Red Room Launches Deep Discounts for Authors. Should You Use It?

By Sarah Pinneo

In the new age of publishing, sometimes an author has to be her own bookstore too. I have written before about how easy technology has made the vending of ones own books. Now Red Room is trying to make it cheaper, too. But will their new Authors Only Wholesale Club stack up?

Buying Your Own Books

Most publishers will sell you books for a hefty discount. The cheapest price I'm aware of is at Random House, where authors can buy their own titles--and any other RH titles--at a 50% discount, with free shipping. That's pretty hard to beat if RH is your publisher.

But now is offering authors a 40% discount across the board, shipping not included. But there's a hitch and a benefit. The hitch: you have to pay $95.00 a year to participate. The benefit: Red Room senior editor Huntington Sharp confirms that "all sales through Red Room's authors bookstore are definitely recorded by BookScan." That means the sales will count towards the point-of-sale success of your book, which agents, editors and booksellers everywhere can see.

Depending on the title, both Amazon and big box retailers like Wal-Mart and Target might also compete with the 40%, give or take a few pennies, and often with free shipping (or ship-to-store.) But the savvy author knows never to buy her own books from Wal-Mart or Sam's Club, which does not contribute to BookScan. If you're going to the trouble to sell multiple copies of your book, make sure those sales count in your favor.

Some authors will not be able to resist increasing their Amazon ranking with a bulk purchase from everyone's favorite mail order giant. But don't forget that your rank will only increase by one copy for each separate order. If your book sells at Amazon for $10.95, consider consecutive orders of 3 copies each. Your rank will bump for each order, and you'll still meet the free shipping minimum.

Example: let's say I need multiple copies of my own book for an event next month. A certain paperback comedy is currently selling for $10.95 at Amazon with free shipping, $9.71 at Wal-Mart with free ship-to-store, $11.01 at Target with free shipping and $9.00 plus shipping and the annual fee at Red Room. Most publishers will also sell for around the $9.00 price. Your local independent bookstore: $15.00.

So what should a girl do?

Always Worst Choices: Wal-Mart and the publisher! That BookScan credit really matters, and neither of these qualifies.

Sometimes Best Choices: Amazon, Target. The free shipping, low prices. But only order if you have plenty of lead time. You can rarely get a human being on the phone who can actually track your order.

Good choice for a giant order: Interestingly, Red Room breaks even for about 200 copies of a trade paperback, even with the shipping and fees. Plus, it's a small enough company that you can find a human being to email/chat with about your order.

Surprise Choice: your local independent bookstore. Many shops will send out a representative to sell at your event. You won't make any money off the transaction, but you'll also take no risk.

This year a non-profit organization wanted to buy 80 copies of my book. The lovely woman who ran the organization said "I'll buy them at Amazon." And I said "hang on." I asked for a couple of hours to find the best option. I called my local store, who agreed to make the bulk sale at 25% less than the cover price, which was within $0.25 per copy of the Amazon price. The non-profit was happy because an actual human would shepherd the order through delivery, and everything would arrive in one box, instead of in a series of shipments from Amazon warehouses.

"Thank you, thank you, thank you for thinking of us," the bookseller said. And what author can't use a little bookseller gratitude?