Who’s got the writer’s money? Amazon’s got the writer’s money.

(Since this article was written, Amazon has changed the way it makes payments of royalties. The new system is a vast improvement on the one described below. However, the discrepancy in the way royalties are calculated by region — see below — remains the same.)

Amazon claims to offer push-button publishing and loadsa-dosh royalties for independent publishers and DIY authors. But as ever with Amazon, the reality may not match the hype.

A pile of books by Chris Page

Books.

Shall I bite the hand that distributes me — again?

Amazon offers fantastic royalties to independent publishers like me. Or so they like to tell everyone. These fat royalties, their story goes, is one of the attractions of doing it yourself. Publish at the touch of a button, cut out the traditional publishers and middle men, sell through the world’s biggest outlet and see the money flood in.

The reality — big surprise coming here; you might want to sit down, lie down, or dig yourself a nice comfy hole — is very different.

Yes, royalties are very good if you sell your books in the US or Canada. Great, in fact. Thirty-five per cent great, or thereabouts.

If you sell your books anywhere else, the returns are laughably crap. Less than 10 per cent crap. And when you’ve squeezed the price of your book down to minimum, that’s 10 per cent of not a helluva lot in the first place.

Guess where I sell most of my books — yeah, anywhere other than North America.

Why the difference in pay?

Well, it has to do with greed. Amazon calls it sales channels, but we’re not fooled. You see, Amazon in America is the real company, and the regional Amazons are nominally different companies and customers of Amazon US. So, when it comes to self-published books, all the Amazons around the world are buying from Amazon US and selling on as separate retailers. Geddit? Me neither.

So piddling are the returns on my non-US sales that I thought Amazon was failing to credit me.  It took some quizzing and careful auditing with an electron microscope to convince me that, yes, despite the hollow echoing noise in my account, Amazon were actually crediting me with books sold.

And it gets worse. Amazon does not combine international sales into one account; for payment purposes they keep the regions separate. I have to pass thresholds in each of the currencies my books are sold in because they won’t add European, Japanese and US sales together.

In other words, I have to vault through financial hoops in both dollars and euros before I see a yen.

Such are the thresholds, I haven’t received a single penny from sales yet.

Not a bean. Nothing. I’m not telling how many books I’ve shifted but it’s more than the nothing I’ve received in payment.

Amazon has the money I made for the books I wrote. The dosh is sitting in Amazon’s account, with all the spondulicks of other people like me, earning Amazon interest and contributing nothing to the writers. And that’s that.

In fact, in order to see any money on non-American sales, I have to attain best-seller status just to clear their bars.

Yes, to hit the reader over the head with a frying pan, Amazon is keeping for itself the income of hundreds of thousands of independent authors and publishers. We are, in effect, working for Amazon for nothing.

The author keeping a close eye on Amazon.

An author keeps a close eye on Amazon.

Fine business model if you can get away with it: get a lot of tenacious people high on literary ambition to stock your shelves for you, and just sit on the revenue. Fantastic!
This demands a question, and even from this comfy sofa in Nara, I can hear you asking it: why bother with Amazon? The answer to this question is a whole blog post of its own. Watch this space.

There are lots of reasons to feel scepticism about Amazon: their employment practices, their bullying of traditional outlets and publishers to name just two, their UK tax avoidance to name tens of millions more. Again, this is another blog post and one that will be along shortly.

Meanwhile, readers wishing to avoid the corporate megalith can buy direct from me if they wish. This may be of most interest to Japan-based readers, where Amazon has set the price of The Underpants Tree paperback too high. Buying direct from me, you get a slightly better price. Readers in other parts of the world will feel no monetary advantage because of the postage, but the option is there.

Feel free to continue to buy through Amazon. I am not proposing a boycott, and you will be helping my accrued royalties edge their way toward those distant thresholds.

To find out more about getting your own paperback copies of The Underpants Tree, King of the Undies World, Weed, or Un-Tall Tales, go to this page.

Well, Mr Amazon, maybe you got the money, but we got the measure of you.

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About chrispagefiction

Author of the novels Sanctioned, Weed, King of the Undies World, and The Underpants Tree; also the story collection Un-Tall Tales; editor, freelance writer and all that stuff. At heart he is a London person, but the rest of his body is a long-term exile in Osaka, Japan.
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