Amazon’s markup of digital delivery to indie authors is ~129,000%

So my book about travel came out last week! Think about buying it directly from me:  This Book Is About Travel .mobi (Kindle Version) or This Book Is About Travel .pdf. A pretty exciting time.  I’ve decided to write a few posts covering the launch and lessons I’ve learned. I self published it (wrote, designed, marketed and even did the layout for it) and am really proud of the project.

This post is about the where the sales of the book are coming from, and why Amazon takes 48% of digital book sales.  Surprising eh?  I thought Amazon was the BEST for indie authors, right? We will get into that later.

The book had a great launch, even getting to the #1 Hot Releases spot for for the travel section.

#1 in the Travel Section

It started off with 17 straight 5 star reviews and a slew of people sending me pictures of the book, my book, on their devices.


Hot damn!  Feeling great as an author.  A few months ago I ran a kickstarter for the book to raise the funds to be able to focus on the book, and people from around the world kicked in.


That is a lot of people showing a lot of support for me.

So I wrote the book.  Finished up with 25 chapters and 52,000 words.  So, in plain terms, book book length.  A lot based on blog posts and places I visited exploring just what the last two years of my life were living on the road.

The book itself is a critique of travel these days, and the preorders say a lot to say about the way people read books.


So 51% of the orders were for Kindle.  I love my kindle.  I can see why.  I was amazed to see iBooks so high.  I thought .pdf would do better, although I don’t know many people that read books on a computer.  Note I didn’t offer .epub / nook until people asked for it, so take that with a grain of salt.

So let’s fast forward a few weeks.  Book is on sale and I launched a snazzy website with the help of the guys at What Cheer.  It looks like this, but you can check it out live here.

This Book Website

The book is on sale for $9.99 (I was betting that it was equally hard to get a $10 customer as it was a $1 customer).  I worked my ass off on it and thought, hey, $10 it is.  I read a lot (a book a week in 2011) and that seemed like my personal upper limit, but something I would expect to pay.

So how did the sales do?

Kindle CRUSHED on sales.  People have their credit cards stored in there and the user experience is amazing.  Nook is dead last again, not sure what to think of that.  iBooks is at 11% and .pdf at 12%.

So as an author, I should focus on Amazon Kindle 100% right?

I started to.  All my energy went to the amazon link (like this post on Facebook):

So the push worked and my supporters got behind the idea of getting me to #1 on the Travel Bestsellers!

Again, author high. It feels great having your content out there and even better when people are enjoying it (and telling their friends).

So, I’m at the end of my week, time to see just how the sales ended up and how much cash I’m taking home for a few months of work.


Wait, Amazon pays out the worst?  What? This can’t be right! They are the best right? Everyone loves them.  I love them.  I dig a bit deeper and find this little gem:

Avg. Delivery Cost ($) 2.58. 

So for every $9.99 book I sell I, the author, pay 30% to Amazon for the right to sell on Amazon AND $2.58 for them to deliver the DIGITAL GOOD to your device.  It is free for the reader, but the author, not amazon, pays for delivery.

The file itself is under their suggested 50MB cap Amazon says to keep it under at 18.1MB. The book contains upwards of 50 pictures and the one file for Kindle needs to be able to be read on their smallest displays in black and white and their full color large screen Mac app).  I’m confused.  Amazon stores a ton of the Internet on S3/EC2, they should have the storage and delivery down.  If I stored that file on S3/EC2 it would cost me $.01 PER FIVE DOWNLOADS. Hat tip to Robby for that one. Use Amazon to run your website: .01 to download a file.  Use amazon to sell your book: $2.58 per download + 30% of whatever you sell.

Amazon’s markup of digital delivery to indie authors is ~129,000%

Now that isn’t 100% apples to apples, as it includes 3g delivery (whispernet) of the files but gives me no way of knowing how many devices downloaded via 3g. My book has a lot of pictures. It is about travel after all, it should have those. Double checked the compression of the files, everything looks to be best practices. File size be dammed, this sucks. How do the other services stack up to this?

I’m selling the .pdf through which is a new service.  They take the credit card fees and you keep the rest.  So for that $9.99 I keep $9.25. Payday is once a month. They host the file for free. Dreamy. No DRM but I like it that way.

Apple is actually quite good at a flat looking $7 per $9.99 purchase.  They host the file and their iBooks Author is fantastic for book creation.  Their app store customer service is about as bad as I can imagine (no phone, email or ticket support).  You have to play by their rules and their rules happen to include error messages that block your book from being published with the descriptive “Unknown Error.” As a testament to their not giving a single fuck, their “Contact Us” is a FAQ with no way to send a message. The book looks amazing on iPads through iBooks though!

I would spend some time on Nook but it seems you all are not, so just passing over it.

So what to conclude?

Don’t buy my book on Amazon. Or do buy it. Or don’t. (UPDATE, I put the .mobi on gumroad) I could sell the .mobi file through gumroad but Amazon blocks commenting and rating for those customers that go around their buying habitat. I’m super happy with the project but really hate how much management of this type of stuff, time I could be working / consulting and actually making a $. Are books just really loss leaders for the authors careers? Big adverts in the fiction section? Not something I thought about until this part of the process. Shouldn’t writing a book be about creating the best user experience for the reader and honoring the art of story?

I’d like to think the latter. We need more art, more stories.  Self publishing seems to be a great enabler of this (and the creative class), but damn Amazon, you sure know how to take a great feeling and turn it sour.

So want the kindle version and don’t want to give Amazon 50% of the sale?  Buy here and I get 95% of the sale.  

UPDATE #2 Welcome Boing Boing.  I switched over selling .mobi first through gumroad with a link to Amazon. You can buy This Book Is About Travel .mobi (Kindle Version) here.

UPDATE #3 Welcome Radar readers.

UPDATE #4 Welcome Domino Project readers.

UPDATE #5 My kindle .mobi is now compressed and resubmitted, I will now (only) see a 36% cut from Amazon for selling the book.  You can buy it on Amazon here.

So what happens to the buying habits of my readers after this post? Amazon tanks, people buy directly.

Direct sales soar when users know about kindle

UPDATE #6 Welcome Daring Fireball.

UPDATE #7 Welcome Metafilter.

UPDATE #8 The full color 8.5in x 8.5in print version is on sale here. I see $8.37 of the $25 sale if you buy it through that link (33%), and $3.37 if you buy it through Amazon (13%). It is print on demand so there are no ongoing fees for storage or up front costs.

UPDATE #9 Some readers were saying it was hard to find out how to buy the book directly from me. Here you go!
This Book Is About Travel .mobi (Kindle Version)
This Book Is About Travel .pdf





255 responses to “Amazon’s markup of digital delivery to indie authors is ~129,000%”

  1. Kim Jain Avatar

    Reading about the Amazon vs Big 6, Kindle vs Nook, ePublishing vs Legacy
    publishing. What I find distasteful about this article is that he has a
    bad case of buyers remorse I have ever seen. After reading this it
    took me less than 15 minutes to find Amazon’s pricing. He knew
    beforehand what the cost per book was. If he didn’t like the pricing he
    didn’t have to sign with them. If he had done his research properly in
    the beginning he could have chosen just to self publish. Instead he
    used Amazon’s platform then decided to scream that he had been taken
    when in fact he hadn’t. Then he used his hissy fit as a way to market
    his book and direct people to his self publish page. Good Marketing for
    him. but it leaves a bad taste. He could have gone straight to Nook or
    iBooks initially, but I feel that he planned his marketing strategy to
    take the ant-Amazon anti-Big Bad Wolf into consideration and then let
    the extremists do all the work for him. I don’t know anything about his
    book and at this point I don’t want to. His whining is more than
    enough to read.

    Personally, if you want to see a really good argument about self
    publishing I think J A Konrath’s blog is a much better and more balanced
    read. Or J A Konrath and Barry Eisler free eBook dialogue :

  2. Peter Radizeski Avatar

    FYI… the kindle fees for download via 3G and whispernet go to pay Sprint and AT&T for data network usage on the download, which is charged per MB btw. On AWS/S3 you pay the transfer charges via your ISP or cellular carrier.

  3. al crespo Avatar
    al crespo


    Read your comment with great interest. I’m wondering how long it took Apple to get back to you when you submitted you initial request to sell your book on their site?

  4. andrewhyde Avatar

    About two weeks?

  5. Spree Copywriting Avatar

    Andrew, this is a great post. I love that you’re brave enough to talk numbers. And Shannon, I think that you’re totally right. Those people who write for “art’s sake” can do that, but some of us also like to earn a living LOL.

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