When I make paperback versions of my books available, I do so through Lightning Source, which makes them available to booksellers everywhere. You can walk into just about any bookseller in the US and order any of my books … if you know the name/ISBN. It won’t, generally, be on the shelf. As far as I know, only my zombie book, Cheating, Death, has ever graced the shelves of a bookstore – a horror bookstore in Wylie, TX. (If you live near there and read horror, you should totally check them out!) But you could order any of them. If it were your bookstore, you could have them on your shelves.
Now, there are two important things that small press / independent publishers need to do to get their books on bookstore shelves. One is marketing – contacting book buyers at all the book stores you want your book in, and convincing them to stock the book. This is, strangely, where most big publishers believe their sales end; they see the customer for their books as the book stores, not the readers. So a lot of effort and expense goes into getting book buyers for the big chains (and the indie book stores) to buy/carry publishers’ new books. Frankly I can’t afford to compete in that marketplace, even if I didn’t have an aversion to traditional marketing & sales.
The other thing publishers need to do is get their discount right (and for their books to be returnable, which mine are). The discount is the percent off the cover price wholesale buyers (bookstores) have to pay. Lightning Source allows me to set my discount just about anywhere I want, down to 20%. The recommended discount, the industry standard discount (a ridiculous number, if you ask me), is 55%. I’ve read that the big chains (Borders, Barnes & Noble) won’t even consider a book if the discount is lower than 50%; like, theoretically they won’t display it to their employees as even being orderable if the discount is too low. This is because the discount is where the bookseller makes their money. If the cover price of a paperback is $13.99 and the discount is 55%, the bookseller can make up to $7.69 by selling you that book. If they want to sell it to you for 20% off, they still make ~$4.90. On the other hand, with my latest book at $13.99, with a 50% discount, I only make $3.47 per copy sold (after printing cost), and the bookseller can make up to $6.99. In a world where the bookseller does most of the work of finding new readers, their making twice as much per copy as the publisher might make sense.
So… I’ve been setting my books’ discounts at 50%. Until today. (-ish… The changes won’t trickle through to all booksellers’ systems for “up to 45 days”) Today I changed the discount rate on all my “backlist” books to 20%, where “backlist” means it’s been in print for more than a year. Sales of these books, right now, are at a trickle. As far as I know, no one is walking into their local Borders and asking to order a book I put out 3 years ago; they’re going to Amazon.com or bn.com or such to order online. Or they’re buying the eBook for their kindle/iPad/nook/whatever. So… my sources lead me to believe that most/all online book stores will continue to carry (if not discount from list price) my paper books, even at a 20% discount. Because I’d sure like that trickle of book sales to be able to cover the cost of keeping them in print, which, luckily, is only $12/year/title.
What does a “short” 20% discount do to my share of a sale? For Forget What You Can’t Remember, another $13.99 title, my share (after printing) goes from $2.25 @ 50% discount to $6.44 @ 20% discount. Amazon, which doesn’t currently discount that title at all, will see their cut of each sale go from $6.99 to $2.80. My after-printing cut on More Lost Memories, goes from $3.05 to $6.94 per copy, while a bookseller will see their cut drop from $6.49 to $2.60. I’ve set up similar pricing across my other titles. (Except for the Untrue Tales… Book One, Book Two, and Book Three combined edition, at 416pp and priced at 24.99. My cut after printing at 50% was $6.19 (about the income of 2 books), and at a 20% discount will be $13.68. The bookseller’s cut will go from $12.49 to $5.00.) What this does is… it means I only need to sell two copies of each book per year to “profitably” keep them in print forever, instead of 4+ copies.
What it doesn’t do is change bookstores’ intentions of carrying my backlist books; except for “classics” and ongoing bestsellers, bookstores typically don’t carry any book for more than a couple of months after its release (and my new books will remain at a 50% discount). Alternatively, Amazon carries books as long as they’re available and -unless I’ve been seriously misinformed- will gladly carry books that are priced with a short discount of 20%. If my books start disappearing from online stores next month, maybe I’ll consider changing it back… but I think this will work out fine. Because the people paying for my books are, theoretically, doing so because they want to support my work financially (otherwise they’d just take one of the free versions), changes like this and like offering my signed copies for $25 apiece seem to make sense to me. Do they make sense to you?