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Amazon’s profits are small publishers’ losses

April 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Each time Linen Press sells a book through Amazon, it costs the company more than £2


Linen Press, my imprint, is probably the smallest independent publisher in the UK, dwarfed by giants like Macmillan with their multiple imprints and worldwide sales. I publish four or five books a year by women writers. I’m not interested in celebs or footballers or chefs. I’m looking for beautifully-crafted writing, hidden and minority voices and bold experiments. From the slush pile, I pick manuscripts that show unusual promise but need so much editing that they stand no chance of instant acceptance by the big publishers.

So why do I groan when an order for a Linen Press book comes in from Amazon?
I should be grateful that I’ve been given the same space as the big boys to display my covers and my reviews. I should say thank you for the sale. But I don’t. Because each time I sell a book on Amazon, I lose money.
Amazon don’t tell their customers how much they take from a small publisher like me, nor do they advertise the fact that I have to pay the postage on the books sent to them.
Linen Press books cost £4 a copy to produce, for several reasons. Firstly, because the small print runs of 1,000 books that I commission aren’t cost-effective. Secondly, because I want to produce books that are visually stunning and pay a brilliant designer to do that. And thirdly because I pay a better-than-average copy editor, because if you skimp at this stage, you end up with typos and a bad reputation. Linen Press produces classy books; anything less would be a compromise. I have just published three novels about colonialism by Nigerian, Indian and British authors. I’m gambling on unknown writers here, so this venture is a financial risk before I even get to the Amazon sales. The books are big in every sense of the word. The RRP is £11.99. The postage is £2.50. On my website I sell the books for £8.99, so I’m not ripping you off; I’m just trying to persuade you not to buy from Amazon.

Here are the scary sums:
Amazon takes 60% of my RRP (in the book trade, the bigger the sales outfit, the bigger the discount they demand from the publisher: Amazon 60%; Waterstones 50%; independent bookshop 35%). On a £11.99 book, Amazon’s takings are££7.20. Mine are £4.80.
Out of this comes £2.50 to pack and post the book to Amazon, and the author’s royalties on a heavily discounted book reduced to 50p. My writers lose out on an Amazon sale, too. That leaves 82p for Linen Press, but the book cost £4 to produce. So I lose £2.18 on every sale by Amazon.

Of course, the big publishers can produce their books much more cheaply because they print them in their thousands, and have in-house design and PR staff. They can afford those coveted places on the piled-high tables and the 3-for-2 deals at Waterstone’s. I can’t.

For all its vast catalogue, Amazon’s market domination is is actually reducing choice by squeezing out publishers small publishers who are prepared to take risks.

I avoid looking into the abyss of financial disaster. I’m trying to remain upbeat. If Linen Press lands a bestseller that is reprinted and wins the Orange prize and sells in thousands and is translated into several languages and is made into a Hollywood film with Kiera Knightley and Colin Firth …

But the best I can hope for, realistically, is a mixture of Amazon, bookshop and website sales with Linen Press just scraping by for another year with modest debts.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2011/apr/07/amazon-profits-small-publisher-losses

Categories: E-commerce