Big Fish, Little Fish

The latter’d be me, and I’ll necessarily be looking at other options if I self-publish in the future. What’s a tiny minnow to do: Amazon eats whales for lunch.

Lightningsource (LSI) is a subsidiary of Ingrams, one of if not the largest book distributor in North America. I know because they print Slow Road Home as needed for drop shipments (got a couple of boxes going to Mabry Mill and such places soon) AND perhaps more importantly for the little guys like me, printing through LSI gains the independent author access to Amazon for purchase. So here’s the situation as of the end of March:

By now, you have probably read about the campaign launched against Lightning Source by Amazon and its print-on-demand company, BookSurge. Lightning customers are being threatened with Amazon no longer accepting direct orders of their POD books, leaving the books available only from outside sellers on Amazon’s Marketplace.

Since February, a number of author services companies (“self publishing companies”) and some larger POD publishers have been approached by BookSurge, telling them they can move their books to BookSurge to avoid having their “buy buttons” disappear. (Amazon Advantage and Amazon’s new Lulu competitor, CreateSpace, seem to be two other recourses for salvation.) One large author services company, PublishAmerica, has already refused BookSurge’s offer and seen its buttons vanish.

I’d be more upset if I had been making much money via Amazon sales. (I’m 90th in Books > Entertainment > Humor > Rural Life–the category for which Kingsolver’s Animal Vegetable Mneral is #1)

I sold 300 books that way last year and had about 50 returns (which eats huge holes in tiny profits) and netted a few hundred bucks. Amazon for me is just a way for me to hand my book to someone I never meet. I have generated far more income from the book through the direct sales (sign it, hand it to the reader) of the first thousand offset-printed books or the ones I order directly from LSI.

However…I’m on the verge of moving back toward the notion of self-publishing “Bridging the Nature Gap” and man, this makes it hard to know which team to root for and where to put my egg money. If you or someone you know is in the same boat, check out this significant developing story in the world of self-publication.

And am I the only one that gets a bad taste in my mouth from Amazon’s ham-fisted style of business? Makes me want to spit. But hey, they are top carnivore. We’re bait fish. What do they care?

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. My morning dose of Wendell Berry (in Home Economics, “A Good Farmer of the Old School”) seems relevant here.

    “The conventional farmer,” he says, “is too often the prisoner of his own technology and methods …” (that is, buying all the latest “labor saving” gizmos that wind up making the farmer work twice as hard to pay for them). The good farmer of the old school, on the other hand, is “in the business of making sense — making sense, that is, for himself, not for the oil, chemical, and equipment companies.” Ultimately “making sense”, he says, means not trying to produce beyond our means, because when we do, we become enslaved to the “help” of whale-eaters (big publishers for you, law school for me?). The farmer that stays within his means stays in control — a producer (of books, or better yet, of writing) rather than a consumer (of Yahoo “help.”)
    The good farmer “is farming well and earning a living by it in a time when many farmers are farming poorly and making money for everybody but themselves.”

  2. So Fred – what if you published like community supported agriculture? I would buy 20 books from you – a real offer.

    What if 100 of your friends did this? That’s mmm 2,000 copies – that’s quite a lot of books and gives you a base.

    Now part of the price that I ask of my friends who get a gift is that they have access to the Fred book Club discussion site – where we talk about the book and about what it means to us.

    Say 30 people are active here? Now the book has become a Social Object and will have a presence on the web.

    The site has a simple button where new people can buy it and they can join too.

    Might this go on the to sell many more books and you have control and your first print run is paid for as is your marketing????