Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Why I'm trying Ingram Spark for Print Books

For three years, I have been using CreateSpace for distributing my print books. The positives are it is easy to use. It is free. It is forgiving of small formatting errors. For example, when the spine for one of my books was slightly off for the page count, they fixed it for me for free. The PDF file I generate from Microsoft Word is completely acceptable which means I can use the templates I like and not have to learn Adobe InDesign or Quark--the premier page software used by professional interior designers.

With expanded distribution, CreateSpace gives the option for bookstores to purchase direct, though I have not found a single one that will order unless begged by a customer. It does get your book into the catalogs of all bookstores (via Ingram distribution) and it does appear in all Amazon and Barnes and Noble online sites, as well as others within about 4-6 weeks.

It is the bookstores not being willing to order direct that has always bothered me. The truth is that Amazon's sales of my print books are paltry (20 all of last year across all books). The over 200 print books I've sold are because I distribute directly to them. I purchase the books at my cost from CreateSpace and then drop ship them to the store, and give the bookseller 40% discount. This is the ONLY way I've been able to get booksellers to order in my books. It is this for advanced orders or consignment.

Why Do Booksellers Not Order CreateSpace Books?

Outside of the we-hate-Amazon feeling among most booksellers, the immediate economic reason they will not order direct is that their discount (through Ingram's where they order ALL their books and can get free shipping on orders of certain numbers) on CreateSpace books ends up to be only 25%. I know some of you wonder how that could possibly be when you are giving up 60% to do expanded distribution. Well, here is how it works. CreateSpace takes 20% for their profit before they send it to Ingram's distribution network. Then Ingram takes 15% before they release it to their catalog where a bookstore can see it. It's pretty easy to do the math. With 35% already taken, that leaves only 25% for the bookseller.

Some people may say, well 25% should be enough. It's not. With only 25% the bookseller cannot afford to discount the book at all which puts them at a competitive disadvantage. Amazon discounts print books by 20% or more on a regular basis. How can they afford to do this? Because the Amazon discount from CreateSpace is 40%. Yes they are all one big company together, but accounting wise they are separate. So when CreateSpace takes their 20%, that gives Amazon a 40% discount. Yes, Amazon is part of the "expanded" distribution. So, where Amazon and it's subsidiaries are getting a 40% discount, booksellers end up with a 25% discount. That means if the bookseller attempts to match the 20% discount in order to keep customers coming in the door, they end up with a 5% profit. That is not enough to keep the lights on.

So Who Cares if Booksellers Are Getting Screwed? It's All The Same Money to the Author.

I care! I care because booksellers have been good to me. They review my books. When they like them they tell other booksellers who then try me out. They tell their customers. They include me in their newsletters to their customers, extending my reach. They order my books when I come for events. Even if I didn't already consider many booksellers my friends, I would still care because they are my street team to thousands of readers.

So, I decided to bite the bullet and try Ingram Spark (the service that was designed to replace the Lightning Source interface with something easier for the small press or independent publisher).  I already decided I would go for the 55% discount (norm for booksellers) but that I would not offer returns. With a 55% discount (after Ingram takes their 15%) the booksellers get the 40% discount I offer when I do direct sales to them. Why not offer returns? Let's face it, I'm not a bestseller--at least not yet-- and I have no illusions about bookstores automatically buying 50 of my books in hopes of selling it and then returning 10. I just want them to order them in as their customers make requests and to order them in when I come for an event or develop a relationship with them. Bookstores are much more lean these days and they know what will sell and what won't when they place their orders. It's not worth it to me to worry about returns.

I knew there would be a $49 setup fee for each title. I also knew there is a $12 per year per title catalog fee.  In other words, each book costs $61 to get into the Ingram system (that's over 28,000 bookstore outlets).  Okay, I am willing to do that if it helps booksellers order and sell my books.  That extra cost represents 30 additional print books that need to be sold to make up for that $61 price. If I take away my cost for shipping books from CreateSpace to booksellers, it reduces the break even point to 20 additional books that need to be sold to make up for that $61 price. With over 28,000 bookstores and libraries in their system, it seems likely I'll sell at least 20 additional books AND I won't have to handle all the direct drop shipping functions myself. It seems like a no-brainer to me.

Tomorrow I'll tell you about my experience.  It is not as easy as I had hoped. Now the question is will I see a return on my investment of both time and money, and will I change the way I prepare my print books?

1 comment:

  1. Really looking forward to hearing about your experience with the interface, and the long term results. Thanks for sharing!