Nov 172008
 

You may remember I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the lack of sales information from iUniverse. Well, today the sales reporting software worked, and I just about choked on my hot chocolate. I called up iUniverse to see if I’d misread the figures, but nope, they were right.

To backtrack a bit, so you’ll have some context: awhile ago Amazon decided to improve its own business performance and that of BookSurge, a print-on-demand printer it owns, by demanding that companies like iUniverse use BookSurge only to print all books sold through Amazon and, as well, that they reduce the wholesale price for Amazon. The story is long, the authors massively pissed, some companies outraged, refusing to be bullied. But not so for iUniverse. Actually, I didn’t know what precisely iUniverse’s response was to being bullied. AuthorHouse, which bought or merged with iUniverse, issued a statement back in April, and that was the sum total of iUniverse’s communications with their authors. At the time, it sounded like so much nothing wrapped up in words, and I got caught up in other, more immediate problems and forgot about it. I would have expected AuthorHouse /iUniverse to muscle up with other POD publishers, but apparently not only is communication with authors tough for them, but also working with their rivals in order to defeat a bigger enemy is as well. Reading their words now, after at last seeing my monthly sales history, I realise they essentially said, “We negotiated alone, and we caved to Amazon’s demands.”

“We do not believe that it is ever in your interest to limit choice.”

In other words, “we did what we thought we had to in order to continue selling your book on Amazon.”

Whatever. When I saw how little I’d earned on a six-book Amazon sale, my
eyebrows rose. I compared the September sales history to old royalty
statements. I frowned. I calculated the per book income from Amazon
versus from Ingrams or iUniverse itself. I gasped. And then I picked up
the phone. The unfortunate who answered never hung up or ended the
call, never pushed back, well, maybe once, politely. When I vented to the suffering associate that perhaps iUniverse’s software snafu conveniently hid the full extent of their capitulation until things had calmed down, he replied that I was being a bit extreme. Maybe. I noted that they neglected to inform authors of the downward change in Amazon sales income, neatly avoiding a massive backflash from authors. Still, why would they keep silent on a 27 percent decrease in income from Amazon? Surely they’d expect the pig waste to hit the fan when authors started reading their royalty statements? Or perhaps they were counting on the notoriously bad business sense and lack of math skills of the stererotypical author?

Ultimately the associate could do nothing about it. And as I told him, I’d learnt that one needed exceptional persistence to reach and to get anywhere with management, so I wasn’t going to bother. I’d just blog about it.

OK, he said. (Like that would make any diff.)

So here I am blogging, the equivalent of yelling into a moving tornado, telling you how iUniverse now sells my book to Amazon at 47% of the cover price, while they continue to sell it to distributors and other retailers at 64% of the cover price, wondering if that will make any difference to where you shop for books. Amazon’s sweet deal means that although my royalty percentage remains constant, I receive less in absolute dollars from Amazon sales.

This tactic is how Amazon has increased its annual revenues by $4 billion from 2006 to 2007 and continues to increase it this year: on the backs of authors like me. While this booming company now saves itself $2.85 each time it buys a copy of my book — giving itself wiggle room if they want to sell it for less than the competition, but in reality having increased its profit margin by that amount as you, its customer, does not see that discount —  it has robbed me of 57 cents per book. And I got zippo say in this drop.

The guy on the phone tried to mollify me by saying that the figures on the monthly sales reports are not the final say and are subject to change on the quarterly royalty statement, whatever that means. Because let’s face it, iUniverse isn’t about to renegotiate its contract with Amazon back to the fairer deal or pay me what I had contracted with them to receive. This is the final straw for me. Ever since the buyout/merge with AuthorHouse, iUniverse has become noncommunicative and its specialty associates here today, gone tomorrow. And now this! I really cannot recommend iUniverse to any author musing about self-publishing nor will I use them for my next book. I will, in fact, actively recommend against AuthorHouse and iUniverse to anyone who is thinking about self-publishing. I am extremely disappointed in both iUniverse and Amazon. But as Kassia Krozser on Booksquare wrote, “Businesses are not nice, fuzzy creatures that cuddle with you in the dark of the night and believe in fairy tales.” Not even when they’re supposed to be your partner in publishing.

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  • Interesting view. I have seen this from an other angle. Over the years I have spent a lot of time putting together affiliate web links to the Amazon web site from my web pages. The intention was to get income when people bought items from Amazon.
    My problem is that I like to promote esoteric used and hard to find books. My finding was that there are too many extremely low price sellers aiming for the low cost buyer. They list thousands of books for just 1 cent each. Not sure what that is about but obviously there must be some sort of bait and switch involved. My getting 4% or 6% of a penny doesn’t make much sense.
    Now I see that I can’t beat the system even if I use Amazon Associates to sell something new and up to date. Even their newest best sellers are often listed at 45% off. That is good for their unit volume but makes it awfully hard for anyone else to make money on referrals.
    I hope that you continue to write and sell books. I know a lot of good stories and I am a decent photographer. People have often told me that I should write a book. You are reinforcing my notion that is a very hard thing to do if one hopes to make more than $2 per hour.
    Thanks.

  • Interesting view. I have seen this from an other angle. Over the years I have spent a lot of time putting together affiliate web links to the Amazon web site from my web pages. The intention was to get income when people bought items from Amazon.
    My problem is that I like to promote esoteric used and hard to find books. My finding was that there are too many extremely low price sellers aiming for the low cost buyer. They list thousands of books for just 1 cent each. Not sure what that is about but obviously there must be some sort of bait and switch involved. My getting 4% or 6% of a penny doesn’t make much sense.
    Now I see that I can’t beat the system even if I use Amazon Associates to sell something new and up to date. Even their newest best sellers are often listed at 45% off. That is good for their unit volume but makes it awfully hard for anyone else to make money on referrals.
    I hope that you continue to write and sell books. I know a lot of good stories and I am a decent photographer. People have often told me that I should write a book. You are reinforcing my notion that is a very hard thing to do if one hopes to make more than $2 per hour.
    Thanks.

  • Shireen

    I hadn’t realised that there are so many penny-book sellers on Amazon. Remaindered books can be sold for very little, but for a penny?!? Not even if the seller got the books for free would it justify charging only a penny. Does seem strange, and yes, you’re right, why have affiliate links, especially now that their bullying tactics means they can so deeply discount bestsellers? In that case, does your affiliate link, like my fairly unused affiliate links, become more like free advertising for Amazon than a way to share in the sales you help to generate?

    Thank you for your encouragement! It is hard to sell a book, that’s for sure. For me, it’s the drive to create that propels me along, but it would be nice to be able to earn an income from it. I’m glad you found this post interesting!

  • Bettie

    My sympathies. What came to mind was, “After the Wal-Mart Effect, the Amazon Effect”.

  • Bettie

    My sympathies. What came to mind was, “After the Wal-Mart Effect, the Amazon Effect”.

  • Shireen

    That’s a great way to put it! I think Amazon is only upping the royalties for Kindle e-books because they want more people to convert their books to Kindle format to give a greater choice to potential buyers, who then will be more likely to find an ebook they like and so buy the Kindle, thus increasing Kindle sales in an ever-increasing cycle upwards; it’s certainly not because they’re being nice to authors all of a sudden.