Paul L. Caron

Monday, January 26, 2015

Amazon Offers Self-Publishing For Faculty Books

KindleLast Thursday, Amazon launched KDP EDU for academics to self-publish books through the Kindle Direct Publishing program:

Amazon’s new Kindle Textbook Creator Beta helps you convert PDFs of your textbooks, course notes, study guides and other educational content that includes complex visual information like charts, graphs and equations into Kindle books. Books created through Kindle Textbook Creator take advantage of features that enhance a student’s learning experience such as dictionary look-up, notebook, highlighting and flashcards. Plus, preview your book across all supported devices.

Faculty authors earn up to a 70% royalty and retain the copyright. The Kindle app is available on most smartphones, tablets, and computers. For more, see Tech Crunch.

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No, that is not true. Faculty (and authors in general) will never earn a 70% royalty from Amazon. It is absolutely impossible to earn that much from Amazon and actual royalties are often half that.

Authors only draw close to that 70% when they price the book in the Amazon-approved range of $2.99 to $9.99. For faculty, that means that they will need to forget either inexpensive ebooks ($0.99 or $1.99) or ebooks at even the modest textbook prices of $10.99 and up. In addition, there's a grossly inflated download fee (15 cents per megabyte) for ebooks in that range that'll reduce their actual royalties to around 60-70%. That is why it t is mathematically impossible for any author to get 70% from Amazon.

Still worse, outside that price range, Amazon pays a pitiful 35%. Contrast that with Apple, which pays a flat 70% at all price levels and charges no download fee. If you do publish, always include Apple’s iBookstore in your distribution and send as many potential buyers there as possible. You will always earn more per sale and often twice as much per sale.

If you actually read the webpages in which Amazon describes its royalties, they are a masterpiece in lawyerly misstatement, filled with misleading evasions, side paths and little-noted links to webpages where the truth finally slip out.

Law professors should use Amazon’s description of its author royalties as a classic illustration of deception. They are quite clever.

And tort lawyers with an interest in earning very big, perhaps in the tens of millions, should consider filing a deceptive business practices lawsuit against Amazon. They could get a hefty slice of every royalty Amazon has every paid that didn’t come up to those 70% claims. Keep in mind that these deceptions are so brilliant, they can only be the result of an intention to deceive.

In court, this case might be a slam-dunk. Amazon’s online descriptions and public statements are so deceptive, they’ve fooled a tax-law prof (above) and virtually every reporter that’s covered the topic. And, where it really matters, they’re so deceptive, they’ve apparently deceived most authors who publish on Kindles in recent years.

Those who’d like to research this can start here:

The deception starts with the very first words of the Sales and Royalties FAQ:

1-1. How are royalties calculated?
If you select the 35% royalty option, your royalty will be 35% of your list price for each unit sold….

The lie? Authors don’t select their royalties. If they did, no one would select 35% over 70%. When they choose a price, a royalty is forced on them.

The deception continues with item two:

1-2. Why are royalties displayed at a 35% rate in the sales report, when I had selected 70% royalty option for my book?
The 70% royalty option is only applicable for books sold to customers in certain countries. For sales to customers outside of the 70% territories, royalties are calculated at 35%, and these transactions appear at a 35% rate in the sales report.

That’s a head fake. For the vast majority of authors, they’ll be getting 35% rather than 70% because of the book’s price and not the country in which it is sold.

Read that FAQ and the linked pages with care. You’ll discover that it is a masterpiece of deception, seeming to say one thing while actually saying another. It appears to have deceived most authors who publish on Kindles and that is will matter in court.

That and the fact that Amazon has never to my knowledge tried to correct this widespread misconception. News story after news story has said 70% and Amazon has never tried to get that corrected.

Posted by: Michael W. Perry | Jan 26, 2015 12:04:41 PM