The Wizard of Zon: A Peek Behind the Curtain

“Bow before the Almighty Zon!” a bass voice boomed, seemingly from everywhere. The translucent image of a giant head flashed in front of my eyes. Overall, the visage was unassuming, apart from the brilliant neon letters J E F F plastered across its forehead.

“Um, hi?” I said, unsure what to make of the display. Someone was definitely compensating for something.

“Bow, I say!”

“Yeah, I heard that part. Look, I’m not really into the whole bowing thing.” A flutter of movement caught my attention. Dark, flowing fabric covered a nearby wall. “What’s this?”

“No! Stay away from there!” the voice commanded.

I ignored him and approached the curtain. The material felt soft and fuzzy, like an expensive throw pillow. I pulled the heavy drape away and a searing light blinded me…

* * * * *

So, what’s behind that curtain? Well, besides an undoubtedly brilliant businessman, there are a multitude of things we will likely never see. Today, however, I’d like to bring to light one of the levers and switches of the massive mechanism that chugs away behind your computer screen at the Zon.

In stock, not in stock

This relates to paper copies of books, whether they be hardback or paperback. It’s no secret that the Zon has a huge warehouse or three where they inventory a tremendous number of items. What most people don’t realize is that a large percentage of what the Zon sells never sees one of those warehouses. Much of what you buy from them is actually stored and shipped from a third party. In the case of books, many of them don’t even exist until after you’ve ordered them! This process is called: Print On Demand, or POD, for short. A lot of the books offered for sale, especially those by independent authors, are POD. You order it, then the book is printed and shipped to you from the factory that made it.

A further peek behind this particular curtain reveals another facet of the Zon’s business acumen. It treats books differently, depending on who produces them and how much money the Zon can make. Books published and produced by CreateSpace are POD. The Zon lists these titles as “In Stock” because CreateSpace is a subsidiary of the Zon. Books produced by other POD companies, such as Lightning Source or Lulu, are treated differently, depending on the discount offered on the particular title.

A publisher, or individual author, who chooses to produce their books via POD, has a set cost associated with each book, just like traditional printing, but this cost doesn’t vary by the number of copies printed. That author/publisher sets a retail price for their book, as well as a wholesale discount. This wholesale price is what Amazon pays for the book. Typically the discount ranges from 40%-60% of the book’s retail price. POD costs per book are still higher than books done in massive print runs of several thousand, so the retail prices tend to be higher. Screen shot 2013-03-22 at 8.49.39 AMMy Mother-Earth Series books retail at $14.99, a price I wasn’t happy with, but which was necessary based on the printing cost and my desire to give a Zon-pleasing discount of 50%. Here’s the Zon’s listing page for A Measure of Disorder, paperback edition.

Personally, I’d be very hesitant to plunk down $15 on an author I wasn’t familiar with, so, for my newest book, Knot in Time, I wanted to get that price down to make the paperbacks more appealing. The book has fewer pages, which helped, and I set the wholesale discount at 40% instead of 50%. This resulted in a retail price of $11.99. The Almighty Zon, however, doesn’t like the smaller discount, and here’s how you can tell.Screen shot 2013-03-22 at 8.50.20 AM

Notice the delivery has gone from “Only 1 Left” to “Usually Ships within 1 to 3 Weeks”! The process is no different. In fact, if you ordered both today, I’m confident they would arrive at nearly the same time (shipping vagaries not withstanding). The Zon punishes the listing at the less favorable discount. They are certainly within their rights to do so, and I honestly don’t begrudge the move. I’m simply pulling the curtain aside. You are free to make your own judgements.

Understand, I’m grateful for the Zon and the opportunities it has presented me as an independent author. I do, however, always want to keep an open mind and open eye on the business practices of the companies I deal with. Does this knowledge change your shopping experience? I’d love to hear what you think.

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About Alan Tucker

Writer, Dad, Graphic Designer, Soccer Coach … not necessarily in that order!

Posted on March 22, 2013, in Books/Writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. Great post and all so very true! Love the dragon cover, by the way 🙂

  2. So, is Create Space the publisher of LuLu? If LuLu has not physically sent the books TO Amazon–they are NOT in stock and must be ordered.

    I had a publishing account with Amazon (Selling print books not created with Create Space–I had a better priced printer)

    Each week,I got an ‘order’ from Amazon asking for more books–and I”d send them as requested. My books NEVER said 1-2 weeks–they were always in stock.

    Are you sure your POD company is on the mark?

    • For all my books, I use Lightning Source, which is the POD arm of Ingram, the worldwide book cataloging company. I know many authors who also use them.

      Lulu and CreateSpace are two separate companies as far as I know. The real sticking point with Amazon is the wholesale discount you set when pricing your book. What discount did you give them when you were doing your distribution?

  3. I think I got quite an education just reading your post, Alan. The publisher I’m signed with takes care of all those details, except that there is no paperback available through the Zon. I’m hoping that will change soon, but it has to benefit both the publisher and the author. Cheers!

  4. great info! thanks for posting Alan!

  5. Good info Alan! I have yet to do any print versions (it’s on the list) and my memoir will be through Lightening Source via Author House, so I’ll be interested to see! Thanks for the 4-1-1!

  6. Wow! Thank you for this information! It’s invaluable! I’ll have to pay attention to that stuff now! I’ll be curious to see how my books are handled.

  7. Thanks again for all the comments, folks! I’m glad the info was useful 🙂

  8. Great post and I agree. Best to keep your paperback prices competitive.

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