Monday, 9 April 2012

ePublishing - fun, but complicated fun

SO I put my book online - a collection of short stories I'd written over the years, mostly already published and anthologised. The idea is that you produce a .mobi file, upload it on Amazon and wait for the dollars (euros, pounds, bolivars, krone, yuan) to pour in. 
Amazon is wonderful. I love the fact that you can now buy obscure or forgotten books with a click, listen to music from tiny African countries, see films by makers long dead. I particularly loved the idea that I could sell my book without complexity - without contracts with publishers, months of waiting, obfuscatory audits. Ebooks were crystalline, gloriously simple - I'd put it up, you'd buy it, I'd be paid.
Reality, as usual, bites. And bites in the ass. The tech bits are easy enough - I use Scrivener for writing, and this produces an immaculate .mobi with the press of a key. And artist Syd Bluett made me a stunning cover

in the various sizes needed - a 600x800 Jpeg file under 127kB for 'inside' the ebook - this is the one readers will see on their computer or e-reader; and a 900x1200px (or 938x1250px) tiff file at 150ppi for the 'product catalogue' - Amazon's or iTunes' or Smashwords' web page about the book.
Amazon is the monster of the market, a monolith that sells millions of books every day, so obviously it's the one to go for first. And as a friend who preceded me into the ebook publishing game pointed out, you can take 70% profits on the sales of your book if you sell it for $2.99 or more.
I duly uploaded my book to, and said yup to sell it in France, Spain, the UK, Germany and Italy too, through the various 'local' Amazon sites. Here it is: (US and Ireland) (Britain) (France) (Germany) (Italy) (Spain)
I signed up for the $2.99 deal, and sat back rubbing my hands and waiting for the golden profits to pour in. With growing excitement I saw my sales soar - one book, then five, then eight! I was going to be almost a millionaire! But... well... not quite. Because as it turns out, Amazon's payment model is reminiscent of the complex theologies of a Catholic girlhood. 
I looked at the sales reports on Amazon's publisher site. Five of the books had been sold in the US, and for these I'd get 70%. But for the three sold in Ireland (my native land, and therefore the most likely source of sales), I would get only 35%.

I asked on Amazon's forum where publishers and authors can share their wisdom, and was told that the 35% of profits coming to me from books sold in Ireland was because Amazon had higher expenses in dealing with foreign countries: "There's VAT, there's wireless charges, there's the hazard of being taxed by crazy treasury types who decide that suddenly Amazon is a local business...."
This is puzzling; Ireland is so crazy for American business that our taxes and tariffs are rock-bottom to facilitate US companies doing business here. (VAT, Value Added Tax, is kind of like sales tax in the US - Ireland doesn't have sales tax, but we pay varying VAT on different items; food is VAT-free, as are other essentials, with occasional weird anomalies; women's sanitary items were taxed as 'luxuries' for a long time, for instance, though they're now zero-rated, but condoms incur 23% VAT.) 
No VAT is charged on books, but on ebooks VAT is charged at 23%.
This is slightly complicated for me by the Guardian's recent article saying that Amazon's UK arm is based in Luxembourg so it charges its customers the Luxembourg VAT rate of 3% What can this mean for sellers?
Anyway, back to my Amazon millions. The next horror was the discovery that Amazon withholds American tax, unless you fill out a form that convinces the IRS, the US tax authorities, that you're going to pay your legitimate tax on your millions in your own country. Then you give Amazon the 'EIN' - the tax non-withholding number - and they send you your millions, untaxed.
There seem to be various forms, depending on whether you are an employer or a sole trader; some require the signature of a notary public to convince the IRS that you are legit. The simplest thing seemed to be to phone the IRS and get them to guide me through it - I haven't done this yet, but an app programmer who's done it tells me that the IRS are knowledgable, helpful and kind, and you do it once only. (If you're going to sell your book on iTunes, Apple also requires this number, by the way - in fact, Apple won't even let you fill out their form until you provide this number.) 
The final strangeness is that Amazon - which has never shown any great reluctance to take my money in electronic form - won't pay Irish sellers electronically if their ebooks are bought from or On the US site (from which Irish purchasers of ebooks must buy) payment will be made in the form of a dollar cheque, and on the UK site in the form of a sterling cheque.
And you have to wait a while for your millions. Amazon won't pay anything until you rack up profits of $100, and then they wait to fill out that cheque (or since they're American, a check) for you - 60 days after the end of the month in which you have made that $100.
Strangely, this page on the KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) site says you can be paid in euros to a bank in Ireland - but when I tried to set this up, Amazon's site didn't make it possible for the UK and US sites. Instead I was told: 
"Your royalties will accrue separately for each Amazon marketplace. For example,,, and sales will accrue separately from sales. The balance of each account will be paid sixty days after the end of a month in which the balance accrued at least $10/£10/€10 for Electronic funds transfer or $100/£100/€100 for payments by check."
Apparently I'll be paid fast and electronically for all the German, French, Spanish and Italian sales, but in the distant future for UK and US sales. 
It's all a fascinating lesson in the limits of the e-world. Back in the 1980s a telecoms engineer in Ireland showed me his computer, on which he was talking to an engineer in MIT. "Wow," I said, "that's going to kill the post office, and imagine how cheaply trade could be done all over the world if everyone had interconnected computers."
"Don't be ridiculous," he withered. "People will never have computers in their homes. Interconnected trade?" He snorted. 
Maybe he was right. Dreams have their limits, after all. 


Kath said...

The only limits that dreams have are the ones imposed by people themselves, usually because it doesn't benefit them for things to work smoothly both ways (as demonstrated here for one of the parties involved in the world of e-commerce).

Hope this turns out to be a positive experience for you, though, and that those pesky checks/cheques taking their time to get to you will turn out to be bumper ones and worth the wait.

Orla Shanaghy said...

Thanks for a very informative and useful post!