Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Independent publishing: USPS rates will hurt foreign sales

This time last year, you could ship a book -- say, a copy of The Swordsman, or Fortunes of War, or The Deceivers -- from an American POD printer (namely, Lulu.com) to a client in Australia or New Zealand for US$8.50. And also, this time last year, the exchange rate was US$1 = .93c, or thereabouts. Costs were close to one-to-one, and shipping was affordable.

Recently, however, this has changed, and it's all down to rising oil prices and crashing markets!

Aussie and Kiwi readers: have you bought a book from Amazon.com lately? Have you noticed that it costs about US$15 to ship virtually anything? Have you run the conversion to get this into local currency?! That's about A$21 to ship a skinny little paperback. Ouch.

When you're an indie publisher concentrating on the Internet as your marketplace, you're extremely sensitive to changes in postage rates -- and horrifically vulnerable in this area. Your e-store is the place you do business, an all the "hard goods" shipping out of that store are going to be carried by USPS, Royal Mail, Australia Post and so forth.

So, when postage rates rise, the impact on your prices is a hefty wallop. And when postage rates rise enormously -- as they have in the last year -- all you can do is whimper quietly and lick your wounds in private.

With THE LORDS OF HARBENDANE coming out next week, we're looking at ways to get copies into the hands of Australian readers at a decent price, and it's not possible. The book will be US$22.50 ... it's a big book. The font is NOT large, you're NOT paying for white space. There's no way to compress the book into less pages. You're stuck with a big book -- which is fine and dandy ... until you come to ship it.

Earlier in 2008, Lulu.com offered several different options for international shipping. They now offer two. US$14.91 is their "economy" rate for shipping to Australia (!), and it's a few dollars more for their priority rate.

We went to the USPS website and looked at prices ... and y'now what? Postage, packaging, and about a dollar for "handling," and -- yep, that's what it costs. The kneejerk was to say that Lulu is getting into the old "postage ripoff" game, which is way too popular with any number of eBay shippers. However, for US/Canada readers, they're not. BUT --


Dont blame Lance Armstrong: he no longer rides for USPS. His parcel-delivering days are long behind him. Which is probably a good thing. Delivering big parcels on a racing bike must have been hell.


Here's the rub: Lulu.com signed with a digital printshop in Victoria, Australia (not Canada), and books ordered in Aus and NZ are printed down here ...

And the whole thing gets nasty when you realize they're hitting you up for international shipping, at US$14.91 = around A$20, on a book that's going to be shipped out of MELBOURNE.
If you happen to reside inside the state of Victoria, as a helluva lot of people do, the 750g package should go, intrastate, for something like A$10 -- including the padded bag and the buck for someone to pack it and do a post office run! We went to AustraliaPost.com and checked.

We're contacting Lulu.com about this, but we've talked to them before about it, and no one had an answer, months ago. That time, the discrepancy cost us something like A$75 on a bulk shipment! You just grind your teeth and pay. The argument at the time was that we had been caught in the transition between shipping ex-USA and shipping out of a digital printshop in Australia. Uh huh. Well, the system is well worn-in now; there's no transition to get caught in. American postage rates have shot up -- and there is no excuse we can think of for billing Australian customers for a round-the-world service they don't get.

If or when we get an answer about this, you'll read it on this blog!

Till then, I seriously advise Aussie and Kiwi readers against ordering from Lulu.com -- because you're paying for postage you're not getting.

Your alternatives -- and this is especially important as THE LORDS OF HARBENDANE is published -- are:

* ebooks, which will set you back only US$10 ... no delivery fee and instant gratification. You can be reading the book five minutes after shunting some dollars over from your PayPal account. (You can also use any credit card.)
* Amazon.com, where the price is actually the same ... but at least they'll ship it around the world for you, so you get what you pay for -- and also, you get the US-printing quality, which is higher than the quality of the product issuing from the Australian digital printshop. (The Aussie printer uses paper which is too light, and the strikethrough is very noticeable. Strikethrough is where you can see materials printed on the other side of the paper. Thicker paper minimizes this, but the Aussie printshop doesn't use it. One wonders why.)

One thing we do NOT recommend for Aussie and Kiwi readers is that they shop at the CreateSpace e-store -- because CreateSpace's idea of overseas postage is (!) US$26 for economy, and US$40 for regular!! In fact, their 'economy' is the USPS Priority service, and $40 is something like FedEx. Sure, you'll get your book faster (ten days on average), but it'll be costing you US$48.50 = A$75, which is utterly absurd.

Once again, we'll be contacting CreateSpace about this -- making them aware of the fact that they're locking out foreign sales -- but what can be done about it, who knows? It all depends if CreateSpace is willing to negotiate. If Aussie and Kiwi sales represent about .05% of their overall trade, they probably don't give the proverbial stuff.

Once again, when we learn something (if we ever do), I'll report on it here.


The classic Aussie postman -- "postie" on his postie bike. Don't blame the postman for the price of postage. It might have something to do with George W. ...


In the meantime ... Aussie and New Zealand readers, I really do suggest you look at ebooks as an alternative. You'll be able to order THE LORDS OF HARBENDANE on paper from Amazon.com in January (the process takes too long for it to be available for Christmas, sorry; we only found out about this relatively recently, with too little time for us to do anything about it). But you need to be aware of what ordering via Amazon, from downunder, will cost. $22.50 for the book ... $15 postage. US$37.50 is going to convert out to something like A$57.50 -- and again, this is utterly absurd.

The ebook will be US$10, which is about A$13.50.

What's to be done about all of the above? I have no idea. Barack Obama probably has no idea. Having Superdude deliver the mail would be an option, but he might not go for it...


The price of foreign postage is directly related to the cost of jet fuel, and the price of oil ... and you also have the carbon taxes that are being slapped on, in the interests of the environment. Things are going to get expensive -- it's already happening. Luxury goods and imported goods are going to slither out of the reach of most people -- this also is happening.

A little while ago I blogged about how the global financial meltdown is affecting sales not only for me but for everyone, everywhere:
http://mel-keegan.blogspot.com/2008/11/pod-publishing-online-sales-and-2009.html

...and what's happening with shipping costs certainly plays a major role in this picture.

If Nostrakeeganus were to make a prediction as per where we'll be in 2010, I'd say -- reading ebooks. There's a ten billion dollar fortune in it, for some Chinese entrepreneur who can come out with the equivalent of a Pocket PC for A$250, something that reads ebooks just fine, and where you only have to buy the gizmo one time. I'd buy one ... and don't get me wrong, I love real books. I love hardcovers. But I can afford to buy maybe two or three in a year, and the rest are going to wind up being an assortment of electrons, pixels and push-buttons.

If anyone were asking me, I'd say it's unavoidable, and my serious, sober recommendation to Australian and New Zealand readers is to embrace the technology ... learn to like it. Get an ebook reader -- always supposing our hypothetical Chinese entrepreneur can come up with something for a nice, comfy price we can afford. At A$250, I'd buy one today, and promptly stock up on all the reading I've skipped for the last few years because books, in this country, are so expensive, it's foolish.

Sorry to be the bearer of ill tidings this morning. I'll be back with something humorous tomorrow!

Cheers,
MK

1 comment:

Aricia said...

Jeeepers. I hadn't realized how, uh, spoiled rotten I am, being a proofie and not actually paying for these books. I mean, I'd PAY if I had to, but being local to the publishing studio is such a blessing. I never realized this before.

Any chance, Mel, that you could work a deal with one of the print shops, and maybe bring in a carton for Aussie readers???

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