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Why I Won't Sell My Books on Amazon

CJ Chilvers
CJ Chilvers
3 min read

You can still find my books on Amazon, but it's not because I want them there. For Kindle books, it may be a necessity, but for all other formats (and especially for indie physical books), Amazon has proven to be a horrible experience for both the publisher and buyer.

First, I'll take you through the experience of selling one of my books on Amazon, then I'll tell you why it makes the experience terrible for the reader.

I'm hoping to encourage most of you, through the course of the life of this blog, to publish in print, so, in a perfect world, you'll need to know about both experiences.

For the Van Halen Encyclopedia, I worked with Thomson-Shore to design the perfect hardcover print book. The typography was perfect, the paper was bright and thick, and the cover was a tasteful black cloth with real gold stamping. I had pre-orders, but still had to shell out a few thousand dollars to cover the printing costs and shipping to my house, where the boxes of books were stacked.

All of those pre-orders were signed, numbered and dated. They were packed in heavily padded envelopes and hand delivered to the post office. Some of those original, first-run copies have shown up on eBay over the years for $100 or more. I couldn't be more proud of the product or the experience provided to the readers.

Then it came time to provide Amazon with their books.

First, Amazon takes a large amount off the top, which is expected. Then, they required a large number of books to keep in their warehouses for future orders. After paying for the shipping, and factoring in the number of books that were stolen straight out of the boxes by post office employees, I was probably losing money for the first full year. Not to mention, they had boxes of my books that I couldn't sell at greater profit direct to the reader.

But, after the machine of all this was working for a few years, I was back in the black on Amazon. Time to sit back and let that passive income flow in, right? Nope.

It was around that time I got my first really bad review of the book on its Amazon page. I was horrified. Some of what the review said about a typo or two (missed by a professional editing firm for the major NYC publishers who worked on the book) was true, but giving it one star and blasting it so hard seemed way overboard. I worked so hard and spent so much to bring this book to market and one person could be judge, jury and (in terms of aggregate sales) executioner.

I was tipped off years later it was a fake review written by the author of a competing book in the same genre. It didn't matter. The damage was done. The review was quickly voted up as "helpful" by would-be customers. I contacted Amazon, and eventually even responded to the review on the page. Nothing helped. There it stays to this day, more than a decade later. Who knows how many thousands of sales were lost because this was the most prominent review on the page.

It was a disservice to the reader. But, so many things Amazon does it a disservice to the reader. That's what brings me to the real point of this all: just as a blogger should own the reading experience on their own site to ensure the best experience possible, so should the indie print publisher.

Whether or not you want an Amazon page for your book, you'll probably have one anyway. They sell used books too, after all. But, as much as possible, I'm keeping the reading and buying experience from now on.

Some will claim that's just throwing money away, but as I've just shown, the opposite was true for me. I would've made more money and kept the reader much happier if I had owned the entire experience.

It could also be argued that things are different now because of the popularity of the Kindle. But, the spike in Kindle book sales that fueled so much fandom just a few years ago turned out to be temporary. Kindle success stories are increasingly rare. Print sales continue to rise.

I'd like to think Amazon will change someday to become more respectful of writers and publishers, but I've been dealing with them for almost 20 years. They're not changing. And with books becoming less important to their business model every year, they have no incentive to change.

Indie book publishers are going to need to decide if selling through Amazon will be a priority, take a back seat, or get stuffed in the trunk. The author has been in Amazon's trunk for 20 years.