Let me begin with an opening disclaimer: Amazon does an excellent job with its platforms for independent authors. I’ve chosen to use Amazon as a platform for distributing my own novels, so far be it from me to say they do a bad job. I love how I get to keep the rights to my work, and my creations are distributed, promoted, and expanded upon at my own discretion. Everything is on my timetable, and while there are certain disadvantages – most notably, a lack of extra eyes to examine and edit a manuscript to eliminate easily overlooked errors – I’ve found that I genuinely love controlling my own destiny.
Furthermore, it’s worth noting that Amazon and Hatchette Publishing – among others, it seems, as reported by Laura Hazard Owen, of Gigaom – are fighting a major war over contracts. Brooke Warner of the Huffington Post gives an especially detailed explanation as to how this fight is playing out. Amazon is stretching the limits of responsible warfare tactics as it disables pre-orders for companies its in a contract dispute with. On the other hand, Bloomberg News points out that Amazon claims to be simply asking for Hatchette to pitch in half of an author-payment pool to make up for the difference between E-Bookand paperback royalties.
That said, having been through a couple of tech-support e-mails and publication snafus in my time, I’ve concocted a few ways they can improve their product. But, first, a little exposition!
How Amazon Kindle and Createspace Publishing Work
Createspace was once a self-publishing start-up called “Booksurge,” and its goal was to provide print-on-demand services to authors who had, for whatever reason, opted to jump head-first into the still-shallow independent author pool. Booksurge and another company were acquired by Amazon in 2005, and were eventually re-branded as Createspace in 2007. Createspace does what Booksurge did, only it does it at Amazon’s beck-and-call. This marriage ultimately yielded two blessings in tandem: Createspace-published books are easily implanted into Amazon’s marketplace; and, with the invention of the Kindle in 2007, it made for relatively easy access to the budding distribution network for the world’s most infamous e-reader.
The premise is simple: An author uploads a Word Document to Create-space in an appropriate format for a novel. They choose a cover and a distribution scheme, purchasing such things as ISBNs if they wish. Then, with a few clicks, they can publish their own novel in both print and, if they so choose, on the Amazon Kindle. Software – and not the author – takes care of the vast majority of this process. Amazon’s Kindle Direct Select program even gives authors extra perks to exclusively distribute the electronic version of their novel on the Kindle. It’s all-in-all a sweet deal!
But, there’s room for improvement. The first idea I have is a simple enough one:
Standardizing the price structure for physical products.
One of the biggest reasons I chose to go with Amazon instead of its competitor and my first publishing home, Lulu Press, was that Lulu added an exorbitant charge in order to place my novel on Amazon’s marketplace. Lulu and Createspace both stick to a simple formula in that authors set the price of their novels, while the printer charges for the raw materials (paper, ink, etc) and takes a cut of the sale price. A $10 novel might cost $2 to produce; the printer might then charge an additional 20% ($2) per sale, leaving the author with a whole $6. That is, of course, unless the author is selling the book on another company’s site. Barnes and Noble would want its own share of the profits, perhaps another 20% for the sake of this explanation. That leaves the author getting $6 if a person buys the novel from their little-known printing press, but only $4 if the book is bought at a larger retailer.
Back in 2005, when I first released Pillars Of The Kingdom, I faced an insane problem: If I had wanted to sell my first books on Amazon at the prices I wanted to sell them at, I would have owed Amazon money for any possible sales I made. Yes, that speaks ill of Amazon, itself, since it was Amazon’s choice to charge Lulu a pretty penny for access. On the other hand, it helped hit home that Lulu wasn’t a powerful enough platform to launch a career as an author from. I needed something greater, and Createspace’s tag-team with the Kindle distribution network made it a clear winner.
Therefore, since Amazon owns Createspace, one might imagine that the author’s end-royalty would be the same, regardless as to if the book is sold on Createspace’s store or Amazon’s. Alas, that’s not true: This handy little calculator makes clear that a 200 page, black-and-white, 6×9 format novel sold for $9.99 will yield the author $4.74 on the Createspace store, $2.74 on Amazon’s marketplace, or a paltry $0.74 if it is sold through expanded distribution! Even though Amazon owns Createspace, and therefore banks all of its profit, anyway, it still charges an extra premium for access to Amazon’s network. It’s true that Amazon will sometimes knock the list price of a book down, using this price gap as a cushion, but it could be reduced a slight bit in the selfish pursuit of giving authors more money per sale.
Basically put, this is an anachronism that needs to end.
Improving Kindle-To-Createspace Communication
Oh, dear. This was one of the biggest issues I had with publishing Physics Reincarnate. It’s a difficult problem to explain, but think of it like a chicken-and-the-egg scenario. If you set out to publish on Kindle first, and then decide you’d like to also publish on Createspace, linking the two titles can be a nightmare. Even when handled by customer service representatives, you can end up with two slightly different entries for your book’s listing as a series. It’s problematic to say the least, though it’s shown no actual evidence of hampering sales, so far. Coming at it from the other end is easier; Createspace has some Kindle-production capabilities built in, but it doesn’t fix every problem. Essentially it serves as a portal to the Kindle creation service.
I have to add a sort of disclaimer, here: With Amazon’s “Matchbook” program, an author may choose to give away a free or discounted Kindle version of a given novel as a courtesy to those who buy the physical product. It’s your basic Paperback + E-Book deal, but it expands an author’s options on providing deals to their customers.
Better Sales Feedback
If I want to check how many books I have sold, on Kindle, in the last two years, the process is fairly straight forward. I start by downloading a .PDF chart…For May, 2014. Then, I download one for April, 2014. Rinse-and-repeat. Createspace’s author-gateway is similar in its incredible disorganization. Essentially, you have to download twenty-four folders just to get the raw data for the past two years of your own sales; then, of course, you have to collate them!
We live in the age of cloud computing. Hell! Amazon offers website hosting services! There is no reason they could not keep a compressed sort of glorified excel sheet keeping track of sales records. What books were sold in what region each month? That should be a piece of cake.
Those are the three big issues I wanted to address. There are probably plenty of other petty concerns, especially having to do with formatting book covers (ugh), but those are issues that are more just matters of confusion than sorely-lacking smoothness. I’m also not going to try to talk about their music publishing options – I don’t do that, I’m afraid! Be it Kindle, Createspace, or both, Amazon is still an excellent place to self-publish. I just want to make it better, if my little voice in the writing wilderness can be heard!