Self Publishing

Brandon Sanderson Should Fund A Rival to Amazon Books

It doesn’t have to be Brandon Sanderson, but I mention him because he’s, well, frickin’ Sanderson, right? He just got the biggest Kickstarter in the history of Kickstarters funded, the money’s there, and he has some opinions on Amazon and bookstores that I think would make him a good candidate for doing it.

So, think about it, a major author can bring their audience and other traditionally published authors could self publish and bring theirs, and the rest of us who have been doing this thing for years could utilize a platform that gives us actual, fair royalties (I don’t see why it would ever be below 90% less “delivery” fees). It can start out solely as ebooks and move on to audio and maybe have a print on demand service for paperbacks in the future. And it could be limited solely to self publishing, no publishing houses allowed. I realize this might actually disqualify Sanderson himself–he’s not self publishing those Kickstarter books, he’s got a whole crew called Dragonsteel Entertainment which could be argued is his publishing house for the non-Tor books–but imagine reading the words of the authors you love without the bullspit of the Big 5. Yeah, sometimes they might suck a little more, but what if they didn’t??? Level the playing field and make stories stand on their own. Also, trad publishing needs to be shaken up as much if not more than Amazon itself.

I’m not really here to argue that editors and agents do nothing for the books that get produced by Macmillan et al, that’s its own post I’m not qualified to write, but I am here to say we need another platform with some bones and big names behind it. We need a competitor.

Let’s look at Amazon’s royalties. When I sell a copy of The Association in paperback, which is listed at $9.99 (but sometimes they print too many and put them on sale which doesn’t affect me, just them, but you can grab this paperback now for $5.85), I make 60% of the royalties less the printing costs. That sounds not too bad right? The printing cost for this specific book is $5.30, so:

$9.99 – 5.30 = 4.69
4.69 x .60 = $2.81

Okay, sure, I’ll take $2.81 for that book, it’s close to the amount I make for an ebook and even though paying for a print cover costs me more and the time to format the interior is a lot more time consuming and I have to pay for proof copies and their shipping, it’s basically the same, right? Except, yeah, no, that’s not how they do it. It’s 60% of the price AFTER print costs. So, it’s actually:

$9.99 x .60 = 5.90
5.90 – 5.30 (printing cost) = $0.69 (they, of course, round down)

So, I make a whopping $0.69. Which, first of all, nice, but also, not that nice, is it??? Amazon’s taking the first $3.99 as their “40%” and leaving me with “60%” that ends up being only $0.69. Wow.

But who cares about paperbacks, right? They’re clearly a tiny portion of my sales anyway, and they’re self indulgent at best. Ooo, Ashley, yeah, you can hold your words in your hands and flip through the pages as if you actually deserve that or something. Get over yourself, you hack! You’re writing about vampires, for god’s sake, not existential nihilism or something!

Okay, let’s pivot and look at ebooks which, surely, are profitable since they’re just floating out in the ether. They’re practically imaginary! I mean, they’re so “unreal” to readers that they’re being returned at an alarming rate after being read or just totally pirated, so they must cost me nothing to put out into the world, right? Let’s see…

I raised The Association‘s ebook price to $3.99 from $2.99 recently because of advice I read based on the value people place on books vs. their cost. I make 70% royalties on this ebook (due to being exclusive to Amazon). The delivery fee based on the file size is $0.08 which I’m not really upset about since Amazon is hosting the files and distributing them–I don’t feel entitled to that service, and I don’t have enough knowledge about kilobytes and space to know if the amount is fair or not. That fee gets taken off the top of the price first and then royalties are mathed out:

$3.99 – 0.08 = 3.91 x .70 = $2.74 (they round this one up, there’s no rhyme or reason to it, it seems).

That’s not too bad, but keep in mind I only make this much because I’m exclusive to Amazon. If I wanted to list my book anywhere else, I would only make 30% of the royalties. THIRTY PERCENT. That’s less than one third of the income from the book. Amazon thinks they’re entitled to more than TWO THIRDS of the cost of something they have absolutely zero to do with except hosting it, which I’m paying for regardless. I drive almost all of the eyes to my book besides Amazon’s “readers also enjoyed” section and their search algorithm, I even pay THEM in order to advertise, and they still think 30% is an acceptable amount. I don’t even think 70% is an acceptable amount, but 30% is offensive.

But going wide (selling on multiple platforms, like Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Apple Books, etc.) is a possibility, so I need to chill, right? It is costlier and more time consuming both in learning every platform’s navigation and in producing the needed files and marketing. And no one else has the consumer base that Amazon has which is an argument for them to charge more, I guess, but dang, ya know? Those rounded up and down pennies alone are enough to keep Amazon funded, so what the hell, right?

Sanderson says in the interview linked above that “I worry about Amazon” because of its dominance of the market. He says he would “love if there were one or two big, good competitors for Amazon.” He also says it’s “not every author’s dream” to run a company, but he does it, and he enjoys it, so…okay, bro? Let’s go!!!

He goes on to say he thinks bookstores are the answer to Amazon, but I disagree. I kind of wrote a blog about this before, stating that small bookstores are theoretically great, but they’re not equipped to carry much stock that isn’t best sellers. But I am biased–I care immensely more about self published authors, about diverse voices finding the light, and about stories that come from the heart that the creators actually get paid for.

Daniel, the host of that Sanderson interview, says, “I don’t know a way, besides just browsing a shelf, to find a new author who’s just breaking out,” but then says, right before that, “conversations I’ve had with authors large to small about how even some of the ways that have proven themselves to be marketing at a small level are falling apart. They’re seeing smaller returns on Facebook ads, Amazon promotions,” and that kinda confused me because only starting this month (March 2022) traditionally published authors have been allowed to use Amazon ads on their own books. Maybe I’m missing something, but it seems like disabling your ad blocker is a start (lol) but also the physical shelf in any bookstore is filled with bestsellers and a few “new” authors who are being hardcore pushed by a major publisher. Yes, some of them are “just breaking out,” but this just didn’t make sense to me. Again, I’m probably missing something, but, Daniel, my man, ebooks exist.

So, I guess this is a callout post for Brandon Sanderson. Fund the competitor. Be the flipping change you wish to see in the world. (Look, I’m even not swearing, and that is a big ask from me.) FUDGE UP THE STATUS QUO, MY DUDE, AND GIVE US DRAGONETHER EBOOKS DOT COM!

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