I have been selling my books on Amazon since 2013. It always seemed to be the sensible choice. Get put on the largest online retailer, climb in the Amazon rankings, be seen on Amazon’s bestselling charts whenever there’s a spike in sales that quickly launches my books into shoppers’ sights. I sold on Amazon without question, because I saw no better options.
In May 2017, to help promote a new platform that branched off my books, Experience Daliona, I opened a Shopify store and began selling t-shirts. I also put my books on Shopify at a cheaper cost than I could sell them on Amazon. The tradeoff was the Shopify account wouldn’t be publicly seen if I had spikes in sales. But being someone who keeps a stock of books in the trunk of my car (literally) I decided Shopify would be a quick way to sell to buyers on the spot (particularly long-distance buyers, who could order and receive books in a matter of days, instead of the weeks it takes Amazon).
The royalties I received from Amazon were the standard royalties anyone selling books could expect: about 20% of the selling price. This seems, on the surface, like a good, steady deal. Every year since 2014, I’ve made a couple hundred dollars on Amazon. Gas money, but money nonetheless. Adding Shopify in 2017 didn’t really change that. I didn’t push potential readers to purchase on Shopify. I showed them links, and people usually bought from Amazon.
In December 2017, I suddenly sold a surge of books on Amazon: 48 copies in the span of two days! It was amazing!...until I looked at my royalty from those sales. They weren’t standard buyers, they were part of the “Expanded Distribution.” My royalties from the sale of 48 books ended up being less than $10 total. 11 copies of the third book in the series gave me a royalty of $2.53, and 37 copies of the first book in the series gave me a royalty of $7.03. What should easily have been a $100 paycheck ended up being 1/10th of that.
I felt robbed. I felt disgusted. I was incredibly disappointed. How could I have sold more copies online in two days than I generally did in an entire year of online sales, and make about the same as any given month? The economics of Expanded, and even Standard Distribution are clearly skewed against authors. No wonder making money as an author is difficult. We buy into this system and don’t question why we don’t make money. “That’s the life of an author,” we say, and everyone in the rooms nods sympathetically.
Then 2018 came. Until January 22, I didn’t sell a single book on Amazon. Then I sold one…and that was it. Combined with the obvious lost profits of December 2017, I was growing frustrated. Something wasn’t adding up. Selling books on Amazon wasn’t a model I wanted anymore. I rarely sell books on there, the royalties barely pay for a single coffee. I had more or less come to accept that’s how it goes, but this time, I knew I needed to try something different.
Selling products on Shopify had, in the past, proven profitable. Selling just two books a month more than paid for the $29 fee to keep the store running. Somehow, each month, I lucked out and sold two or three books or t-shirts. But it was only ever two or three…until January 25, 2018.
Like I mentioned above, I keep a stock of books in the trunk of my car. Literally. At any given time, I’ll have 15-20 copies. Every few weeks, I meet someone who’s interested and can make a sale right on the spot for several dollars cheaper than my books go for on Amazon. But being that I only pay $5 to $8 to manufacture a single book, selling them for $12 to $17 nets me a profit upwards of 5x the royalty I receive on Amazon. Selling on Shopify, customers pay for shipping, so it more or less equals out to the same, and as an addition, customers get signed copies AND bookmarks. A nice, unique deal compared to Amazon.
On January 25, I posted on social media sites that I was trying to get rid of my remaining stock of books. I outlined the prices I was selling the books for on Shopify, compared them to the Amazon prices and how much people would save over buying them on Amazon, plus the added enticement of autograph and bookmark. I sold seven copies, leaving only a couple copies left (obviously people wanted the first book in the series, and I ran out of those first).
Seven copies doesn’t sound like a lot, but to someone who doesn’t actively market, it was a gold mine, plus I saw how many people actually wanted to purchase my books. I received nearly 20 messages, but didn’t have enough of Book 1 to go around. Like I said, I was trying to dump my stock.
These seven copies garnered me $156 in the span of a couple hours. Take out the cost of manufacturing and shipping, I made a net profit of $102. I was able to sign and ship same day. Compare that to selling those seven copies on Amazon: I would have made $23, no autograph, no bookmark.
I believe this is a clear indication that authors who sell on Amazon are getting completely ripped off. We could be making 5x the money, but we don’t even know it, because we see Amazon as this grand promise of being a retail source. Imagine if I had sold those 48 copies via Shopify: I would have made, after shipping and manufacturing costs, $334, as compared to the measly $9.56 that I did.
People, this is nothing short of robbery. This should anger you. As authors, we are losing hundreds and thousands of dollars by selling on Amazon. Sure, you get the rankings. But those rankings aren’t permanent. They slide up in a matter of hours and suddenly you’re right back out of the picture. If you can drive traffic to your website and Shopify store, or talk directly to people and give them your business card, you will make exponentially more money than you ever will on Amazon.
I was a loyal Amazon author for 5 years. But after yesterday, I just can’t anymore. Today, January 26, 2018, I’m taking my books off of Amazon and online retailers and selling directly through my Shopify store and in-person. It will take just as much effort as driving people to Amazon. It is not only cheaper to the buyer (I sell my books in-person and on Shopify for $2-$3 cheaper than Amazon), but you, the author, reap 5x or more of the profits. That’s the economics of small business, and Shopify has provided me with a sustainable model that finally opened my eyes to the money I’ve been losing.
So thank you, Shopify. Although I’ve had a store and products for nearly a year, it wasn’t until yesterday that I truly realized the impact Shopify has, and the commercial robbery performed by Amazon. If you are actively selling on Shopify, the operation fee (for me, $29/month) is loose change compared to what you’ll make in sales. It truly is a sustainable, profitable model of business, and it’s the model and platform I will now fully embrace to sell my books.
You're absolutely right! It's 2018, nobody should be giving up their customers and the majority of their book profits to Amazon, or any other retailer for that matter. Shopify is an amazing platform for authors, but we've made it even better. Our app (Lulu xPress) handles all of the printing and shipping of your books for you...that's right, fully automated books sales and fulfillment! You only pay for the printing and shipping of your orders and you keep ALL of the profits. Best of all, you retain your customer data, not us, or Amazon, so you can build your contact base for future marketing efforts. If you decide to give it another chance (selling books), check out our app. Please don't hesitate to contact us with any questions.
I know about Lulu xPress but is there any other app (printing company) similar to Lulu that has integration with Shopify? My problem is that I am preparing a planner and need some things that Lulu xPress can't provide (bookmark, stamp on the cover, etc).
Or even if that company doesn't have integration (App) and I would need to place orders manually I can handle that but it's important that they have white labeling -- only my branding on the packages.