Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Createspace and Bookstores

Thanks New Yorker - it says it all.

I stopped in a bookstore over the weekend and discussed, with one of its knowledgeable associates, the chances of my books being carried on their shelves. He referred me to the owner, but did caution that they do not carry books sold through Createspace. I asked why, “Distribution issues.” Where have we self-publishers heard that? I won’t mention the store’s name but it is a wonderful bookstore, well-populated with the latest thrillers and mysteries and has a stellar reputation in its region. Every large city has at least one of these and my guess is all are holding on by the thinnest of margins and broken fingernails.

A bookstore is a business, first and foremost. It relies on that small bit of black ink at the end of the month to keep its doors open and by that promise to its patrons, keep open its doors to us scribblers and story tellers. They are the real meeting ground between readers and writers. Great bookstores are like churches, sacred and honored places. But I often feel like a penitent when I try to sell my wares. I enter hat and hand, holding out my work, praying for a kind word, maybe a hope, maybe three inches, nay even two, on their shelves. "No sir, you are wanting. We do not do Createspace here." I turn, crestfallen and confused; was I sold a bill of goods?

Createspace offers for a nominal fee of $25, their expanded distribution program. Actually quite a bargain if you ask me. It says that my books will be available through Ingram and NACSCORP, and even through Barnes and Noble. It will also be available to libraries and academic institutions through the distributor, Baker & Taylor. I am not sure in their “lawyer speak” what they mean by “online and offline retailers”, while they note that my book may be discoverable (discoverability – their words, ouch) to retailers, bookstores libraries and distributors (?). Does it mean when a bookstore orders hundreds of Connelly's latest through Ingram, mine will pop-up in the catalog? Not sure. But there is an obvious resistance on the part of the bookstore owner to self-publishers.

If there is one paramount thing I have found in conversations with bookstore owners is their need to cover costs. Their margins are so thin that having an extra person hanging around the payroll helping self-publishers pile their books on tables and then dealing with the remainders and leftovers, is well, too costly. I totally understand, that’s the reason why self-publishers have turned to the ebook and the online electronic retailers. Cost and distribution issues, ebooks have minimal cost and a huge audience. But we still want to see our work sitting on the same tables as John Gresham, Michael Connelly, Nelson DeMille, and old Clive Cussler. It’s even better than your college professor saying she liked your new book. Validation, we live for it.

I’ve been with Creatspace less than four months; it’s a dramatic turn and improvement from my old way of dealing with print on demand. Createspace’s product is better and more cost effective; it is consistent and very transparent with the author's online dashboard and the flow through from ordering online through Amazon. Wait a minute; AMAZON. I think I see something here.

If there is one Attila the Hun laying waste to the literary bookshelves of America it is Amazon. With their mighty army they have not-so-quietly aided and abetted the loss of numerous independent and chain bookstores, while giving the public affordability and availability. Some bookstores have survived and are even better for it (it’s what good management can do), but Amazon is aggressively competitive and have allied with many of the big publishing houses to undercut the competition. They are the black storm cloud hanging out on the edge of town, the independent bookstore’s town.

It’s my guess the rejection of my books has more to do with macro-economics and distribution channels, international socio-demographics and algorithms, at least that’s what I’ll tell myself tonight over a stiff drink.

More Later . . . . . .


  1. Question from the ignorant seats, but...
    From my understanding, you only get like 50 cents or something a title when a novel is sold through the expanded distribution. Why not buy 50 copies, at about 6 bucks a shot including shipping, and then sell them for 12 bucks, splitting the cost 50/50 with the bookstore?

  2. Bookstores cannot make enough money from print-on-demand books. The unit cost of POD production is too high for POD printers/publishers/authors to offer the 55+% discount on retail price that bookstores need to make a profit on the sale. Bookstore sales are based on the traditional publishing model where publishers print a large run of books in advance, thus reducing the unit production price and enabling them, as well as the bookstore to make a profit. Trad publishers also trade with bookstores (through wholesalers like Ingram, B&N etc) on a sale or return/destroy basis. If a bookstore doesn't sell a book, they can destroy or return it at no cost to themselves. POD publishers/printers rarely offer this (who is going to pay for the unsold/destroyed printed copy?) so bookstores won't take the risk of trading with them, unless a customer specifically orders in a copy of the book.

  3. Hi,

    Thanks for sharing your experience as a self-publisher! It definitely helps us newbies. Sorry to hear that there are limitation on distributions based on the program you used. Though is it possbible to publigh your book again using Smashwords? I was thinking why not publish your book on smashwords and createspace to widen the net?

  4. To Lucy and the Reporter - thanks for the comments, All my books are at Smashwords and Amazon and Createspace. Createspace is the only POD amongst the three. Smashwords is great and has pushed the books to Kobo, B&N, and iTunes - all for the good. And all competitive with bookstores. What is interesting is that many independent bookstore are now portals for ebooks themselves through one of these companies, and I hope they get a few pennies for each download.