Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Dreams For Sale

This is the article more POD authors will want to read more than any other on this site. The key word is want. There have been far more significant articles posted here, but this is the guilty pleasure most of you seek. You want to know the details about the sales figures of your books, and this is the straight poop, at least to the best of my knowledge of the subject. I may cover familiar ground here from past articles I have written, as well as details posted elsewhere by other authors. There will be many links to follow in order to get the complete story. If a link sends you to all too familiar territory, just return to this page and continue. Surely there will be something new for every one of you dreamers and schemers here.

Back in the previous millennium, iUniverse had an online sales and royalty reporting system. By the time my first book was released in the last days of December, 2000, the iU page of sales reporting was nothing but history. The management repeatedly promised that they were developing a newer, more sophisticated version, and several years later, it actually appeared. If you have already released your first iU book, you can currently access that page. The system is probably better than that of any other POD publisher. It may not be as fast-acting as the headache relief you would prefer, but I have little doubt as to its accuracy. Let me define little. You may have noticed on the Sales Activity page that most of the important retailers show a first of the month sales date, but you know your books were not sold on that date. Face the fact that that date is many weeks old. B&N sells a copy of your book, but they don't actually pay for it until many weeks later, and then they don't actually report that sale to iU until weeks after that date. It's not cheating; it's just corporate bill paying taken to an absurd art form. A good example of this phenomenon is that I received a sales ranking number for one of my books at B&N online a couple of months ago. I have no idea how long after the sale I noticed the number change because my membership has expired in the Check Every Day POD Author Sales Club. This is actually one of the reasons you should monitor your sales rankings daily. Since I don't know exactly when this particular ranking blip occurred, I have less accurate information on which to base my opinion on this issue right now. The point is that B&N has seemingly had time to post that sale to iU showing the infamous, old as a bag of warts, sale date of the first of the past month. Let's not forget that B&N still owes me for the local book signing I did many months ago, so all this foot-dragging should not be a shocking revelation. The point is that B&N has seemingly already had enough time to report this sale to iU. The question is whether or not the company has lost one of my little royalties, or are they just setting a new record in late bill-paying? I strongly lean toward the latter answer. This is what I meant by little. We all live with these nagging little doubts, but my final opinion is that neither B&N nor iUniverse is trying to cheat me out of $2.30!

Back in that past millennium, iUniverse also hosted an author message board. As you might imagine, questions of sales and royalties were the most persistent of issues discussed by the authors, but not by iU personnel. Believe it or not, it took me years to fully realize how completely iU does not now, and never has, given an author's leaky fountain pen about the sales performance of their authors. They make their money almost solely off the authors themselves. As naive as I once was, this came as a somewhat shocking revelation to me. The more copies of a particular title they sell, the more money they make. What could possibly be the flaw in that business model? It isn't a flaw: it's a dirty little secret. We'll come back to this issue later in this article. First we have to follow the track of the iU message board.

The short version is that iU wanted to visit bear country in a salmon suit more than it wanted to discuss POD book sales, which might have allowed its dirty little secret to escape from its dark closet into the open minds of the iU authors. Authors pounded the iU message board with questions. When was the new royalty page going to be published? Why did it take so long to show the sales and pay the royalties? Why did the sales and royalties always seem to be so shockingly low? One author and another would post the secret Ingram sales line phone number on the board, and iU personnel would remove it as fast as it appeared. Whenever someone asked politely why they could not phone Ingram, there was always some WMD, the terrorists will just follow us here, sort of nonsense reply from iU. The company's official response was that the Ingram, non-toll-free number was supposed to be for publishers, not authors. That may have been true in 1997, but iU opened the door and let the dogs out. We just did the barking! You can keep several thousand new authors a year quiet for only so long. The management, tired of deleting the secret number and inquisitive authors' messages, finally pulled the plug on the iU message board.

Now it's time for a little side trip to hell, where we meet the infamous Lord Satan, aka Solomon Tulbure. This author from the pioneering days of iU and POD history was like Ralph Nader, Al Sharpton, Bill O'Reilly, Michael Moore, a bad suit, a telemarketer, an insurance salesman, a case of the trots, a plague of locusts, and a bat out of hell, all rolled into one big mouth at a computer keyboard. Everything about this POD author is an anacrhonism, an oxymoron, a scam, a sham, and an imposter! He was reviled by practically everyone from his readers to his publishers to his many spamees. Lord Satan is no longer with us. According to him, he was murdered, assassinated for his religious beliefs. According to everyone else, he was a nut and a pain in the butt. No matter what your opinion of the deceased may be, if you have followed his POD adventures as I have, you have to call him a pioneer for all of us. He called iU's bluff long before any of the rest of us. He understood what really sells POD books by unknown authors, and it ain't compositional or editing quality. You could call him, in the vernacular of this blog, the first successful cheater who chose to share his secrets rather than quietly benefit from them. Practically all the other cheaters live in the land of denial with Larry Craig. They don't want to face the truth, and they certainly don't want you to know about it. Lord Satan was a con artist who broke all the rules, and without my close scrutiny of his activities at the time, I may have never learned all that I have learned about the secret world of Print On Demand Publishing. Solomon Tulbure was a young punk who knew then about as much as I know now about computers and publishing and marketing on the internet. He was one of the first authors to discover the dirty little secret of POD publishing, and no matter how much whining denigration of his methodology we read, we all owe him at least a little respect.

How about a little corporate poop? iUniverse was not the very first of the new generation of POD publishers, but iU grew rapidly into the #1 spot in its early history by buying other small publishing companies. B&N has owned variously large and small segments of iUniverse at different points in time. In earlier days, the B&N website was a separate corporate entity from the B&N store chain. If you shopped on the net back then, you may remember how much more efficient the website was when it was run entirely by nerds. When the B&N store chain took the reins a few years ago, the online operation went to hell. This issue has plenty to do with where you should buy your POD books, but nothing to do with getting your POD books onto B&N store shelves, which has always been the elusive fantasy of iU authors. None of the corporate entities has ever officially lied about this issue, but they haven't actively popped the bubble of the fantasy, either. If you want to see your iU book in a B&N store, you may have to wait for the cows to come home. On the other hand, as you can see from this link on my site, my books have always been stocked by a local store in Austin TX, and that store is owned by B&N! You have to get out there and beat your own bushes. Hell will freeze over and Lord Satan himself will arise from the grave and read your book aloud in The Rose Garden before B&N will put it into their store ordering system for on-the-shelf stock in their national store chain! Just get over it, already.

Most iUniverse books are printed at Ingram within a warehouse in suburban Nashville. Lightning Source is just a part of Ingram. Sometimes your iU book will be printed at some location other than Nashville. I don't think there are any rules about this. I think they just print it wherever it is most convenient at the time, according to how booked up the POD printing machines are or the location where the printed copy of the book is going. I cannot tell you how accurate or up to date the stated Ingram numbers are that you hear spilled out from the phone line. I can tell you that, at the very least, the great majority of iUniverse books sold to individual buyers are printed by Lightning, sold at the wholesale level through Ingram, and sold at the retail level by Amazon. The numbers sold by all the other retailers combined amounts to a very small hill of beans.

Let's visit the bean hill, shall we? The big gonzo bean is, of course, B&N online. I bet they sell 80% of the iU books not sold by Amazon. There are a bunch of others, though. Most of the others know absolutely nothing about your book. They don't have one; they have never seen one; and even if you ordered one from them, they still would never own or see a copy of it. These small retailers are nothing more than a computer server. They have no warehouse and they have no inventory. The only ones with warehouses and actual inventory are Amazon and B&N. This is most likely the truth, no matter what it looks like on your computer monitor. There are many websites that will connect you to this multitude of little beans. Some are included here for your entertainment. Just keep in mind that entertainment is all they are. The despicable truth is that they are just capturing the information about your book from Ingram and splattering it like birdshot all over the internet. The best book locating site is Addall. The information found there is up to date and somewhat more real than that offered elsewhere.

For your guilty pleasure, here are some more of these weasels in the ether. FetchBook is one such site. Note that AllDirect is featured right on their home page. AllDirect is somehow connected to Ingram, quite possibly only by simple proximity, but I have never been able to discover exactly how. At one time they offered the best price on my books. I ordered several, but the books never arrived. Several e-mails were never answered. Thank goodness my credit card was never billed. Notice when you click the link, they are now closed. Good riddance. Best Book Deal is far better than FetchBook, particularly for its entertainment value. Your current Amazon and B&N ranking numbers are listed right there on the page, and this is one of the few places you can see how many books you have not sold at Amazon in Japan! There are many more of these booksellers flying around the batcave. All you have to do is go look for them. The bottom line is that you should always look for bats overhead, not stars.

The sales rankings at Amazon and B&N are computed and posted somewhat differently from each other. You can go to Foner Books to read a detailed explanation of the Amazon rankings. I do not know how accurate or up to date the Foner version is, but I want to present a brief overview here. (Notice also that I have added a new link to the Foner Blog in the Significant Links Department.) You do not have a ranking number at Amazon until the first book is sold, and after that first sale you have a ranking forever. You do not have a ranking at B&N until the first sale, but the number drops off after a period of no sales activity. I think that period is about two months, but I am not sure. The number at Amazon can be over 5,000,000, but the number at B&N will probably not exceed 750,000. Used and new copies sold through Amazon, as well as those by Amazon, will affect the ranking. I have read that copies special ordered through B&N stores will affect the ranking, but I have never been able to verify this issue. Your number will never go down at Amazon without a book being sold, but the numbers fluctuate wildly at B&N while your book just sits there, looking pretty on the page. I do not know why this is true. Individual sales from different individual buyers will make the numbers pop more than a bulk sale in one order. Multiple, individual sales in a short period of time will pop the numbers with the greatest velocity. All the glowing reviews posted by your friends and McReviewers will do nothing directly for your ranking.

You can't handle the truth! iUniverse doesn't sell books. They sell dreams. The earliest iU authors had a much better road to drive on than you do now. It was easy to shine from the muck before the slap-fighters got a grip on their rabid egos and began spewing their venom for their own pleasure. It was easier before POD entered the language of our popular culture. It was easier before every punk with a genre novel in his head discovered iU. It was easier before iU was pumping out more than 4000 of these punk fantasies annually. We all think that if Britney can sell ten million copies of How I Forgot My Panties in the first day of its release, surely we can sell a thousand copies of our novel over a period of five years. We all think if some nut can become famous for fifteen minutes with a YouTube video, we can see our great novel in B&N stores nationwide. Is it so unreasonable to think we can work for years polishing a book project and see it get the rave reviews from legitimate reviewers it deserves, and for word of mouth to spread our fame? Yes.

The dirty little secret is that our culture has long ago been farked. Our leaders, both political and corporate, have no goals other than to gain as much power and profit as possible, in as short a time as possible, with as little effort as possible. They have been breeding ignorance like mosquitoes at a Betta splendens farm. The public doesn't read. The public doesn't do much of anything except watch television. The book market is shrinking daily, while the number of POD books published is exploding. The corporate entity of iUniverse knows all of this. They know you cannot reach into a brain full of Paris and O.J. and pull out War & Peace. You're lucky to find Harry Potter in there. As I have stated repeatedly on this blog, most iU books that sell decently well do so either because cheating is involved or the title and subject matter are both obvious and searchable by obsessors of that particular genre and subject. Compositional quality, writing talent, editing, or proofreading have nothing to do with the book's success. Of course these things have plenty to do with many other valuable issues. Sales just isn't one of them. Believe me. I used to be as naive as you are now. I thought, how can this be? It makes no business sense. It makes no logical sense. Wait a minute. It makes the same sense as Britney's panties, O.J.'s exploits, and Paris' outstanding level of intelligence and accomplishment. Just like these clowns, iUniverse is selling dreams.


Amy Lane said...

I would agree--iUniverse is selling dreams. However, having gotten that rejection letter on several occasions, I'm thinking that selling a dream is marginally less skeezy than crushing one for fun.

Floyd M. Orr said...

That's an interesting comment, Amy. I guess I find it difficult to have learned what I have about the marketing of POD books without developing a very deep cynicism.

Ian said...

My initial glow with iUniverse has faded to a grim shadow. I've been displeased with the way things have gone since my initial transaction, and see no reason that will improve. And with the recent buyout by AuthorHouse, notorious in the publishing industry, all I can say is I learned my lesson and will revert to traditional publishing from here on out and cannot and will not recommend iUniverse again.

Amy: I've received more rejections than I can count. The simple fact is you're competing in a huge pond of fish for a single bite and the odds are stacked against you. You can either keep plugging away, working at getting better, or not as the case may be.


lgould said...

I would advise giving away your books to whoever will take them. It is far more satisfying than struggling and sweating for every $2.30.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

I can't actually lodge a formal complaint against iUniverse. Per the agreement I signed, they delivered on every point. But I would caution anyone who is considering using them to bear this thought in mind: They will produce your book, but nothing else. As the article correctly states, they have no interest in the success of any title they publish. Even if they never sell a single copy of your book, they've already made money on selling you the publishing package. Which is terribly short-sighted in my opinion. If they could demonstrate large sales for worthy books, then that would be a huge sales tool for them. "This iUniverse author sold x number of copies, etc." It might draw a higher caliber of author, and maybe, down the road, lend some credibility to their imprint. Instead, they will publish ANYTHING. If you decided to publish a book that contained nothing but random, incoherent text, the only question you would hear from the sales associate is: Do you have the fee? Check out their online store. Randomly peruse the titles and read a few blurbs. Your mouth will drop open. Even the book covers, which will be the first thing a reader sees, and ideally should be visually intriguing, look like they were sketched with a crayon. Given the lack of effort put into the cover design, you have to suspect the pages inside will reflect the same poor attention to detail. iUniverse needs to set some basic literary guidelines. But they won't. Because that would eliminate 98% of their customer-base.

Floyd M. Orr said...

So is it just Iuniverse , or all POD's. I still owe on the package I chose from over a year ago. I wanted to change publisher's and go to Westbow Publishing, now I'm wondering what to do with my manuscript...

Floyd M. Orr said...

 I think quite a bit less of iU since they sold out to AuthorHouse. Yes, most of the POD companies are much the same. iU is still better than many, but the whole industry is suspect in many obvious ways, such as the fact that none of them care if you sell a single book or not. In today's market of improved POD technology, new competition, and Kindle's ownership of the market, I do not recommend using any company other than CreateSpace. Ninety percent of POD sales are generally through Amazon, so why not deal directly with the only company that has a stake in your success?