One of the biggest problems for small presses and self-publishers is distribution. Most small publishers in Australia cannot attract a distributor because their print runs are too small. Yet the economics of a higher print run in Australia don’t really work, the market size doesn’t warrant, for example, a print run of 1500 copies for a poetry collection or short story anthology. So small publishers do the hard slog of selling the book themselves, usually direct to market through their website, personal networks, literary events or through relationships with independent booksellers wherever they can.

This means two things: firstly, small publishers (or in this post I really mean micro publishers) must handle the physical process of distribution themselves, keeping boxes of books in their garage, handling invoicing, returns, etc. Secondly, they are usually restricted to a local market geographically (sometimes even within one state let alone one country) because they don’t have the resources to develop distributor relationships with retailers further afield and because customers start to pay prohibitive amounts for shipping.

What if these two things could be magically solved by a fulfillment service? Enter Amazon Fulfillment Web Service (Amazon FWS).

Amazon Web Services

As ReadWriteWeb reports:

FWS offers two APIs (application programming interfaces) – one inbound and one outbound. That means developers can now progromatically send physical goods to an Amazon warehouse (fulfillment center) and then have Amazon do the shipping of those goods out to customers when items are purchased through 3rd party sites. Amazon has offered other businesses access to its fulfillment infrastructure for some time through the Fulfillment by Amazon service, but today’s announcement means that the whole process will be automated. It’s a webservices world!

This could be an amazing opportunity for some publishers to expand their geographic markets and streamline their businesses. For example, a small Australian publisher could more cost-effectively offer books for sale to US and UK customers without those customers having to pay international shipping, and without the publisher having to handle the physical goods.

It’s not without its challenges. Firstly, a publisher may need to make a substantial investment to get a programmer to set up the web interface between their site and Amazon’s Fulfillment Service. And while the web APIs might be free, Amazon do charge for the physical storage of goods and shipping costs. But I would think this need not be any more expensive than a publisher would pay in percentage margin to a book distributor to perform exactly the same functions, and could well be a lot less.

Since small presses and self-publishers are usually working unpaid, they are limited in the time and energy they can devote to all the functions of publishing books. If they could alleviate even a portion of that workload through something like Amazon FWS they’d have more time and energy for marketing and promotion, lifting their overall productivity and, ultimately, book sales.