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