The weird and wonderful world of online commerce

My Dad called me the other day to talk about many things, as sons and Dads do.  Amongst those varied topics was his confusion over the Amazon listing of my book.  He asked about the used copies of my book already “for sale” and wondered about that and their prices.  I informed him of the nature of online retailing and I could only imagine him shaking his head at the seeming illogic.

My publisher has fielded the above question so many times from their authors that they actually include it in a FAQ.  I find the whole situation less bizarre than goofy.  As my Dad pointed out about the “used” books, they were priced 50% higher than the new ones!  Uh, yeah, THAT’S gonna sell a lot of books.

So what IS going on exactly?  Well, I can’t say precisely, but following are some of the oddities that abound with online marketing.

PRICING

Once a book is listed by an online retailer, they control the price.  During the original conversations with my publisher, we determined the price point for the book, allowing for a reasonable profit for all while trying to keep the price as affordable as possible to readers.  That, if you will, could be considered the “suggested retail price”.

As you’ve seen for everything from potato chips to new cars, “sticker price” or suggested price isn’t always what you actually pay.  There are many thousands of products that “what you see is what you get” — the price listed is the price you pay.  Others are discounted regularly or put on sale occasionally.  That is totally up to the retailer in question (your supermarket or car dealer)  It’s no different online.  But the selling price doesn’t impact me or my publisher — the cost of printing the book and list price from the distributor remains the same.  If Amazon chooses to charge $1.99 or $199.99, the rest of the “food chain” gets the same amount of money.  It’s up to the discretion of the retailer, whom you hope is using some sort of marketing formula (although I cannot say for sure).

STOCK

“Only 2 in stock”  “Not available”  “More available soon”

None of these statements, which you may see at various websites, are technically accurate.  In reality, most online retailers don’t have “2 in stock”.  They have none.  They are always out-of-stock.  Especially on a new book from a writer with no sales track record.  Perhaps even from established authors, though I may be doing a disservice to online retailers with that assumption.

The “new” reality is that online retailers can afford to list tens of thousands of products because they don’t have to actually stock all of them.  As orders come in, they simply process a purchase order to the distributor or manufacturer of that product, thus reducing heavy inventory costs.  It’s likely that as something begins to prove a consistent sales pace, these retailers may buy physical stock simply to improve shipping times and reduce costs (due to discounts for volume or shipping).

Obviously, my book doesn’t fall into that category (yet), so it’s likely always “out of stock”, but able to be ordered instantly for delivery.  Of course, the delivery is even faster when ordered direct from my publisher (Booklocker), avoiding extra steps in the process.  But for practical purposes, my book is never “in stock” but is always ready for immediate shipping.

USED BOOKS

I love this one.  I think there may have been used copies of my book for sale before I finished writing it!

The crazy part of online retailing is that anyone can do it.  Set up a website with some e-commerce capability, open an account with some distributors and BAM!, you’re an online retailer.  To be successful, you’re going to need more than that, but to “do business”, that’s all you really need.

I haven’t researched it and I doubt the research could stay current enough, but there are LOTS of online retailers selling LOTS of online stuff.  “Selling” my book only takes listing it on their site.  Fulfilling the sale – actually sending you a copy – requires them to buy one from my publisher’s distributor (there is only one).  Again, not tough, but hardly a profitable concept without volume.

The “used” book is just a gimmick.  Why pay full price for a book when you could get a used one for less.  Of course, when you actually click on the link, you won’t find a “used” one.  You will find many opportunities to buy NEW copies.  And, if you felt the book was just too good to pay so little, why some of those “opportunities” would allow you to pay almost twice the regular price…plus shipping!  I don’t recommend this.  As I said, I make the same no matter what price you pay, so I would just as well prefer you use as little of your hard-earned money in these tough times (but use some, you’ll enjoy it).

So if you are perplexed at the prospect of buying a used copy of a just released book for a price that appears half-again as much as it would cost new, be at peace.  The used copy doesn’t exist.  I think it’s safe to assume that the used copies, if they come into circulation, will be at a much reduced cost (just like a used car).

Unless that used book becomes a “first edition”.  Then, just like classic cars, the price will surely go up.  At that point, though, it will be offered for sale by an entirely different group of online retailers.  The prices at that point will vary so much your head will spin!

And you thought I was only being self-serving by encouraging you to buy a book now.  Look at the headaches I’m trying to save you!

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