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. My 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.
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.