And why supporters of Canadian literature should buy from amazon.COM instead of Amazon.ca
⇐ ⇐ ⇐ Check out this logo. Looks like amazon.com, doesn’t it? Must be the same company? You’d think so, wouldn’t you? (I did.)
But it’s not amazon.com. It’s amazon.ca. And when you buy a paperback copy of a book from amazon.ca, the author gets a royalty that is less than ONE THIRD of what he or she would receive if you bought the book from amazon.com – and sometimes much, much less.
One of my two most recent novels, The Whole Clove Diet, sells for approximately $14.95 on both amazon.com and amazon.ca.** However, if you buy the book from amazon.com, my royalty (author portion of the sale) is $3.11. Not much, even that amount. But if you buy it from amazon.ca, I make $ .12.
Yup. That’s right. If you buy The Whole Clove Diet from amazon.ca, I make twelve cents per copy. That is THREE DOLLARS LESS than if you’d bought it from amazon.com.
My two other independently published books – The Adventures of Don Valiente and the Apache Canyon Kid (co-authored with John A. Aragon), and a reprint of my award-winning first novel, The Woman Upstairs (originally published by NeWest Press) – sell for $14.99 and $10.00 respectively. If these books are purchased from amazon.com, the royalties are $4.69 and $2.95 respectively. But if they are purchased from amazon.ca, the royalties are $1.69 and 95 cents respectively. Same book. Same company. Two to three dollars less per book.
Why this happens
CreateSpace, the trade paperback publisher of choice for most author-publishers, is a subsidiary company of amazon.com Amazon is a major reason why CreateSpace IS the publisher of choice for most author-publishers – the publisher is OWNED by the biggest distribution company on the planet.
Self-published books are print-on-demand. This means that there is no waste of trees: thousands of copies are not printed in the hope that they will sell, as is done by traditional presses. When one book is ordered, one book is printed. Elegant. Efficient. Environmentally sane. When the book is ordered, CreateSpace/Amazon takes a portion of the price, which is only logical – they are creating the book out of paper and glue and they bear the other overhead costs. They also attract buyers in a way no independent publisher can ever hope to do. So the balance is what the author gets.
Unless . . . .
Unless the buyer purchases the book not from Amazon.com, but from somewhere else. Like Barnes and Noble, or Indigo, or your lovely local rapidly disappearing independent bookseller. From Baker and Taylor, which distributes to academic bookstores and libraries. This makes sense. When a sale like that happens, Amazon has to produce the book for the other sales outlet, and it charges the other company extra for the privilege of selling an Amazon-produced book: free enterprise, and all that. So Amazon has set up a system called “expanded distribution,” and if you buy a book from Barnes and Noble, or Indigo, or your independent bookseller, I will get the “expanded distribution” rate for authors — which is, in the case of The Whole Clove Diet, 13 cents.
Under normal circumstances, this is fine with me. I don’t expect to make many sales through expanded distribution compared to the ones I make through Amazon. We live in an online world, and amazon is at the centre of it. So all those extra thirteen centses are just gravy. Right?
Right! Except that, guess what? All amazons are not created equal! Amazon.CA is not amazon.COM. It has the same name, but it is part of the expanded distribution system. Amazon.ca PAYS amazon.com for the privilege of selling a CreateSpace/Amazon-published book – just like Indigo does, for example. Amazon.ca has a card in its pocket that Indigo or your local independent bookseller does not have: it attracts huge numbers of customers by merely appearing to be part of the biggest company on the planet. That in itself must make for lots of sales.
And when one of the book sales is The Whole Clove Diet, I (and I am the person who wrote the book, remember? And got a cover created? And paid for editing so I could publish it?)… I get thirteen cents.
For writers living south of the border, this is a minor problem. How many books are they going to sell in Canada anyway? But for CANADIAN writers, whose primary first audience is in Canada, this is a total disaster.
How I got trapped
When I decided to re-release my first novel independently after experiencing the various frustrations of dealing with the world of traditional publishers for my first four books, I wanted to go with the company that had the widest distribution and the best reputation for reliability. I chose Amazon, of course; there was no other option. And I was (and I remain) utterly happy with the way that their subsidiary company, CreateSpace, produced my book – as I have been with the two books I have published with them since. I am the former editor-in-chief of a publishing company and I know the business of book production: CreateSpace staff are both knowledgeable and professional.
Clearly, as a mid-list Canadian writer with four books to my credit, most of my following is in Canada. I assumed that my books would be made available through amazon.ca in the same way that they were available through amazon.com – same company, different branch, right? (I do know that making assumptions can only ever lead to heartache – but honest to god: who would EVER have guessed that Amazon.com and Amazon.ca were not the same company????) It wasn’t like Amazon.ca had its own publishing arm. There was no CreatesSpace.ca. So away I went.
I should have suspected something was awry when my book did not appear on the Amazon.ca site at the same time it appeared on the Amazon.com site. My suspicions should have increased when I wrote to ask about it a few weeks later, and amazon.ca said they did not communicate with amazon.com. But I assumed ignorance on the part of the customer service rep: how could amazon.com not communicate with amazon.ca? It was the same company.
Not. Amazon.ca is to Amazon.com as barnesandnoble.com is to amazon.com.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
As more and more Canadian writers choose to publish independently of the collapsing world of traditional publishers, or at least to re-release our now out-of-print books ourselves (often because the previous publisher is not interested in doing so), more and more of us are going to find ourselves in this bind. We are shooting ourselves in the foot not to work with amazon.com – there is no Canadian alternative that has the same power. The current government is not supportive of Canadian culture, and as artists we can no longer afford to subsidize the industry (from agents to publishers to booksellers). Which is why a lot of us are getting into the independent publishing business in the first place.
So I implore you, readers (who support Canadian writers better than the books industry does: we all know that!): If you are buying from Amazon, ALWAYS buy from amazon.com rather than amazon.ca The shipping rate is minimally different and the price on books in the U.S. is often better than it is here.
By doing this, you will make a HUGE difference to the bottom line for those of us out here in the Canadian wilderness (Toronto in my case) who are struggling to support our writing lives in any way we can.
P.S. Why am I blaming this on amazon.ca rather than amazon.com? Isn’t the usual knee-jerk reaction from Canadians supposed to be to blame the U.S. company? No. In this case, amazon.ca is attracting many many customers by pretending to be what it is not. It sports the same logo and gets traffic invited to re-directed itself to the Canadian site from the U.S. site by accessing our IP numbers when we’re on amazon.com, or however they do it. Canadian readers think they are buying “Canadian” rather than “U.S.” and are all too happy to go along with the suggestion to buy from amazon.ca instead of amazon.com. Customers receive no warning from amazon.ca that to purchase from amazon.ca rather than amazon.com will put even more Canadian authors in the poorhouse than are here with me right now. Which is why I am warning you myself.
P.S. #2 I can’t choose to exclude amazon.ca from my list of expanded distribution outlets. I asked. Either I’m in or I’m out, and if I’m out I am out for Barnes and Noble, Ingram, Baker and Taylor, the independent bookseller still standing in your city, and all those other outlets. In fact, I paid Amazon $25 (per book) for the privilege of having expanded distribution. Wonder how many books I need to sell to pay that off?
Update notice: This post has been revised to correct the cost to authors of purchasing expanded distribution from amazon.com to $25. The previous version said the cost was $50. Here is detailed information on the distribution options offered by CreateSpace.)
* (and other retailers as well)