The cost of doing business, Pinbeam Books edition

Mini-lecture, here. If you’re not interested in the intricacies of self-publishing, you can skip this bit.


Asyouknowbob, Pinbeam Books — the self-publishing arm of Sharon Lee and Steve Miller — has been making paper editions of its Echapbooks available through Amazon. This is because Amazon makes it relatively easy to produce a paper book through their software — BN’s software long ago defeated me — and there is a portion of our readership who Really Really want paper, and this is how we oblige them, and thank them for sticking with us.

So. Amazon has recently refribbed the back room where indie folk get their books set up for sale. And as I was getting the paper edition of Change State ready to go, I encountered a checkbox that said, “Expanded Distribution.” Now, I’m none so sharp as I once was, and I figured that was the box I always clicked (when setting up an ebook), which allowed the book to be sold in the UK, Australia, Germany, &c. So I checked the box.

Turns out that, when you click that box for a paper book, you are allowing Amazon to serve as the distributor of the paper edition, to “other venues,” such as BN, and unnamed others, including “libraries.”

So, that’s a good thing, right? Expanded sales venues = expanded audiences, and all like that?

And that’s — yes. And no.

It will, I hope, come as no surprise to anyone here that Pinbeam Books is a for-profit enterprise. It’s one of several income streams, and how we keep the cats in litter and cat food, and ourselves in frivolous things like medicines and electricity.

Which brings us back to Amazon, believe it or don’t. Paper editions of Pinbeam Books’ chapbooks retail for $10. This is also what SRM Publisher — Pinbeam’s predecessor — retailed its paper chapbooks for. Before anyone says it — yeah, that’s kind of expensive. It’s always been kind of expensive, but there are reasons for that price-point, and here they are:

ONE: You have to pay the printer. Pro Tip: Always pay the printer.

TWO: When you’re publishing paper books, you want vendors who are not you to sell your book. Bookstores are *also* for-profit endeavors, so you can’t sell them a $10 retail book for $10. You sell them the $10 retail book for $6, and the bookstore makes $4 profit per sale, less their cost of doing business.

However, the publisher, being for-profit, as it is, cannot lose money on the transaction — but they take a lesser profit per each, because typically bookstores buy in bulk.

THREE: If you place your books with a distributor, say Ingram, the distributor — being a for-profit enterprise — also takes a percentage of profits received. SRM Publisher did direct mail-order and was not in any way big enough to interest a distributor.

Everybody with me so far? Yeah, you in the back, I see your eyes drifting shut.  You don’t have to stick with this, honest.

All righty, then. Amazon. In this Brave New World, Amazon is printer, vendor, and distributor. Being a for-profit enterprise, as it oh-so-definitely is, Amazon takes a percentage of each sale — as printer, as vendor, and as distributor.

For ebooks, this means that Amazon “gives” Pinbeam Books 70% of cover for each sale. Sweet, right?

For paper books, Amazon “gives” Pinbeam Books 60% of cover, and, since Amazon is also the printer, it subtracts its printing costs from that 60%. Which leaves Pinbeam Books — a for-profit enterprise — with a profit per each that is comparable to the per-each profit on an Echapbook.

But wait, there’s more!

If you then click the Expand Distribution ticky-box, you make Amazon the distributor of your paper book — and we have already decided that Amazon, being a for-profit enterprise, will not do this for free. The price Amazon charges to get Pinbeam Books paper editions to “other” venues, drops Pinbeam Books’ profit per each to, a very low level. Speaking as a principle in a for-profit enterprise, I’d say, an unacceptably low level. Pinbeam Books would have to sell a Whole Freaking LOT of paper books to balance out the distributor’s fee, and return an acceptable profit.

So, what Pinbeam Books — aka Sharon Lee and Steve Miller — needs to figure out is if it’s ever again worth going for Amazon’s “Expanded Distribution.” This time was a mistake, and we’ll let it stand. And there are those people who refuse to buy from Amazon, who might pick up a paper copy through BN, only —

They’d still be giving Amazon money — even more money — by doing so.

And so.

End of lecture.


9 thoughts on “The cost of doing business, Pinbeam Books edition”

  1. Thanks for passing on the lesson learned that unfortunately had to be paid for. I read with Amazon because it’s so easy, but I often wonder about how much of my so called beer money goes to the writer. Also, I like learning how book writing and publishing works. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Interesting. Thank you. I am one of those who avoids buying books (and other things) from Amazon so it is good to know that buying from Barnes & Noble can line Amazon’s pockets too.

  3. Due to eye problems I can no longer read paper books unless I am in really really good light. Thank goodness for ebooks. Sounds like you might ave to rethink the paper route. I loved your latest book. Thanks to you both. I love your books

  4. I am one of those who really, REALLY want a paper copy of your books. I am happy to pay the $10.00 and have in fact paid up to $15.00 for other print-on-demand titles of authors whom I enjoy. I also always buy the e-version as well, for convenience sake and the sake of supporting authors who give me so much pleasure. I find it horrible and unfair that so much of what should be author’s instead becomes Amazon’s and would happily welcome an alternative to Amazon that was more just and equitable to the author. Any suggestions?

    Anne in Virginia

  5. Hence I buy the ebook from Baen and the paper copy when it comes out in Constellation form, from my local sci-fi bookstore. And I support the authors on Patreon because then I know they’re getting a large portion of the money I send.

  6. Amazon has gotten ‘way too big, I think. But it was never a force for good; it was always a for-profit endeavor. As someone who is also for-profit, I can’t fault them for wanting more profit. I just have to be vigilant in preserving my profit — and that’s the case no matter who you deal with.

  7. Well…Amazon only takes 30% of ebook cover price. Which is more or less standard now, I guess, among the Usual Suspects.

    For paper books, they take 40%, which is the standard bookstore percentage, PLUS the printer’s costs, since they’re producing the book. If SRM were still operating, we’d still have to pay the printer, and give a discount to bookstores so they could afford to sell our books.

    Where Amazon becomes less than cost effective, for what we’re doing, is when we take the next step and ask them to distribute to venues other than themselves. And, as I said in the original post, SRM books were never distributed beyond what we could do ourselves, through mail order and direct bookstore orders.

    I would really like to make our paper books available in venues other than Amazon, but the distribution fees tip us from black to red. So, it’s a no-go.

  8. “Which leaves Pinbeam Books — a for-profit enterprise — with a profit per each that is comparable to the per-each profit on an Echapbook.”

    That’s very interesting how it comes out to be about the same. And it’s nice that it’s possible for certain readers to get the paper versions if they want it even as print on demand etc is going to have it’s own inherent cost… yet still come out about the same in the end per sale.

    This accidental distribution situation will either be a test case to monitor or in the very least perhaps gain some attention in various markets that might not be aware they exist and could attract them to the rest.

    I do hate when a form gets tweaked. It’s almost worse when it’s just a slight tweak so you’re not on guard. I feel like everytime I do my taxes online they have slightly re-skinned it in some way or re-phrased it and I can’t remember what I’m supposed to do for a thing.

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