One of the things that’s starting to drive me nuts is the lack of control over distribution for indie-pubbed books. This is funny, as I never have any control over the distribution of my traditionally published books. On the other hand, indie publishing gives control over so many things that discovering any area with very little control – especially one so important as distribution – is annoying.
It all seems very straightforward. When a title is indie-published, the publisher (in this case, me) chooses which formats to make available, and opts in to certain portals. So, for my digital editions, I publish on Amazon for Kindle, on All Romance eBooks in EPUB and MOBI, and on Smashwords in EPUB and MOBI. I also opt into a number of portals available to me through Smashwords, including Sony, Apple, B&N, KOBO, and a couple of smaller ones. For my print editions – which are print on demand through Createspace – I automatically get distribution to Amazon and Createspace. I opt into Amazon’s European portals and purchase the extended distribution option which gets the books listed at Baker & Taylor. This means that other bookstores (like B&N) can offer the books for sale on their website. All good.
There are two issues here. The first, I hope, is temporary. Extended distribution is very slow, regardless of whether it’s digital or POD, and it has become much MUCH slower in the past six months. I suspect this is due to raw volume, but it is still annoying. For a title to be made available to other portals through Smashwords, it must first be manually reviewed by their staff. This used to take a few days, but currently it takes at least two weeks. It can take a month. After approval, the book goes in the queue for distribution to the portals selected. Once upon a time, this happened fairly quickly – uploads were weekly, so it would go in the next upload – but now books can stall in that phase for weeks. I suspect that this is also due to volume and might also be temporary. Additionally, the book will be reviewed at the destination portal before being listed for sale, a process that can take two to three weeks on top of the time so far.
I’m hoping that, as all of these outlets staff up to deal with the volume of digitally published material, these delays will erode. What would be even better would be the option of setting a universal release date, so that the book would be available to all readers on the same day. This is completely impossible under the current system, and I’m sure that’s as annoying for readers as it is for me. Having the on sale date straggle over two months, depending upon the portal, is irritating. It would probably require uploading the book content file 14 or even 30 days in advance at every portal, but it would be worth the delay IMO to have a nice crisp on sale date and consistent availability.
The second distribution trend, while also influenced by volume, is one that I suspect might not go away. It is clear that vendors are not taking all titles that are available to them. They are cherry-picking, trying to focus on the titles that will earn them more money. This means that they choose first from established sellers at their portal. For example, THE RENEGADE’S HEART is moving more quickly through this publication and distribution process, almost certainly because the Jewels of Kinfairlie trilogy has been selling very well at most portals. The print edition is even available for pre-order at B&N, the first time I’ve ever seen that for a POD title of mine. This is good.
What is not good is the random nature of these choices. I suspect that the decision is not automated, because it’s not consistent. In direct contrast to THE RENEGADE’S HEART print book, the print editions of THE ROSE RED BRIDE, THE BEAUTY BRIDE, and THE LAST HIGHLANDER are not listed at all on the B&N site. This, even though they’ve been available for sale for months. Createspace says they cannot compel a vendor in extended distribution to list a book for sale. This is fair, but it’s also a silly choice on B&N’s part – these three titles are my bestselling print titles through Amazon.
I can’t do anything about this, which is pretty frustrating. If you, however, want to buy one of these books from B&N, please let them know directly.
The bigger implication from this cherry-picking is that it must be becoming more difficult for new authors to get extended distribution at all. If an author has never had a title distributed to a certain vendor, then the author has no sales history through that portal – and thus the title might be overlooked or passed by when the vendor selects its weekly take. I’m curious to see how this works with the Coxwell series – I’m publishing them as Deborah Cooke books and as Deborah Cooke I have only one indie title in distribution, my “Coven of Mercy” short story.
I’ll let you know!