A recent article in Publishers Weekly (Amazon Stands by Books) came and went without a lot of fanfare, but independent authors and micro publishers should be paying attention. The article is about a drop in sales due to changes in Amazon’s order policy, which the company says is a result of a cut in the warehousing of products. However, Amazon assures publishers that they stand by books and are not planning any moves to relegate book sales to third party sellers. For the bigger publishers, this may be comforting, but for independent presses, and authors who publish and distribute through Ingram, there may be a problem.
How Ingram Works with Amazon
Ingram is a wholesaler. If you print books in quantity, you may have a distribution partner or you may warehouse the copies in another way. Orders placed directly to Ingram will be fulfilled according to the terms you have set. If you are a Print-on-Demand publisher, then Amazon and other retailers will populate your title on their sites when you select “global distribution” as you upload your title to Ingram Spark. An article that goes into this more deeply can be found here.
How Indies will be Affected
In the past Amazon often ordered a small quantity of print books for new titles without a distribution partner. A dedicated sales rep could increase that number, but many indies cannot afford to pay for one. Also, having a partner does not guarantee you will get a bigger order.
Now, Amazon may order zero copies of a new title, unless there is a pre-order demand. In that case Amazon may only order the number of copies required to fulfill those orders on release date. If that happens any additional orders will take “1 – 3 weeks” to fulfill, while Amazon waits on a new bulk order. If their algorithm does not predict many sales soon, it is possible that Amazon will not stock additional copies until an order comes in.
Unfortunately, a traditional book distributor is not going to solve this issue either. Recently we have been told by indie presses that there is “nothing that they can do”. Amazon makes their decisions and they can’t be refuted. In these cases authors are linked to the market through a “middle man”. They have to wait in the dark for something to change.
While this is happening, there could be second-hand sellers on Amazon offering the book as “in stock”. They may appear as “trusted sellers”. Some of these people could have received a review copy for free and they are turning it around to earn a few bucks. The books could have associated shipping costs and delivery dates of several days or more. It looks bad to prospective Prime book buyers who are trained to get their products in two days or less. It could deter people from purchasing.
Solving Amazon’s Order Policy Problem
The most direct way for Print-on-Demand (POD) publishers to solve the problem created by Amazon’s order policy is to publish directly to their KDP platform in paperback or hardcover. If you do this after your title has been uploaded on Ingram Spark, your Amazon upload will overwrite Ingram’s. You can still link your ebook to your account, even if you published that format through Ingram only.
This method ensures that Amazon will have a vested interest in your book being available on their site. Amazon has become your printer for the format you uploaded. Your terms selling directly on the platform will be 60/40 in your favor, the book will be Prime eligible, and you can participate in direct advertising.
For independent publishers who print in quantity and have a distribution partner, the solution is murky. Like so many inequalities in life, POD is a lower-class option because it is, for lack of a better word, “down market” publishing. The reason small and micro presses pay distributors is to raise their status. In some cases these relationships make them eligible for the advantages afforded to the bigger companies. The question is, does this relationship truly elevate a book’s status? Is there even enough room to consider titles from small presses?
Without traditional distribution, indie press books may not be eligible for certain awards. Also, larger media outlets such as USA Today will not consider any POD books for review. There are over one million books published every year. This number it too high for media outlets to cover everything that is released. Traditional distribution may provide some access to what the Big Five publishers can do. It will not solve the ordering issue.
What Can Authors Do?
The first thing authors need to accept is that publishing your book is Step 1. You may think you are done, but your work is just beginning. Authors will need to come out of their comfort zones and become entrepreneurs who have platforms and marketing plans. In the words of one of our clients, practice “shameless self-promotion”.
Also, authors need to consider whether they want to work with a traditional publisher, a hybrid, or do it solo. Make it a priority to find trusted sources who will explain how things work for indies. The divide between indie and big five publishing has only gotten wider over the last few years.
A friend of mine used to say “growing older isn’t for sissies”. Well, writing and marketing a book isn’t either. There are no shortcuts; it takes time, costs money, and there is no single path to take. Be informed, prepared, and patient.