A dark side to CreateSpace?

I have always tried to be open and honest about my writing experiences, thoughts, and ideas on this blog. Not because I think I have any real answers or winning advice, but because it’s my impression that those of you who read our blog are interested in what’s really happening in the trail-blazing world of self-pubbing and are maybe looking for ways of doing it better yourself. So it’s in that spirit that I share the following; make of it what you will and, as always, feel free to leave any comments below.

I like to occasionally check my CreateSpace account to see if any sales have come in. It sometimes takes quite a while for sales to be registered—up to six weeks from the international amazon sites—so I don’t look all that often, but when I do and I see new sales I’m always pleasantly surprised. And I was recently thrilled when about two months ago I saw that suddenly ten copies of my new book had been ordered.

The order itself was a little odd, though. It appeared to all be from one person, and the orders were all via CreateSpace’s Expanded Distribution package. A word on that here: When you sign up with CreateSpace (which is free) your work is automatically sold on their own site and also on amazon.com, but as an option you can pay a little (recently reduced to US$25) and also have your work available to be ordered from bookstores, libraries/academic institutions, and certified resellers (who buy at wholesale). Royalties are set differently for the various levels, with payments from Expanded Distribution outlets the lowest. What this means is that when you choose the price of your paperback you have to set it such that profits will always be in the black. For example, if you want to make about $1 per copy from amazon (after production costs), that may mean your Expanded Distribution profit would be minus-something, so you would have to raise the price of your book until that figure gets in the positive. This would then mean both a higher royalty from amazon and Expanded Distribution, but it would also mean that you’d have to charge customers more overall. I want readers far more than money so with Tomorrow, as the Crow Flies I set my royalties as low as possible. I make $0.07 per copy from expanded distribution, and just under $2 from amazon.

That order of ten copies from Expanded Distribution therefore netted me $0.70 in total. Still, ten copies are ten copies, and I was delighted and naively thought that maybe some reading group had ordered it or something. What I started to notice after that though, was that the amazon sites now had little blurbs stating that only 8 or 7 copies were left in stock, so order today. And in hearing from a couple of friends that they had ordered a copy, and then waiting and noticing that even six weeks later those sales weren’t registered on my CreateSpace account, I have an inkling of what may have really happened.

I don’t have any proof of this, but it appears that amazon (the parent company of CreateSpace) ordered a few stock copies of my book at the wholesale rate, and new sales will only be credited to me when that stock has run out. So unless a whole lot of you order my book within a few days of each other (which I of course would love 😉 ) it seems that amazon has found a way to increase their profits a bit. (Incidentally, I recently saw another Expanded Distribution sale register so that stock may have now sold out.) Take this technique out to all of us using CreateSpace and you can see its advantages for them.

I am still very happy with CreateSpace, and would still recommend using them, but if what I suspect is true then it is a little disappointing. I don’t know if I’d call it a ‘dark side’ per se, but I would prefer the system to run strictly on its publish-on-demand basis. Not so much for the royalties but so that I could get a clearer picture of just what’s happening with my book, even if nothing is happening at the moment.

Next week, Paul j Rogers on the joys of writing out your novel’s first draft by hand.

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7 Comments

  1. Paul j Rogers
    Posted February 4, 2012 at 3:13 am | Permalink

    Nice work, detective!

    I’ve never used CreateSpace, and I’m certainly confused by ‘Expanded Distribution’, so apologies in advance if I sound like an idjut…

    If I understand your theory correctly, you’re suggesting they are holding ‘stock’ (although the product doesn’t yet exist, just its future sales potential) at a knock-down price, indefinitely and at no risk or cost to themselves?

    What happens if some or all of those ‘sales’ are never made?
    Would the ‘sales’ be chalked off the author’s account after a year or so?
    I presume an author’s permission for this is covered in the ‘small print’ of their Expanded Distribution terms and conditions?

  2. Andrew Oberg
    Posted February 4, 2012 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

    Expanded Distribution is an option for further distribution channels, you don’t have to take it, but if you don’t then your book will only be available on amazon and CS’s estore. (Which, come to think of it, I’m not even sure if they’re still doing.)

    Anyway, what I suspect, and again this is purely circumstantial, is that once a few sales had clicked through, amazon bought some stock at the wholesale price and kept them on hand assuming more sales were coming. So I think the product did exist, ten copies were printed for amazon and sent to them. What happens if those ten don’t sell? I have no idea, but I would be very surprised if sales were removed from my CS account.

    There wasn’t anything about this in the terms and conditions when I read them, but there was a caveat that CS could change the details at any time at their discretion. So who knows? I still think CS is well worth using, and since I’ve now seen another sale come through after those ten, I suppose that the ten have been sold.

    Interestingly, I recall that Mark once emailed me asking if amazon had requested that I send them a number of copies to keep on hand as stock. I said they hadn’t, but he said that amazon uk had with him. They are probably still working out how to do this self-pubbing thing just like we are.

    Also interesting, my friend in Shanghai mailed and said he can’t see our site because we’re blocked in China!

  3. Paul j Rogers
    Posted February 5, 2012 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    RE: the post. I certainly see your point. The advantages of printing and binding in volume must make the numbers work for them. There’s also, however, a risk of being caught with dead stock…

    RE: Blocked in China. What have we ever done to them! Although I doubt Orwell would be the least bit surprised. Perhaps some bureaucrat saw the words, drug + store + books, put it all together, and decided that we operate a narcotics storage facility from an old library.

  4. Paul j Rogers
    Posted February 5, 2012 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    Dear China,

    Drugstore noun (North American)
    Pronunciation: /ˈdrʌgstɔː/

    a pharmacy which also sells toiletries and other articles, such as books.

  5. Andrew Oberg
    Posted February 5, 2012 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

    Also, that way amazon only has to pay the lower royalty. 7 cents is much better for them than $1.92. And like I wrote, if they can do that for everyone using CreateSpace, then it’s much, much better. But who really knows? To be honest, I’m just happy to have my books get in people’s hands, and nuts to the royalties.

    Love your note to China! Probably they just block every non-major site until someone gets around to checking out if it’s okay. Which, at the rate the Internet is growing, will be quite the job for some poor bureaucrat!

  6. A. Greggoff
    Posted November 11, 2012 at 6:58 am | Permalink

    Sharing experience on Expended Distribution with CreateSpace. I recently made a book with createspace, and purchased the expended distribution for 25$. I aimed to sell this book to my friends and others dispersed all over the world. The book, 160 pages of photos, is sold 30$ with royalties of 3$ per book. It was running moderately well, a few some month here and there on amazon US, UK, FR …. I found suddenly 7 books sold through ED, but a total royalties of 0.7$ rather than expected 21$. I still don’t understand how this ED system works. My friends in Asia have been waiting for more than 1 month to get the book, and for having sign it, the quality was not the same than the one ordered at first. I read that this is due to the fact that in ED, the book can be printed out by another way than amazon. So nobody has a control of that quality. I had the opportunity to check it, because I am signing (dedicate) almost all the books I sold as I could meet those friends.
    So, I may not recommend completely the ED since you cannot control anything including royalties and printed out quality.

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