My book is being sold by an online bookstore, which also offers a publishing service. So, they are not only my online bookstore, but my publisher as well. There’s certainly more efficiency in having the online bookstore create the books it sells. However, there’s also the potential for fraud.
Of course, even when a traditional publishing house sells their own titles directly to the public, fraud can occur. Cooked books aren’t something that only self-published authors must worry about.
I don’t have a lot of sales. But, I receive far fewer royalties than the statistics – significant ranking changes – would indicate. Moreover, I once did not receive a royalty for a book that I purchased myself. Because royalties seem to go missing so often, I have imagined ways that an online bookstore, while also acting as publisher, could cook the books. These methods are given below.
First, you have to understand that there are two major distribution channels. One we’ll call direct, used when readers order directly from the publisher’s website. The second we’ll call general. General distribution is for pretty much everyone else – other bookstores, libraries, and so on. The direct royalty is much greater than the general, which makes sense because more parties share the profit with general distribution (the author, publisher, retailer or library, other distributor, etc.). To work through some examples, let’s assume that the direct royalty per book is $3.00, and the general royalty is $0.50.
(1) Fuzzy Math on Returns. Not all publishers accept returns but mine does. The publisher’s online bookstore does not pay royalties when they sell a book that has been previously returned. However, it seems more likely that more brick-and-mortar bookstores than individuals would return books. For an individual reader, returning a book is a nuisance, but bookstores return books in bulk as part of their standard operating procedure.
A book returned from a bookstore would be associated with a general distribution royalty. Using my example above, that would be $0.50. But, if that returned copy then gets purchased by an individual, the end royalty to the author should be $3.00. The online bookstore, by saying this is a return, skips the subsequent royalty altogether even though they should be paying the author and additional $2.50.
Why do I think this might be happening? Because I have never once seen any offsetting royalties. An offsetting royalty would be a royalty that would be a reduced royalty. If a general distribution book was returned, and then sold directly, then the author should receive an additional $2.50. Yet, I have never seen anything like this occur in my royalty reports. All my sales have been for either the direct royalty or the just the tiny general distribution royalty.
Perhaps it goes further. Perhaps books that are delivered to bookstores are only credited as sales when they are actually sold. If the bookstore then returns the books for which there have been no general distribution royalties, then the author might then get neither the larger direct royalty nor the smaller general royalty when the book sells. The online bookstore could even argue that this is necessary, to offset the cost of books going back and forth, even though the customer pays the shipping charges.
(2) Shell sellers. A whole bunch of “other” sellers appear online, on many sites, nearly as soon as one has a book out, without any corresponding royalties in either the direct or general category. Could these be associated with the online bookstore? Officially or unofficially?
I have to imagine that these two methods would be perfectly legal. Then there’s the possibility of simply not registering the sale at all, which would not be legal.
Let me emphasize that these are theories. I don’t have a smoking gun; all I have is smoke. However, I do have plenty of that. Usually several times per month, the ranking of one or another of my books improves significantly, but without a corresponding royalty. For one volume I expect this, because the text is used in high schools and so the used-book market is significant. But, it happens too often with the other volumes.
Online bookstores could point out – legitimately – that many authors expect far more sales than they receive. They could also point out – again legitimately – that these are often authors who, before the advent of POD, could have expected to have their great ideas remain unprinted. I could fall in that category. But all of that is irrelevant.
If I can think of ways to reduce authors’ royalties in order to benefit online bookstores, so can the people at the online bookstores. Furthermore, most corporations, including online bookstores, are fiercely geared towards profit. Readers of this article will surely remember that VW faked its emission tests because of the pressure on the engineers to meet the goals of management. They did this even though the scam could have readily been detected by those outside the company (it is another scandal that it went undetected so many years). The temptation to cheat must be even greater in companies where we have no ability to audit their actions.
I can’t suggest an audit method at this point because I don’t know enough about the processes, but online bookstores should work on this. Perhaps they could indicate when books have been resold. Perhaps they could indicate when books have been returned. Perhaps they could engage independent auditors. But, they have no financial incentive to do any of that.
An alternative is to not use the online bookstore to publish the books. Instead, use a different publisher that can list their books for sale at those online bookstores. Introducing a third party into the equation makes royalty cheating more difficult because separate reports can be obtained from each party. If they don’t add up, somebody is likely cheating.
3. Print books. If your publisher is also your retailer, they can print copies without your knowledge, and then simply claim that no copies were printed, nor sold.
4. Ebooks. Unfortunately, the book retail industry is ripe for potential fraud. Ebook retailers must have a copy of the ebook file in order to distribute it to their buyers. Unless an author has a copy of a receipt from a reader, and can prove that sale occurred, the ebook retailer could simply not record that sale. Of course, then the author gets nothing.
How can you protect yourself? After your book goes up for sale, ask friends and family who have purchased your book for copies of their email receipts. Compare those to your royalty reports. You can also buy copies yourself periodically to see if you’re getting credited for all your book sales – print and electronic.
Read more about how to test your publisher’s sales reports HERE.
There are plenty of authors online complaining about unpaid royalties with regards to a variety of publishers so you should also use creative search terms when researching a potential publisher, like:
haven’t been paid
Never assume that a firm, whether large or small, is obeying the law. Protect yourself by monitoring sales, and collecting documentation from your readers to prove those sales occurred. If you find missing sales, and if they don’t correct their error or, worse, if they simply stop responding to your correspondence (that’s common among scammers), you’ll haveto start playing hardball. For tips, read this:
More Than One Way to Expose a Deadbeat
How to Test Your POD Publisher’s Sales Reports
WHO’S SCAMMING GRANNY? Snakes That Prey on Elderly Authors
Print on Demand Secrets Revealed
Just Published? Great! Now, Get Ready for an Onslaught of Scammers!
Is This a Bookstore Scam? Maybe.
Authors Who Have Been Scammed by Publishers
Anonymous is the author of several self-published books.
7.625 STRATEGIES IN EVERY BEST-SELLER - Revised and Expanded Edition
At this moment, thousands of would-be authors are slaving away on their keyboards, dreaming of literary success. But their efforts won’t count for much. Of all those manuscripts, trade book editors will sign up only a slim fraction.
And of those titles--ones that that editors paid thousands of dollars to contract, print and publicize--an unhealthy percentage never sell enough copies to earn back their advances. Two years later, most will be out of print!
Acquisition Editor Tam Mossman shares seven essentials every book needs to stay in print, and sell!
Read more here:
Pingback: COMMENTS REGARDING: COOKING THE BOOKS? How Your Publisher Can EASILY Rip You Off! By Anonymous | WritersWeekly.com
There’s a fix for this problem for online book and ebook sales that’s not that complex and that would also let authors and publishers develop useful marketing data. In a nutshell, it’s legally mandated notification of all sales on perhaps a weekly basis. Given today’s technology, it’d cost the retailer almost nothing.
Each week, the author/publisher would get a notification of all sales and returns down to the Zip code of the purchaser and including the exact date and time of the sale. No names and address, but more than enough information to spot sales that aren’t being paid.
Suspicious that you’re not getting paid? Get someone distant to make a purchase. If it doesn’t appear in the notification, that’s all the legal ground you need for a full, legally mandated audit of all your book sales at the retailers expense. The law could also describe hefty penalties for such fraud.
Keep in mind that there is a big distinction between traditional publishing, where the publisher supplies copies of each book that’ll be sold, and both POD and digital sales, where it’s extremely easy for a retailer who is creating both the POD and digital copies to sell 1,000 copies but only pay for 800. How is the author or publisher to know? They can’t without mandated reporting.
Why should any retailer oppose such a law? The costs are so low, they could be justified simply to attract more authors. The only reason to object is if some some sales are being done off the books, as some suspect. Honest retailers will be behind this 100%.
Michael W. Perry, there are several reasons this won’t work.
“legally mandated notification of all sales on perhaps a weekly basis”
The government isn’t going to get involved in one industry like this to pass a law. If this happened, other industries might be forced to follow. Can you imagine every retailer being forced to provide weekly reports to the creators of every product? The reporting would be far more onerous than all the tax reporting that is currently required of every business. Every retailer would oppose this.
“that’s all the legal ground you need for a full, legally mandated audit of all your book sales at the retailers expense.”
Most contracts that include an “audit” section force the person requesting the audit to pay for that audit. And, nobody can randomly force a retailer to audit themselves based on a hunch about missing sales, nor to provide that person with the results. Only the government (or a pre-existing contract) can force a firm to be audited.
“Keep in mind that there is a big distinction between traditional publishing, where the publisher supplies copies of each book that’ll be sold”
Actually, many traditional publishers now use print on demand technology, which introduces a third-party into the process (the printer), or even multiple third parties. Not all traditional publishers pre-print and warehouse books anymore. Some of these firms (traditional and not) hire different printers all over the globe, making it even more difficult to provide fast reporting, and certainly not weekly.
“Why should any retailer oppose such a law?”
We have enough laws. Voluntary reporting would be nice but adding weekly reporting increases administrative costs, and those costs would inevitably be passed on to the author and/or book buyer customers. Monthly reports should suffice. Remember that the publishing division of that firm also prints/distributes copies to other retailers who would not want to do such reporting because it provides no benefit to them, and would only cost them additional administrative fees. They, too, would pass these fees on to the rest of us.
I think a better idea is for authors to simply research a publisher thoroughly before signing up, specifically looking for accusations by a few of their authors about unpaid royalties. New authors can weed out the questionable ones early on in the process to hopefully avoid getting ripped off in the long run.
Unfortunately, many folks don’t perform this very easy, yet so very important, step when shopping for a publisher.
I’m a newbie in the writing scene and I find this article very insightful. The more I read about how the business should be handled, the more I realize that it is a lot of hard work!
This mommy won’t back off, though. I can do this! ??