Distribution channels and pricing

There are many pluses and minuses to the various print on demand services (POD) available to self-pubbers wishing to release paperback versions of their books. We here at the Drugstore use and recommend CreateSpace, which is probably the biggest and most well-known of the group. That doesn’t always mean that it’s the simplest, however, and as with seemingly everything that relates to self-pubbing these days once a POD has been chosen your decisions are nowhere near over.

Take distribution. There is of course little sense in going through the difficult and time-consuming process of preparing your book to be published if it will not then be widely available to readers. (This is the case, by the way, even for ebooks, which have their own quirks and demands when getting the files ready – unless you just want to slap a pdf version up on a website or something, but then there might be compatibility issues with the various ebook readers that people use and you could possibly be limiting your readership to those willing to scroll through on a regular pc, smartphone, or tablet. Fine for a short story maybe, but not for a whole book.) Every POD has their own website and webstore, but without a link and without hearing about your book elsewhere how will a reader find it? Even once they have heard about your new release and want to order it what limitations will they face? Will they need to pay for shipping from the US or can they use domestic rates? What about taxes? VAT and all the rest of it? Again, there is much to consider.

Let’s look at CreateSpace: It is directly connected with Amazon and as such its titles are automatically listed not just on Amazon’s original US site but on all its (now quite many) other country-specific sites. That means that someone ordering your CreateSpace-printed paperback can buy it in their own currency, have all domestic tax issues already handled, and use local shipping to boot. Those are huge advantages for both your readers and for you as the author/seller. A real no-brainer. That is not CreateSpace’s only avenue of distribution, however, and here is where things become more complicated and a bit murkier.

CreateSpace titles go up on Amazon standardly, and they also go up on CreateSpace’s own estore site. (N.B., one feature of that estore worth knowing is that authors can order their own books through it at a discount; that is not an option with Amazon.) There are three other “Expanded Distribution” channels though, and they are: 1) Bookstores and Online Retailers, 2) Libraries and Academic Institutions, and 3) CreateSpace Direct. Essentially what all these other channels do is to allow middlemen other than Amazon to come into the process. This potentially enhances both the reach and exposure of your book; something which can only be good, right? Well, not necessarily. The big drawback to these additional channels is that, by allowing others into the sales interaction, the price of each copy perforce goes up.

Consider my forthcoming Freedom’s Mask, for example. Sized and formatted it stands at 592 pages. That is a lot of pages! And the vast majority of a book’s price comes from its production costs and the added taxes (sales tax, VAT, etc.), meaning that the longer the book the more it will cost to make and therefore sell. (Remember that no POD will allow you to sell at a loss.) I want to make my books as inexpensive as possible for the reader and so when I’ve set the pricing for them I have always reduced my royalties to a bare minimum. That’s the ethos we operate under at Drugstore Books and it’s a personal ethos for me as well. Playing around with the settings on CreateSpace for my new title I find that if I enable the Expanded Distribution channels my book’s production costs force me to sell it at US$6/book higher than if I only use the standard distribution routes. This added moola of course goes to the introduced middlemen. Now this makes for a quandary. I would like to have the extra reach and I would most definitely like to support brick-and-mortar bookstores (as they’ve (oddly, in my opinion) come to be called), but I do not want to be compelled to pass on the extra price hike to readers; and yet there is no way that I can avoid passing it on. What to do? Here is what I’ve decided: I will initially release the book only through the Amazons and the estore to offer it as modestly as possible, and then later, in order to support very worthy outlets like bookshops and libraries, and too so as to help the book reach more people, turn on the other channels and reluctantly increase the price. That seems fairest to me and it also seems like a reasonable way to go about a book launch, though certainly there are many other approaches that could be taken. One thing everyone can agree on though is to be sure to order my new work early. (Wink, wink!)

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