To Host or Not to Host?

Josie Leavitt -- April 3rd, 2014

We were recently approached by an author wanting to do an event with us for his Vermont history book. Local authors are lovely and they should be supported, but how to do to that when their book is published by Amazon?┬áThe book was published by CreateSpace, which is Amazon’s independent publishing arm. This was the first time I’ve been speechless at the store. I punted bydragon

The more I thought about this the angrier I got. I know the author wasn’t thinking about the larger picture. He was understandably proud of his book and wanted to set up as many events as possible. I just couldn’t say yes right away. I left word with Elizabeth about it and she wondered if we could get the books on consignment from the author. This at least saves us from ordering directly from Amazon. Then I posted on the NECBA listserv to get advice from other booksellers.

Elizabeth’s point is an excellent one and one that was echoed by other booksellers. Getting the books directly from a local author is probably the best thing to do. Several colleagues responded privately that it was galling to be asked by authors to provide the one thing Amazon cannot: a connection with real people. Authors smartly know that events are a great way to reach people. And while Amazon is great at suggesting other titles you might like, they can’t compete with a one-on-one connection borne out of people being in the same room talking about books.

I am still struggling with this. I know Amazon doesn’t really care about my little store, but increasingly, I’m forced to try and compete with them on price on a weekly, if not daily basis. It is easy to characterize Amazon as the big bad monster, but when an actual Vermonter comes in with his book, it’s hard to say no. So, with a small dose of education about why shopping locally is not important, it’s vital, I will likely host this event.

Booksellers and authors: what are your thoughts on events with Amazon-published authors?

10 thoughts on “To Host or Not to Host?

  1. Sara

    My indie bookstore does host authors who publish via Createspace, but I wish we didn’t. The books we have to buy for their events don’t sell well and the events aren’t well attended (not well enough to justify the work put into them, in my opinion). Couple that with the fact that to stock the books we are paying Amazon – no thanks! Plus, those authors NEVER shop in our store, only ask to do events. I’m not saying this is the case for all Createspace authors, but has been for every one I’ve worked with.

  2. Ellen Mager

    Josie, There is another group that really needs to be considered in this equation. What about the authors and illustrators who published with Marshall Cavendish which has since been swallowed up by Amazon? I remember illustrator Lee Harper calling me when the announcement came out and asking, “Will any independent booksellers carry my MC books again? I am so grateful to Lee, Eric Kimmel, Will Hillenbrand, Deborah Heiligman and Ponder Goembel and the late Steven Kroll, for the support that they have given my store by visits to my store and too my schools. Add that they were edited by Margery Cuyler so you know they are quality books, I can not in good conscience not buy these titles from Brillance/Amazon. I have not added other titles, other than the few left that were contracted by MC and are now coming out. I know that some store won’t allow for these books and that certainly is their right, but I can not do this to these friends of mine and of my store.

  3. Carin Siegfried

    Authors do need to consider this. They need to educate themselves better about this industry. There are many other companies like IngramSpark and Lulu that work just like CreateSpace without ticking off bookstore owners? A couple of questions I’d ask: is this author a regular customer (if not from nearby, does he frequent another indie?) Does he only have an Amazon button on his website?

  4. Theresa M. Moore

    You are considering choosing between the author and Amazon. I don’t see any reason why you should connect them. It’s the author who wants to do the signing, not Amazon. If the book was published by the author through CreateSpace, that is not the same as hosting a book published by Amazon. I know you want to avoid Amazon at all costs, but consider that it is not technically an Amazon book. After all, Amazon did not write it. And I don’t think it is fair to the customer of your store to censor books on that basis alone. If the customer wants this author’s book you should sell it. The issue of avoiding any activity just because Amazon is mentioned has become much too untenable for you to begin picking and choosing among the author’s choice of printing service or what books you want to sell.

    1. Josie Leavitt

      It’s a far larger issue than who wrote the book. Buying a book that is published by Amazon, a company whose business model is predatory at best towards independent bookstores, is like getting in bed with the enemy. And I am choosing between the author and his/her publisher because they are linked. There are hundreds of ways to self publish books that do not contribute to the bottom line of the company who would like see all bricks and mortar stores close.

      So, really, it’s up to authors to consider who they want to publish with and how they hope to work with indies, because if they want a relationship with a store that can host events, promote their books, etc, then should self-publish with someone else.

  5. Carol Buchanan

    Hi,
    This comment is for both you and other indie booksellers who labor under the same misapprehension regarding independent authors who self-publish through CreateSpace, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Amazon.com.
    1. Books like your local author’s and mine are not “published by Amazon” when we have them printed by CreateSpace. CreateSpace is not a publisher; it is a printer/distributor. The book’s publisher is your local author, not CreateSpace and definitely not Amazon.
    2. We CreateSpace authors pay for our books to be printed and distributed by CreateSpace. Some authors pay for design services and marketing services as well as printing and distribution. Some pay nothing up front. In that case, the book’s sales are split into thirds, approximately. The author gets 1/3; CS gets about 1/3; and Amazon gets 1/3. That is not a rip-off, because the books are POD, and both businesses have to recoup their costs. Like you, they have to pay employees, keep the lights on, and provide benefits. Amazon earns its cut from maintaining and developing the website, so that all my books sold through them are delivered promptly when ordered, even though they do not actually exist at the time of the sale. (POD again.)
    3. You can set up your own direct reseller account with CreateSpace just as you do with other distributors. My indie bookseller customers do precisely that. Or they order from me, and I give them the standard bookstore discount of 40% off the retail price that I have set.
    4. If your local author clicked a few simple buttons on the CreateSpace website, s/he would have selected “Expanded Distribution” channels. This option, provided free to us, enables our books to be listed with Baker & Taylor, Ingram, etc. You could then order from your regular wholesaler at the rates you’re accustomed to. We get about 5% – 10% when you do that, but we also get more readers and you make sales. To me that’s a win-win.
    My bookstore customers who order that way often have several other titles they can put into one invoice and pay one bill to their distributor. It’s very convenient.
    I’d recommend that you share this information with your local author, who may not have known about any of this. Many don’t, and that’s unfortunate because author and bookseller both can miss out on new customers.

    Carol Buchanan, PhD
    Author, The Vigilante Quartet
    Winner of a 2009 Spur from Western Writers of America

    1. Melissa Posten

      CreateSpace IS Amazon. Amazon acquired them in 2005. So yes, Amazon is your publisher. (Or your printer/distributor, if you insist.) It’s like saying “I didn’t buy those shoes from Amazon, I bought them from Zappos!” Amazon owns Zappos. If you publish with a wholly-owned subsidiary of Amazon, you are publishing with Amazon. That’s what “wholly-owned” means.

      So 2/3rds of the money goes right to Amazon. Every CreateSpace book that an indie bookstore purchases gives money to Amazon, I don’t care where it comes from. Every single book gives profits to Amazon. You say 1/3rd goes to CS? It’s still Amazon.

      The only way I would do this event is if the author was a longtime customer and friend of the store. I tend to find, though, that indie authors never set foot in their local indie bookstore unless it’s to ask for their book to be carried there or for the store to throw them an event. (I find the same thing with people looking for donations for school auctions and such, but that’s not this thread.)

  6. Kate

    I think I would say no, as gently as possible. Are you going to make money from the sale of these books? No? Then why are you marketing this author? You will spend time and effort for this venture, yes? What happens when three more Createspace authors come in and ask for the same deal?

    If you can determine how to DIRECTLY benefit the store, such as a commission on sales, then OK. Otherwise, sorry.

  7. Leigh Purtill

    Very thoughtful and a very challenging situation. Please consider the local author, rather than Amazon. That local author will bring in local business and will likely promote you as well. More events that expose your store to more customers can only be a benefit to you. Not to mention this author probably approached you because he likes your store and has patronized it in the past (certainly he will in the future!).

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