Monday, November 17, 2008

iUniverse Gives Amazon a Sweet Deal: Where is Robin Hood for Authors?

You may remember I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the lack of sales information from iUniverse. Well, today the sales reporting software worked, and I just about choked on my hot chocolate. I called up iUniverse to see if I'd misread the figures, but nope, they were right.

To backtrack a bit, so you'll have some context: awhile ago Amazon decided to improve its own business performance and that of BookSurge, a print-on-demand printer it owns, by demanding that companies like iUniverse use BookSurge only to print all books sold through Amazon and, as well, that they reduce the wholesale price for Amazon. The story is long, the authors massively pissed, some companies outraged, refusing to be bullied. But not so for iUniverse. Actually, I didn't know what precisely iUniverse's response was to being bullied. AuthorHouse, which bought or merged with iUniverse, issued a statement back in April, and that was the sum total of iUniverse's communications with their authors. At the time, it sounded like so much nothing wrapped up in words, and I got caught up in other, more immediate problems and forgot about it. I would have expected AuthorHouse/iUniverse to muscle up with other POD publishers, but apparently not only is communication with authors tough for them, but also working with their rivals in order to defeat a bigger enemy is as well. Reading their words now, after at last seeing my monthly sales history, I realise they essentially said, "We negotiated alone, and we caved to Amazon's demands."
"We do not believe that it is ever in your interest to limit choice."
In other words, "we did what we thought we had to in order to continue selling your book on Amazon."

Whatever. When I saw how little I'd earned on a six-book Amazon sale, my
eyebrows rose. I compared the September sales history to old royalty
statements. I frowned. I calculated the per book income from Amazon
versus from Ingrams or iUniverse itself. I gasped. And then I picked up
the phone. The unfortunate who answered never hung up or ended the
call, never pushed back, well, maybe once, politely. When I vented to the suffering associate that perhaps iUniverse's software snafu conveniently hid the full extent of their capitulation until things had calmed down, he replied that I was being a bit extreme. Maybe. I noted that they neglected to inform authors of the downward change in Amazon sales income, neatly avoiding a massive backflash from authors. Still, why would they keep silent on a 27 percent decrease in income from Amazon? Surely they'd expect the pig waste to hit the fan when authors started reading their royalty statements? Or perhaps they were counting on the notoriously bad business sense and lack of math skills of the stererotypical author?

Ultimately the associate could do nothing about it. And as I told him, I'd learnt that one needed exceptional persistence to reach and to get anywhere with management, so I wasn't going to bother. I'd just blog about it.

OK, he said. (Like that would make any diff.)

So here I am blogging, the equivalent of yelling into a moving tornado, telling you how iUniverse now sells my book to Amazon at 47% of the cover price, while they continue to sell it to distributors and other retailers at 64% of the cover price, wondering if that will make any difference to where you shop for books. Amazon's sweet deal means that although my royalty percentage remains constant, I receive less in absolute dollars from Amazon sales.

This tactic is how Amazon has increased its annual revenues by $4 billion from 2006 to 2007 and continues to increase it this year: on the backs of authors like me. While this booming company now saves itself $2.85 each time it buys a copy of my book -- giving itself wiggle room if they want to sell it for less than the competition, but in reality having increased its profit margin by that amount as you, its customer, does not see that discount --  it has robbed me of 57 cents per book. And I got zippo say in this drop.

The guy on the phone tried to mollify me by saying that the figures on the monthly sales reports are not the final say and are subject to change on the quarterly royalty statement, whatever that means. Because let's face it, iUniverse isn't about to renegotiate its contract with Amazon back to the fairer deal or pay me what I had contracted with them to receive. This is the final straw for me. Ever since the buyout/merge with AuthorHouse, iUniverse has become noncommunicative and its specialty associates here today, gone tomorrow. And now this! I really cannot recommend iUniverse to any author musing about self-publishing nor will I use them for my next book. I will, in fact, actively recommend against AuthorHouse and iUniverse to anyone who is thinking about self-publishing. I am extremely disappointed in both iUniverse and Amazon. But as Kassia Krozser on Booksquare wrote, "Businesses are not nice, fuzzy creatures that cuddle with you in the dark of the night and believe in fairy tales." Not even when they're supposed to be your partner in publishing.

No comments: