You Have to Burn Some Money
When you are a small company, it is easy to get bullied by much bigger corporations.
Here’s a textbook example. While working at F+W Publications, I wrote my first book, “Workbenches: From Design & Theory to Construction & Use.” The book retailed for $29.99 in 2007, and it was sold wholesale for about $15.
Amazon carried the book (it still does), and when the book was released, Amazon sold it for $16.99. Yup, $1.99 more than they paid for it.1
What happened? Almost everyone bought the book from Amazon, choking out Barnes & Noble and other retailers. In fact, I have never seen that book for sale on the shelves of a physical bookstore. Ever. And I’ve looked. (Mostly to take a selfie of me in a bookstore with my book. “I’m a published author, bitches!” Crotch grab. Big Mick Jagger fish lips. But sadly, that moment has never happened.)
So, Amazon bought the lion’s share of my book’s inventory from F+W and sold it. Of course.
What’s wrong with this feature of late-stage capitalism? Amazon could call the shots with F+W. Because they sold the vast majority of titles like mine, Amazon could wag F+W’s business dog. Amazon got early access to titles that F+W planned to publish (and would sell those titles with pre-publication prices YEARS before the books were edited or released). And Amazon could say “yes” or “no” to a title, which could send sales soaring – or doom a title on polymer clay figurines.
What’s a small company to do?
My advice: Fetch the lighter fluid and the matches. It’s time to burn some money.
Shortly after starting Lost Art Press, F+W Media asked to carry our titles in its online store. We said yes – as long as F+W agreed to our Minimum Advertised Price (MAP). MAP allows little retailers like us to say: “The retail price for ‘Big Huggins Big Book of Moose-shaped Pencil Sharpeners’ is $20. If you sell it for less, we can drop you as a retailer.”
F+W agreed to our terms. And the company quickly became our biggest wholesale customer. In fact, F+W was more than 50 percent of our wholesale sales in 2012. Everything worked great until F+W started selling our books for 50 percent off the retail price – violating our MAP.
When that happened, we called them on it. They said, “Sorry. Our mistake. Never happen again.”
A few months later, they did it again, selling Matt Bickford’s book on making mouldings for $17 or some such.
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