(aka, Publishers and Distributors)
I talk about this every so often, but haven’t in a while and people are asking about Amazon, so here goes again…this is about how it affects authors and publishers when you buy books in different places.
(And I will preface this by saying that I understand that there are reasons of shipping and convenience and other things that prevent people from buying from one place or another. The below is in an “all things being equal” world. Adjust your set as necessary.)
The way the mainstream publishing industry works, greatly simplified, is this: authors sell manuscripts to publishers. Publishers create books and sell them to distributors. Distributors sell books to you.
Tor and Baen and Harper Collins and Simon and Schuster are not in the business of selling books. They are in the business of making books. Barnes and Noble, Borders (formerly), Powell’s, and Amazon (until a couple years ago) are not in the business of making books. They are in the business of buying large quantities of books and selling them in smaller batches (usually singletons). In order for distributors to make money, they have to buy the books at less than cover price–usually around 50%.
Small presses, both to make more money and because they don’t sell books in the quantities the distributors usually want, are usually in the business of making books and selling them. Sofawolf, FurPlanet, and non-furry small presses like Small Beer Press (they are awesome and you should check them out) offer their own storefronts, because usually the volume of books is low enough that they don’t need a large distributor’s fulfillment services. You can see immediately how a publisher selling books directly makes more money, because they are not paying a distributor half of the cover price of each book.
Many small presses still distribute through Amazon, because Amazon has a very smart system whereby they can buy small batches of books that will not require a lot of inventory space. But they still charge 50% (actually Amazon specifically is, I think, 55%) of the cover price for it.
If you are an author whose book is published through Tor, they expect that all of your books will be sold through a distributor, and so your royalty per book is pretty constant. John Scalzi has written a few blog posts on where he prefers people buy his books, and it comes out to “I’m just happy if you buy them legitimately.”
Generally, that is true for most authors, including me! I would much rather you buy my book than not, no matter where. But where you buy the book also affects how much money the publisher makes, and that affects how much awesome furry stuff they will be able to offer you in the future.
Let’s say the cost of printing is $3 for a $10 book. If the press sells that book for $10, then their profit is $7 and I will get between $2.50 and $3.50 of that, depending on the specific contract. The publisher keeps the rest. But if they sell that book to a distributor for $5, then their profit is only $2, and even if they only pay me $0.50 out of that, that doesn’t leave them a lot of profit.
That said, I understand that shipping costs are a big deal, and some furry distributors like Bookshelf Bear and Blackpaw are set up specifically to offer better shipping to customers in Canada and Europe. It is definitely not worth giving an extra $20-40 to the USPS/FedEx just to buy directly from the publisher. And if you’re going to buy from a distributor, it’s better to support a small furry distributor like those guys or Rabbit Valley (“Buy Furry!”).
(If you are confused about whether a book of mine is published by Sofawolf or FurPlanet, here’s a handy guide: Sofawolf doesn’t resell FurPlanet books online. So if my book is in the Sofawolf catalog, it’s a Sofawolf book. If not, it’s a FurPlanet book. Also you could look at the front/back covers if you are at a con. :) )
E-books are a different case. Royalty rates are about the same everywhere I publish, and I’m the publisher in all cases. So yeah, you can’t really go wrong with e-books, but I do love print books, myself. I don’t think I have any book I really love only as an e-book.
Anyway, I hope that all helps. The economics of publishing is not entirely simple, but it’s not all that complicated, either. I hope this helps you make an informed decision, but in the end, really, I’m just flattered that you guys feel like spending some hard-earned money on my books, wherever you do it. And if you like the books a small press is putting out, please do support that press if you can.