return than on Amazon.com.
So, there is no simple answer to listing on Amazon. Avoiding Amazon is a major challenge. In our experience, some of our publishing parters are able to increase their revenue through exclusivity.
Ultimately, we follow both strategies ourselves.
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