Ah, the silence of a writer working two jobs and trying to carve out writing time! . . . In addition to maintaining some form of cleanliness, health, and spirituality. (On that note, I really do want to make me some mugwort tea at some point. That stuff is so yum!) Oh, and let’s not forget the internet presence. Yeah, I’ve been one tired woman as of late.
I have, during this time, been doing a lot of reflecting on a variety of things. One thing that has come up is, well, Amazon, of all things. I joined a book reading group a while back, and I had someone tell me that Barnes and Noble tends to overcharge on books. This was in a discussion about Barnes and Noble closing stores and laying off the higher-paid employees, which, if you’ve ever paid attention to modern history and business practices, this is not a new thing. Nearly every company in the history of the modern industry has done this. Ford, Chrysler, GM, Wal-Mart, Target . . . there are very companies that have not done this practice, and to call one company pretentious over this practice (which was done) on a day I’d found out that I wasn’t getting my full federal refund, well, it became a bit of a nasty argument because, hey, having to sell books for dirt cheap isn’t a really good way to make a profit for anyone. Places like Amazon and Wal-Mart can do this because they buy other things in bulk or they have contracts with others in order to compensate for those losses.
In the end, this whole buying books cheap instead of the list price as set by the publisher (which is what Barnes and Noble does, by the way, so if you’re thinking $10.99 is overpriced for a paperback, then I have no clue what to tell you) doesn’t hurt the publishing company. It doesn’t hurt the likes of Amazon or Wal-Mart. It tends to hurt the employees of bookstores, and it hurts authors.
The woman who pointed out that selling books cheap on Amazon guaranteed actual sales. Yes, it’s true that lower prices does guarantee that someone somewhere out there will buy that book. That’s a given, that’s a no-brainer.
That, however, doesn’t mean the author is making a huge profit, be it a beginning, self-published author or a traditionally published author. Let’s break this down a little bit.
The average paperback costs anywhere from $8.99 to $11.99 in a bookstore, depending on the book’s thickness. And let’s say that it’s a tradtionally published author’s paperback. Let’s say that, for every book sold, the author earns 10% of those sales. Again, this is the asking price as set forth by the publisher. This price covers the costs of the bills for the facilities, the typesetter, the cover artist, the editor, and so on and so forth, including the advance the author received for the publishing contract. Let’s say that, once the advance is covered and paid back, the tradtionally published author receives 10% of all sales. For those of you who suck at math, that’s $.90 per book sold, more if the book costs more. If Amazon is selling the book at a 5% discount, the author has to sell twice as many books just to get that $.90 royalty. To put it this way, instead of earning $179.80 for selling 200 books sold at the normal, list price in one month, the author is earning half of that. In order to that $179.80 before taxes, the author has to sell 400 books at the discounted price on Amazon.
To note here, this is if the author is only selling 200 books a month, has had the advance paid off, and is only selling primarily on Amazon. This is also an example of how a discounted price on a new book undercuts the author only. The publishing company and Amazon are already taking their cuts from the sales of these books. They’re not hurting at all for these discounted prices, and this is only on paperbacks, which is the more popular format for paperbound books.
This doesn’t take into consideration the stress an Amazon employee goes through, running from one end of the warehouses to the other for those customers who opt for next day delivery. Their wages might be better than a Wal-Mart employee’s, but they work their asses off for that money. (And Amazon has come under scrutiny for their near slave-like working conditions as well as praised for their competitiveness in the field. Read this https://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/19/technology/amazon-workplace-reactions-comments.html for more on the pros and cons of working for Amazon.)
The indie author, when it comes to paperbacks, does have it better in that regard. As an indie author, through Amazon, I get a higher royalty rate for using CreateSpace. They still take their cut. I might have a list price of $8.99 for a paperback, but I don’t see that full $8.99.
And then there’s the whole ebook situation. Traditonal publishing houses, if you ever look at ebooks, tend to have very high prices on their ebooks. Amazon wil try to make them out to be the devil for it, but, again, let me remind everyone that Amazon gets their cut from every book sale. Depending on how the options are set up by the publishing house, Amazon takes a 30% cut from every ebook sale. That’s what they use to cover their costs for said ebook. If a traditionally published ebook is listed at $7.99, Amazon is making $2.40 from that ebook. Why do they complain it’s overpriced then? Well, the claim they make is it’s for the readers. Ebooks should be cheap and accessible for the customers, and it totally disregards the amount of time and effort that has gone into crafting a book. They get 30% off of every single ebook sold on their site. This includes the indie author. The publishing house is still trying to cover the costs of their bills, i.e., the cover artists, the editors and so on. Again, they’re trying to make their profits to keep themselves in business, and they’re using that 70% to do so. (Of course, I presume at this point that the publishing companies have the same exact options for ebook publishing as the indie authors do, given that that’s what I see when I go into my publishing account on Amazon.) The tradtionally published author only starts to see royalty checks once their advances have been paid off. Now how the traditional publishing houses split that 70% between them and the authors, I don’t know. I do know there was a huge lawsuit over ebook profits seven years ago where the authors sued their publishing houses for back profits because they find out the publishing houses were lying about ebook sales. (And they won this lawsuit so I presume it’s a 50/50 split of that 70% so, in this case, the author is actually receiving a higher royalty rate from the book sale than the paperback.)
The ebook situation is where indie authors actually tend to lose out more. Let’s say that, for an ebook priced at $7.99, the traditionally published author is receiving $2.79 per ebook sold. The indie author, in order to sell, has to price an ebook cheaper. The highest Amazon will allow an indie author to go without some type of pricing warning is $3.99, and they would prefer it if the book was priced less than that. Now here, at the $3.99 price, the indie author is making the same as the traditionally published author whose ebook is priced at $7.99. Still, Amazon would rather those indie authors price their books cheaper. So let’s run with an ebook price of $1.99. Out of that, the indie author receives $1.40. The indie author has to sell twice as many books to try and catch up with the traditionally published author in this respect. All because Amazon says books must be cheap. It matters little if the author in question has spent hours upon hours upon hours of writing, drafting, revising, and editing the story. It matters little if the indie author paid an editor $500 for a job and an artist another $500 for the cover art. The indie author is expected to eat those costs and be paid very minimal for time worked.
To put it this way, expecting any author to work for less pay is like expecting a union worker in an auto factory to have their pay cut from $20 an hour (or whatever a union auto worker makes an hour) to the wages of a server, which is $2.13 an hour. If you wouldn’t expect to be paid less for the work you’re doing, why do you expect an author to do the same?
We’re at this point in the digital age where just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean it’s a great deal. Somebody somewhere is losing out and still struggling to make ends meet, and we do need to be responsible, not just financially for ourselves but economically overall. My time in Washington taught me that. Washington has one of the highest minimum wages in the U.S. They’ve seen job creation, but they still have an influx of people heading there to find those jobs that are paying better than places like Oklahoma or Michigan. They have more people than they do jobs. And, as long as indie authors are being told they have to sell their books, their projects, their hard-earned efforts for less than minimum wage, we’re going to see a die-off of newly published works or perhaps authors who can only publish every so often because of the other demands made on their time. Ultimately, it’s going to come down to the readers as to whether or not authors can continue with their chosen careers.
Now, if you’re a reader and you want to tell me how your own pocketbook is more important because you need to save money for all of this, hey, believe it or not, I do get it. I’m one of those people who, if you gave me $500 to go spend in a bookstore, I’d take it and get every book I possibly could, but I don’t have that kind of money so I buy books when I’ve planned and plotted that money out. Like I said at the beginning of this entry, I work two jobs already. I’m still struggling to get my next publication finished. But also understand this: telling me that my time and effort has to be reduced to less than minimum wage is severely detrimental. It forces me to spend my time doing other things when I’d rather be sitting down and writing my books. This is true for any and every author out there.
You cannot have cheap and still have dedicated authors out there. Not in this digital age. In the end, everyone will be hobbyist writers, and you won’t have much material to buy when you do have the money. In the end, we’ll simply be too busy trying to survive working two jobs or more just to pay our bills.
I know that sounds harsh, but it’s a realty many authors, tradtionally published and indie, are facing right now. You, the reader, have the power to make or break any author’s career. Use that power wisely.