Where Are Your CreateSpace Sales?

Trust

Every week, I see multiple questions on the CreateSpace community forum regarding “missing sales” and “reporting problems.” I also see blog posts and articles across the internet about this issue.

I have monitored my sales ranks and royalty reports for several different titles for five years, and I see a very close correspondence. I see no evidence of reporting issues. However, I am aware of various reasons for reporting delays.

When authors (and indie publishers) suspect that a royalty hasn’t been reported, very often it’s due to one of the following explanations.

Where Are Your Royalties?

(1) CreateSpace reports the royalty when the book is printed, not when it sells. (A couple of years ago it was the other way around, but not anymore.) Depending on sales volume and maintenance issues, sometimes the book prints the same day as it is sold while often it prints 2-3 days after it sells.

Therefore, most royalties show up within 2-3 days of the sale. However, there are significant exceptions, as noted below.

(2) Returns and exchanges are fairly common, even though returning a print book by mail seems inconvenient (it’s actually pretty easy and painless once a customer learns how), although cancellations are simple.

CreateSpace never shows a return or exchange on your royalty report. Rather, Amazon waits until the next order comes through and simply uses the returned (or canceled) book to fill that order. Since the book had been printed previously, you’ve already been paid the royalty.

So here’s what might happen. A customer buys a book and returns it. Now the author’s friend buys a book, but no royalty shows up. The author freaks out. But that’s because the author didn’t know about the return.

(3) This point probably accounts for most of the missing royalty concerns. Amazon sources occasional orders through third parties (instead of using CreateSpace). Perhaps this happens when CreateSpace is unable to keep up with demand, but there may also be other reasons.

When Amazon sources the order to a third party, the royalty doesn’t show up for 1-2 months (maybe even 3). CreateSpace reports the royalty when Expanded Distribution royalties are reported (which can take a couple of months). The royalty correctly shows as an Amazon royalty, but is reported when Expanded Distribution royalties are reported.

Note that this happens whether or not your book is enrolled in the Expanded Distribution channel.

Although I said it happens occasionally, it is significant. Every month, when Expanded Distribution royalties are reported, I see several other sales reported at around the same time (in both the US and the UK, so it happens with UK sales, too).

A couple of years ago, CreateSpace used to send us an email and report these royalties as an adjustment; this is how we know about this issue.

(4) If your book is enrolled in the Expanded Distribution channel, a customer may order the book through a third-party seller instead of Amazon. In this case, the royalty reports as an Expanded Distribution royalty in a couple of months.

(5) After you’ve sold some copies, it’s possible for customers who have your book to resell them on Amazon used. You don’t receive any royalty for such re-sales. For most books, customers tend to prefer to purchase new copies directly from Amazon, so this is unlikely. This is more likely with books that have very high list prices, or books that have sold numerous copies.

(6) Some people say that they bought your book, but either didn’t buy your book or they canceled the order (or the credit card didn’t go through). It happens.

(7) Amazon may choose to stock up on your title. When Amazon does this, CreateSpace prints several copies in advance. You’re paid when these copies are printed. When they subsequently sell, you don’t receive a royalty because you already have.

Two ways that this might apply to you are as follows.

About a week into December, CreateSpace prints several copies of the hottest sellers and ships them to Amazon. From the data I have available, it looks like if you sold about 4 or more copies per day (on average) at Amazon US in November, on around December 10 you may have noticed an order for 50 (or much more, depending) copies of your book. From around December 8 until the time at which Amazon runs out, you won’t see any royalties from what is ordinarily your hottest-selling book. (Last year, CreateSpace sent an email about this.)

Amazon may stock books in Canada in a similar manner, printing a few up front to stock in their warehouse. Therefore, you may see your sales rank change at Amazon Canada (any time of the year), but don’t see a royalty report (if your book was in stock in the warehouse in Canada, you were paid when the book was printed).

Transparency

This method of royalty reporting isn’t transparent. If the royalties instead always reported when a sale was made, it would be much easier to see the correspondence between sales and royalties.

Publishers who sell large numbers of books are more likely to see a close correspondence between sales and royalties. Authors who sell a small number of books each month are more likely to notice a couple of royalties that haven’t yet reported due to one of the above explanations.

(If you happen to have several orders on a day when Amazon is, for whatever reason, fulfilling them through a third party, then it can seem like many royalties are missing. Or if you suddenly had a large number of returns, it could seem this way.)

Trust

I use CreateSpace because I have come to trust Amazon through several years of experience dealing with Amazon because CreateSpace is an Amazon company. I suspect that many other authors use CreateSpace for a similar reason. (It’s not the only reason; e.g. it’s convenient and the prices are good, too.)

Amazon has a reputation to uphold. If there were any royalty reporting inaccuracies, publishers who sell thousands of books per month would see large discrepancies between sales ranks and royalty reporting, and there would be many more complaints out there.

You shouldn’t just trust, you should also verify. You can monitor your sales rank through Author Central, for example, and compare this to your royalty reports. After you sell hundreds of books, you’ll probably see that there is very good correspondence, but there may be occasional delays according to the reasons noted above.

If you’re concerned about a possible missing royalty, the best thing is to contact CreateSpace and inquire about it. If you can get the printing number from the last page from the customer, that will make it much easier to track the royalty.

If you don’t trust Amazon or CreateSpace, or you believe you’re missing royalties, you should consider looking for another print-on-demand service.

Personally, I would be more suspicious of other services. (However, Ingram’s two services, Lightning Source for small publishers and Ingram Spark for indie authors, I would be willing to trust.) Even if you publish traditionally, you must still have concerns about the accuracy of royalty reporting (in fact, I see articles about this online, too).

A CreateSpace Author

I’m Chris McMullen. I’ve published several paperbacks using CreateSpace since 2008 and I’m pleased with my decision to use CreateSpace. But you should decide for yourself.

Follow me at WordPress, like my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles by clicking one of the following links:

Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

14 comments on “Where Are Your CreateSpace Sales?

  1. Great info once again Chris. I love createspace and Amazon and will not use anyone else…but I wasn’t completely aware of how they worked. Thanks for clearing that up!

  2. Thank you for the info. I’ll stop obsessively checking my CS account several times a day- I had thought the order/royalty information worked in a similar manner to the webpage stats! Such a newbie….

  3. Hi everybody. I am new to this. Just published my first fantasy novel on Createspace and Kindle/Amazon. I am feverously typing away at the sequel. Sold a few copies but, I am desperate to get my book noticed; being a skint author who is out of work I cannot afford an ad campaign as of yet. I have plugged my book on a few fantasy sites but got warned for self promoting. Oops! I am a bit green so any advice that does not mean shelling out money I have not got will be most appreciated. To earn a comfortable living is all we ever want.

    Kind regards,
    Leo.

  4. Hi, I just sold a copy of my book on the expanded distribution and I was wondering if I could find out what particular site sold this copy. Thanks

    • Probably not. If you’ve sold any copies at BN.com or The Book Depository, you may see a sales rank there, but CreateSpace doesn’t indicate where Expanded Distribution sales originate. If you have an Author Central page, you can view geographic BookScan sales to see where some of your print sales originate region wise, but not all print sales are included in that report.

  5. Hi Chris
    Firstly many thanks for all your words of wisdom which have been extremely useful to a newbie author.

    My problem has been a book of mine that has been doing pretty well. At the end of November it was selling 120-150 a day and was ranked about 5-600 in the UK.

    At the beginning of December it sold zero for a day. I asked support what had happened and they said sales were only reported when books went out, and presumably none had gone out on the day in question.

    There were only depressed sales for a few days and sales resumed to 1-200 a day.

    However on 14th December sales stopped dead again and didn’t sell another copy for a month. The UK rankings, where the book sells, were around 800 during much of the period.

    I contacted support again and after several weeks and received this from the Accounts Payable Team;
    “We haven’t received any associated orders or misreported invoices / royalties. There isn’t any prevuild inventory.
    The behavior seems strange due to the title’s history, but from our end it doesn’t look like there’s any missing royalties.”

    I am at a bit of a loss. Could it be that the potential sales will still come through in expanded sales despite the fact that I don’t do this and the Accounts Payable Team don’t know about it?

    I am not one of those who believe that Amazon is trying to rip me off. It is a fantastic service and relies on trust and I am certain that they wouldn’t compromise that. However I am not quite so trusting of the efficiency of their accounting system, let alone the transparency of it all.

  6. Congratulations on your sales.

    Sales ranks are not quite as easy to interpret for the UK as they are for the US. Also note that the overall sales rank in all of Books is the best one to go by (not any category ranks). I assume you’re looking at sales rank and sales of the print edition. (Keep in mind that other people who find my site may also be reading these comments, so I try to clarify as much as possible.)

    CreateSpace is inconsistent among the United States, Great Britain, and continental Europe with regard to sales reporting around the holidays. For example, I received an email in early November that I would see holiday preorders reported starting in November for Europe, but I didn’t receive any email about preorders for the US or GB, even though in December I actually saw holiday preorders show up for the US.

    Another big difference was that in December my holiday preorders showed up as bulk items with the actual Qty listed (upwards of 500), whereas my Europe preorders were spread over weeks and all listed one at a time (Qty was always set to 1). So if I had 10 books preordered for Europe, they didn’t post it one time with Qty set to 10, but posted it 10 separate times with Qty set to 1.

    The way that my Europe preorders were posted, it makes it impossible to tell which sales were regular orders and which sales were preorders: They were all mixed together.

    It’s possible that prior to mid-December, your reports were showing inflated sales, making it look like you were selling more books per day then you really were, and that after combining November, December, January, and February, things have worked out on average.

    There are certain types of books that are strongly seasonal. For example, adult coloring books, Christmas books, and puzzle books can sell frequently in November and early December, and come almost to a halt in mid-December. Relative to other books in the same category, the category ranks might be relatively unaffected.

    Another issue is returns. When you sell dozens of books per day, a significant return rate can impact sales reporting noticeably. Returns are also more common around the holidays.

    Note that a book with a history of strong daily sales may lose its sales rank very slowly (and with fluctuation) during a period of slow sales, whereas a book without that history will see its rank climb rapidly. It’s getting harder and harder to interpret Amazon.com sales rank as they continue to optimize their algorithm. The fact that your sales rank didn’t climb rapidly only shows that it had a history of strong sales going into the period, it doesn’t guarantee that it continued to sell.

    If I understood your comment precisely, to me it does sound like there may be some missing sales, but I also understand that there are many complications involved, uncertainties with sales rank, uncertainties with returns, inconsistent sales reporting, etc., so it’s not yet conclusive that there are missing sales.

    It is possible that some orders were fulfilled through third-party printers. It’s even possible that some sales that were reported as EUR were actually ordered through GBP (there has been speculation about this in the past, but it’s just speculation).

    I would continue to communicate with CS. If you haven’t already been elevated to a Tier 2 support specialist, you should inquire about this possibility. Try to be patient (though I know it’s difficult when it seems like many sales may be missing). I do know of a few authors who finally were satisfied with an explanation after months of waiting and inquiring (though usually holiday issues are resolved within 1-2 months of the following year, if not sooner—for most authors, seeing their preorders post in early December eases their concerns).

    It’s not easy to do when you’re worried about sales, but if you can focus on writing your next book and continued marketing, hopefully you can keep it together while waiting for this issue to resolve. You can also have a backup plan in mind just in case you don’t feel like this issue resolves satisfactorily. Good luck.

  7. Thanks very much for taking the time for such a fulsome response.

    What struck me as odd was that Amazon said that the behaviour was strange but ‘it doesn’t look like any missing royalties’. If they think it strange and can’t work it out then I will have no hope.

    The book was at 500 in overall UK sales and is Christmas focussed as it is a children’s book. Do we know what the expected level of UK sales is from a book with this rating?

    The November sales for the book was 1800 and I would have expected, based on my other books and previous years experience, for December to be 2.5x November. It worked out at 1500.

    It could be that they were building stock in November with individual books and this created the distortion.

    I did have four hundred go out in one sales for three of my other books in November, though didn’t notice any diminishing of sales before or after.

    Anyway it is what it is. I am just surprised they can’t explain the anomaly.

    On the subject of European sales about 40% of my sales over Christmas are European. I would suspect that under 5% go to a European reader. They are mostly in English after all.

    I did order one of my books before Christmas and it said it had been printed in Poland. I am not complaining as the margins tend to be better for European ones.

    • The copy printed in Poland that should have printed in GB suggests either that some EUR sales were really GB sales or they utilized third-party printers that may show significant reporting delays (months).

      Any copies you personally ordered or a customer you know ordered during this period, collect the printing numbers from the last page and ask CS to trace them. They should be able to provide detailed info regarding the production and royalty reporting of those specific copies, which may help.

      I wouldn’t give up yet. I know a few authors who were trying to sort out unexplained reporting, where initially a CS rep couldn’t explain it, but eventually it got explained.

  8. The book was personally ordered by me and I don’t think I need the printing number. It says;

    Printed in Poland
    by Amazon Fulfillment
    Poland Sp. zoo, Wroclaw

    It went into my dashboard on the day of despatch

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s