Non Sales and No-Profit Sales

Got several comments to the previous post that have prompted me to write more on the topic of no-profit sales. I have let my publisher know about the eBay thing. We’ll have to wait and see what they do. But in the meantime, this is what I’m thinking in response to some of the comments–and just in general.

I’m not terribly worried about the profits from a single copy of the book that theoretically might not sell because someone bought the ARC instead–I don’t make money off ARCs in any case. I can’t imagine that anyone would pay that sort of price ($40!!!) just to read the uncorrected galley early when they could be just a bit patient and get the corrected text for a third of the price. Some people might want to read early, but not at that price, so anyone buying this is a collector, not an ordinary reader. And with the cost of the item, I doubt anyone would buy it just to make free or cheap e-copies–that’s a ton of work for very little profit. I’d be more worried about someone who didn’t sell their ARC doing that since that would cost them only time–and I’m not wasting my stomach lining worrying about that sort of thing. I have a lot of other things more ulcer-worthy to worry about than that.

What I really don’t like is that someone who’s received the book for a no-sale purpose is not making use of the book as intended–the honor system is getting a big, black eye, here–and they are trying to make an outrageous profit on it at the same time. That adds injury to the insult paid not to me but my publisher. That’s not what the publisher gave them out for, so the purpose of sending out ARCs is subverted. What would seem the best course for the publisher would be to cut that seller off their publicity list and put someone else on, since that individual is wasting the publisher’s resources. For me, the best course is to let the publisher handle it.

This is the bottom line for me: I want people to read the book–the seller hasn’t bothered and isn’t passing it on to someone else who will, so that’s where I’m annoyed. I’m less interested in squeezing every single possible sale, since, as a new author, fan base and word of mouth are the most important things. Used markets and pass-along cannot be stopped and in the end I think I will get more royalty-earning sales out of the word-of-mouth buzz than I lost to the used sales and pass-alongs. And I’m not particularly worried about electronic piracy, either. I might change my tune if someone can show me a significant loss of revenue due to pirate sales, but so far, that’s not happening. And reading up on the correlation between free e-books and paper sales for authors like Cory Doctorow and everything on the Baen website, it appears that a few free e-copies may actually promote more royalty-generating sales. Certainly Cory is doing pretty damn well and Baen’s total sales of all kinds went up after the introduction of free e-books.

Now, I’m not saying “don’t pay for my book” or “don’t pay for it new.” I want to profit reasonably by my work, as does any hard-working person in any field, and I only make money when people buy the book new (or make some contract with me for subsidiary rights.) I’m just saying the specter of these “lost sales” seems like a pointless thing to fear. I’m certain that most people who really like the book will buy a copy, even a used copy. Eventually they will buy a copy I profit from or recommend it to someone who will do so.

As a corollary, library sales don’t benefit me more than a single copy sale (not in the US, at least), but I know they do result in other sales as readers talk about the book to others who don’t use the library. In fact, I know of two cases where readers bought Greywalker because they’d borrowed it from the library and wanted to keep it, and one of a reader who couldn’t wait to make it to the top of the waiting list, so broke down and bought their own copy. Those are sales I would not have made otherwise. The local library effectively sold my book for me! That’s the trusted-source effect. When those library users talk about my book that’s good word of mouth. What I need most is good word of mouth from trusted sources and that’s what the ARCs are supposed to get me. By selling it at a ridiculous price, the seller is denying me the possibility of that good word of mouth from another professional reader who might have been given the copy, instead.

Obviously, I am not one of those authors who rails against used book sales or library copies (don’t laugh–some people do). I don’t rail against “big box stores” either–they are very good to me–but I also like the indies, since the independent bookstores can handsell my book to a targeted market segment who benefit me enormously. The reality of modern book retail is that you can’t survive without both these channels and used book shops and libraries provide access to my books to people who are not going to buy it otherwise. They wouldn’t be haunting the used book store in the first place if they were willing to pay full price. They wouldn’t utilize the library’s books if they thought another venue was better for their needs. These channels serve readers.

As writers, we all need readers. Readers become buyers, eventually, or influence others to buy. That’s also what ARCs in the hands of reviewers do: they influence others to buy. A small sacrifice is made in the sale of a small number of books in order to procure that influence. That influence creates trusted-source word-of-mouth that generates buzz that generates sales. I don’t care that my publisher has put out ARCs for free–I’m glad they do. I don’t care that my publisher occasionally puts out full copies of my book in convention bags–it earns me target-market readers for the next book. Eventually, my publisher won’t be putting out so many freebies–I hope–because I and my books will have garnered sufficient word-of-mouth to no longer need that sacrifice of sales. At that point, maybe I’ll be more worried about pirate e-books or used sales, but I doubt it. I don’t see J.K. Rowling crying in her G & T over it.

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About Kat Richardson

Writer, editor, eccentric pain in the tail, bestselling author of the Greywalker novels.
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4 Responses to Non Sales and No-Profit Sales

  1. EelKat says:

    I had to stop selling items on eBay last year; the reason: the charges owded eBay for listing each item for sale was higher than the highest price anyone in their right mind would willingly pay for the items I was selling. The last time I listed items, I ended up oweing eBay $20 more than the total cost of my sales. Not only was I not making a profit, I was losing money. Selling on eBay is no longer an option, not for me anyways. Now I sell all my stuff on Amazon instead.

  2. I think I sold something once through eBay years ago and bought some hard-to-find parts for my motorcycle there once, but that’s it. The system seems to have changed since those days.

  3. Yep, I’ve seen my ARCs turn up on eBay too. Precious little I can do about it. I just wrote it off – but all the things you said above do apply. It matters what people tell other people about the book they are reading, and ARCs were made for that purpose. I myself received a bunch of them for the first book of the YA trilogy, and I sent out quite a few to people who might have yapped about it – some did, some didn’t, them’s the breaks, and that’s where it ended – but I do think that the fairly obvious “Not For Sale” strip on the front cover of the ARC in question should be kind of, you know, HONOURED. As it were.

    As for eBay, I made the mistake of registering for it because I wanted to BUY an item, once. I’ve been getting lots and lots of eBay spam ever since – not FROM eBay directly, you understand, but stuff along the lines of “Unpaid item”, “Question from seller”, stuff like that. I’m getting suffiently teed off at eBay to start taking it personally, now [grin]

    BTW, Kat – email me, wouldya?

  4. I get an occasional bit of spam pretending to come from eBay, but I also get things that purport to come from PayPal–with which I’ve never had an account. I find I’m not interested in extending my investment in online commerce with companies that don’t pay better attention to their back doors.

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