Historical and Contemporary Romance Author

How Amazon’s Foreign Expansion Hurts Self-Published Authors

If you are a US resident and aren’t a self-publishing author, you probably haven’t noticed Amazon’s recent expansion of to include separate domains not only for the UK and Germany (amazon.de), but also for France (.fr) and today, Italy (.it) and Spain (.es).

Now, I’m all for making digital books more readily available to people in foreign countries, and I’m thrilled for readers in these countries because the availability of these new domains probably means Amazon will no longer charge them the additional $2.00 download fee they tack onto purchases made on the Amazon US site by people who don’t reside in one of the countries with its own domain site. (That is a tacky business practice, IMO. Pun intended.)

But the availability of these new domains is a bit of a conundrum for a self-publishing author because, the way Amazon calculates and pays revenues is per domain. In other words, sales are tracked separate for the US, UK, Germany, France, and now Italy and Spain. And Amazon doesn’t actually issue a payment to the author/publisher until the combined revenue for that domain reaches a minimum of $10. And once that $10 is paid out, you have to collect up an additional $10 through that domain before you’ll get paid again.

Additionally, if you want to have an author page for each of the domains, you have to build it separately with a separate Author Central account. Amazon doesn’t just copy your author page from the US site to the other domains. You have to build each one manually. (This hits ALL authors, not just self-publishing authors, but of course, many traditionally published authors don’t have any books that are being sold in these countries.)

In the six months since Amazon.de (Germany) came online, two copies of my self-published books have sold there. That’s awesome in that I’m thrilled that German readers have access to my books. The problem is, at that rate, I won’t actually get paid for those books or any others I sell until about 2050! I’ve sold none yet at Amazon.fr and since Spain and Italy just came online today, it’s unlikely I’ve sold any there, either. But I’m less troubled by selling NO copies on those domains than I am by selling a few dozen copies over the course of years and letting Amazon keep 100% of the revenue. Multiplied over time and many authors/publishers, this is a RACKET for Amazon. It’s a way for them to hang on to potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenues that it never has to pay out.

There’s a simple way to overcome this problem, of course. Amazon could choose to tally up all the revenues from each domain’s sales into one lump sum and pay for all sales on ANY Amazon domain. But they don’t do that and I don’t see any evidence that they’re planning to change their ways. And why would they? It’s likely to be a windfall for them, putting a little extra capital in their pockets to make up for the loss of those $2 download charges.

Now, as an author, I don’t want to and won’t limit my books’ listings to just the countries where I think I’ll sell enough copies to earn $10 in a reasonable period of time. That seems unfair to readers in those countries, who probably CAN’T buy my books from any other domains once a domain for their country is in place. But at the same time, it really KILLS me to know that these are sales for which I am very likely never to be paid. And that makes me feel less than enthusiastic about Amazon’s foreign expansion.

I guess in the scheme of things, I’d rather authors got hurt than readers. But that doesn’t mean I’m not getting hurt.


  • Lisa J. Yarde December 1, 2011 at 5:24 pm

    I’m confused that you have not received payment from your German sales – mine have come in at the same time as any UK payment. It seems, at least for me, that US payments are deposited separately, preceded by a collective payment of non-US sales. But don’t take my word for it – I haven’t sold anything in Germany for two months now, since Amazon France debuted.

  • Courtney Milan December 1, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    But the reason we’re not selling much in foreign markets is that they’re small at present. Of course we aren’t selling much. The market is tiny. It will get bigger, though–and I’ve seen the German market grow even over the last 2 months. I have a book that used to be hanging out at the 200-300 range, which is now in the 300-400 range there–but I’m selling more copies now than I was at 200-300 a month ago.

    (And yes, this means Amazon.de is sending me money–but since I spent in the four figures for the translation, it’s nothing to be excited about.)

    I’m not hugely worried about this, because I suspect that the market’s going to get large enough that I’ll be regularly earning payments in every one of Amazon’s marketplaces.

    To put another way: this strikes me rather like those people in 2006 saying, “E-books are crap, I only have 2 e-book sales listed on my royalty statement. Nobody will ever make any money on digital.”

    Don’t start from 6 months and and extrapolate into infinity.

  • Jackie Barbosa December 1, 2011 at 6:51 pm

    Lisa, I would be happy to discover that all non-US sales were being paid together, but I wouldn’t know since I also haven’t been paid for UK sales in several months (haven’t reached the $10 threshhold on those yet, either).

    And Courtney, you’re right that it’s a small market now and it’s not fair to extrapolate into forever but…my UK sales have never been particularly brisk, so it takes 3-4 months for me to accumulate enough revenue in my account from them to get paid, and then it’s a very small amount. I am being a little facetious when I say I won’t get paid for my German sales until 2050, but only a little.

    The problem, as I see it, is that it seems unfair to me for Amazon to cut the revenues it pays for sales into smaller and smaller bits, thereby allowing it to withhold payment. But maybe Lisa is correct and they’ll lump all the foreign sales together for payment, in which case, it’s not quite so concerning.


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