Print on Demand Wars… Some Things You Should Know

Print on Demand Wars… Some Things You Should Know

Not too far back, we were invited into Amazon’s KDP Print system, which integrated our print and paperback books. There were issues at first, and continue to be some, but overall it’s been great because it simplifies our print on demand publishing, and the reporting is just like eBooks. Very smooth, very nice, and the Amazon cut to the author, 60%, is good, allowing for reasonable pricing. At first there was mostly just US distribution, and the books were only available at Amazon.com … also, when they first started out there was no way to order copies at an author discount.

Currently the only remaining issue, for me, is that they do not print in Canada, and until they do, for me to ship to our authors up there, I have to use Lightning Source. It would also be nice if they offered hardcovers, but that’s probably down the line, and is not a factor that is costing us sales.

I’ll start with why I don’t want to use Lightning Source any longer.  As a sort of power user, I don’t have to pay a setup fee… we can upload hardcovers and trade paperbacks without cost and make them available all over. The problem is, that free setup is where it ends. If we need to make a change to the cover? $40. If we need to change the interior? $40. Every year, just to keep the title live in their system, it costs $12, and yes, few enough people buy most of our print editions that this erases profit. In all our years of publishing print editions at Lightning Source, we have not made more than a couple of hundred dollars in profit. It would be great to be distributed through them to bookstores, but you have to be realistic. To get distribution through Ingram, you have to give them 50% off the cover price and accept returns.  That is the death knoll for a small press. I have no way to warehouse, or inclination to do so, and the overhead of holding royalties against returns, along with the rest of pretending to be a NYC publisher would very simply put us out of business.  So what we have to do is offer a discount large enough that Amazon and B&N and other online stores will carry the books and use it (mostly) as a place to buy books at a discount for our authors to take to signings.  Independent bookstores for all their hollering about how we need to support them will not order direct from us without returns, in most cases, though we offer a good discount if they will.  On top of these costs and difficulties, Amazon does crazy things with availability of books from Lightning Source. They will call them out of stock, put delay messages up, let them disappear, or promote third party sellers first and make people click through levels to get to the actual buy link.  Amazon has never played fair, but then, it’s a business… not a game.

Amazon KDP offers free setup as well. I can make changes every day and never pay a dime, cover and interior.  The books can ship directly to UK authors, German authors, etc. from their own respective Amazon versions … the discount for authors is good, and as the “author” for all of our books, I can pass that good discount on to my own authors, as well as pricing books reasonably.  As of today I noticed that there is also “expanded distribution” as there is in Create Space… a simple click makes it available through distribution, though there is no vehicle that I see for promoting it to those other markets / outlets, the continued growth of the system makes me believe that in time there may well be. They are quick at Amazon to link the proper editions together if they are also the printer of said edition, and no games are played with availability – shipping is quick and reliable.

We initially believed we could get books to the Barnes and Noble brick and mortar stores by putting the print editions in both systems (No reason you can’t do this – same ISBN number, same Edition, they are the printer, not the publisher ) but with the regulations (noted below) preventing 99% of the Nook Press books from ever seeing a brick and mortar store, and the likelihood that they are going to try and distribute to Amazon and cause multiple versions… we are rolling back until we have more info. We currently have two books in both systems and intend to see if those authors are able to get their local store to order books for a signing.  As of this moment, though, KDP is the best option.

Nook Press also has a very similar system – which DOES allow for hardcover books – and also allows for wider distribution than just their own webstore. It also allows authors or customers to order a copy of the print book and pick it up at their local store. Their royalty and discount is smaller, and this means you have to price your book higher to get the same profit. They may or may not sell to Amazon.com but if they do you will be on Amazon with the same issues as you get with Lightning Source.  Amazon will make availability inconsistent, prices will be higher… delays in shipping will occur. Third party sellers will show up higher than your new edition…not optimal. There is the promise of the POSSIBILITY of getting your book into B&N stores (you have to be an author who has sold 1000 copies of an eBook on B&N to do this… a rarity in my experience) and you would THINK you could order books for local signings, but no… not unless you are one of the (also rare) authors with 500 sales of a single eBook through Nook.  While this sounds great, it’s a road to disappointment. Of the big markets for eBooks, Barnes and Noble falls WAY below Amazon, and doesn’t compete well with Apple, for that matter. Selling 1000 books at Barnes and Noble might be possible with the right promotion, a well-timed Bookbub for instance, but it would be during a period you sold 5000 across Amazon markets…  To be fair, I understand they would be inundated without their rule, but without flexibility at least for signings, it’s seeming as if the Nook Press system may prove little more than a shadowy version of the KDP Print system, and not of much use.

I hope sharing this clears up some questions for authors and publishers considering print. We spent a lot of time, money and sweat gathering all of this information, but happy to share it in the hope is might help someone.

David Niall Wilson

Crossroad Press

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