Monday, 2 June 2014

The Frustrations of Being an Independent Publisher or Why Amazon is Actually Saving Independent Publishing

I have read a heck of a lot of posts talking about the evil entity that is Amazon and how Amazon is destroying publishing. From my perspective this couldn't be further from the truth. Sure Amazon has been allowed to gain a strong foothold on publishing. I choose my words carefully - it has been allowed - allowed by publishers and authors. 

Many authors and independent publishers have no issue with this, having suffered at the hands of traditional routes to market via high st retail outlets for longer than they care to remember. Everyday is a battle trying to convince book buyers to have a look at their titles. Knowing that it is pretty much a futile effort on their behalf. A cursory glance if we're lucky followed by a quick dismissal as buyers return to the 'sanctity' and 'safety' of the lager publishers. So, what are buyers afraid of risking by investing in small businesses in Britain - by this I mean small independent publishers. The answer is pretty much nothing. Let me explain.

 All books 'bought' (and I use that term very loosely) by buyers are actually 'bought' on sale or return. Meaning that if after a designated period the books have not sold, they are returned to the publisher and any monies exchanged are promptly returned to the retailer in exchange for the books. So, no risk for the retail outlet. Now let's look at why they prefer dealing with larger publishers - yes, they have larger marketing budgets so there is more likelihood that there will have been some exposure  to the title from the consumers point of view...possibly. But here's the kicker - they run extraordinarily large runs of books. On the sale or return method (or no risk of exposure to the retailer method as I like to call it) the retailer can 'buy' thousands of copies of a single title and flood the stores with them - it's great for turnover for two reason.

1: The publisher is likely to pay for prime locations in the store to actually enhance selling more copies (Don't believe the charts or the hype. It's all about how deep a publisher's pockets are)
2: The retailer can return every unsold copy sometimes within weeks of publication to the publisher and claw back every single penny - sometimes they don't even have to display the books - let's face it, who can check every single store, right?. The large publisher gets a little cash boots to quickly invest and earn some interest off before the books are returned to them. i.e you scratch my back...

With buyer's reducing range of indie books in store it is becoming increasingly difficult and frustrating for independent publishers to get vital book events to promote books even at a local level. A certain high street store invariably hides behind an array of excuses when trying to decline a book signing or launch event in store. Managers up and down the country seem at odds as to what excuse they can use not to engage with independent publishers. Usually this terminates with a veiled response ending at the MD's door.    

Here is a couple of corkers I have been told over the past year:

"Oh, you need to guarantee 80 sales on the day to make it worthwhile" To which I challenged them to name any single book which had sold 80 copies in a day in the past 6 months. Silence pursued.

"In line with our new stricter author event guidelines, I must consider whether her books are suitable for our market and will actively sell off the shelf, and unfortunately our sales don't reflect this." To which I responded, If your buyers aren't buying the book and placing them in-store how can they sell? Silence pursued.

There is much wrong with publishing and book retail in general - don't get me started on publishers selling off their over large runs at ridiculously cheap prices to supermarkets and remainder stores. These are usually the remainders sent back from the high street stores - but when there is an absolute stranglehold on buyers by the big five publishers it is difficult for independent publishers who scrape a living through Amazon to have much sympathy for their plight when they complain about an uneven playing ground. If you want an uneven playing ground try wearing the shoes of an independent publisher for a day.