April 8, 2011

Publisher says she can't afford to sell books on Amazon


A UK publisher’s lament: She loses more than £2 every time one of her books is sold on Amazon.

As Lynn Michell, publisher of the Scottish press Linen Press (“Great writing for women, by women”), explains in a commentary for the Guardian,

Amazon takes 60% of my RRP [cover price] (in the book trade, the bigger the sales outfit, the bigger the discount they demand from the publisher: Amazon 60%; Waterstones 50%; independent bookshop 35%). On a £11.99 book, Amazon’s takings are££7.20. Mine are £4.80.

Out of this comes £2.50 to pack and post the book to Amazon, and the author’s royalties on a heavily discounted book reduced to 50p. My writers lose out on an Amazon sale, too. That leaves 82p for Linen Press, but the book cost £4 to produce. So I lose £2.18 on every sale by Amazon.

Michell acknowledges that these numbers aren’t true for all publishers. For instance, she notes that she spends far more on production than bigger publishers because she uses far smaller print runs, thereby losing the economy of scale. And her books cost more for other reasons, too …

… because I want to produce books that are visually stunning and pay a brilliant designer to do that. And thirdly because I pay a better-than-average copy editor, because if you skimp at this stage, you end up with typos and a bad reputation. Linen Press produces classy books; anything less would be a compromise. I have just published three novels about colonialism by Nigerian, Indian and British authors. I’m gambling on unknown writers here, so this venture is a financial risk before I even get to the Amazon sales.

But that’s the problem, she says: “For all its vast catalogue, Amazon’s market domination is is actually reducing choice by squeezing out publishers small publishers who are prepared to take risks.”

So how does she survive? “I avoid looking into the abyss of financial disaster. I’m trying to remain upbeat. If Linen Press lands a bestseller that is reprinted and wins the Orange prize and sells in thousands and is translated into several languages and is made into a Hollywood film with Kiera Knightley and Colin Firth …”

Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.