Selling Books Worldwide With Free Shipping

International reach is one of the advantages large trade publishers have always enjoyed over small presses and self publishing authors. The large trades developed their worldwide networks through a combination of foreign partnerships, overseas offices and subsidiary operations. In fact, some large publishers have used deep discount sales to overseas subsidiaries to cheat authors out of their full royalty rate, but that's an old story. What's new in recent years is the ability for small players to sell books overseas without gambling on rights sales at international book shows.

Yesterday I signed up for an affiliate account with The Book Depository, which stocks all of my titles printed by Lightning Source. I've been aware of original UK version of The Book Depository and their free international shipping for a couple years, thanks to a cousin in Israel who orders books through them. They are clearly losing money on many of the books that they sell, but so does Amazon, so I suppose they are in good company. What's particularly compelling about The Book Depository is that they offer this free shipping to 90 or so countries, including most of the English speaking world. One unfortunate exception is India, which I assume has to do with the interface between the Indian postal service and the rest of the world. They do offer free shipping to China.

So I started an experiment last night, adding Book Depository links to the order pages for my four current titles, and I'll see whether or not there's enough demand to keep them there. I'm not particularly concerned about the risk of diluting Amazon sales, which are the publisher's best force multiplier, because I believe most Americans will choose the Amazon ordering link without even thinking about options. Ironically, I'm more worried at this point that international book sales with free shipping will cannibalize my direct eBook sales. Wouldn't that be an interesting change? As I was setting up the links, I also noticed that my order pages are all different. I've run so many forgotten experiments over the years that they've become a mish-mash, so straightening them out will make a good project when I have the energy.

Many self publishers have been waiting for a practical overseas solution to selling paper books for as long as they've been in business. Other than my cousin's positive experience, I don't have any insight on whether The Book Depository is a good long term alternative, and I welcome any feedback that overseas users have to contribute. If you're waiting for the Espresso 2.0 book printing machine to take off before you begin selling overseas, you'll just have to wait a few more years.


steeleweed said...

I recently bot a UK-pub'd book from them. I suspect they have a good business model. Younger folks are growing up more 'internationalized' than my generation. My son often buys music from abroad. Will be interesting to see what your experiences are with them.

Anonymous said...

Ironically they announced they were starting to sell e-books just a few days ago.

Morris Rosenthal said...


It's only by chance I thought of them yesterday. I was looking at a detailed report from my POD printing in the UK (Lightning Source) and found that I'd sold eight books through The Book Depository in March. That motivated me to look at them again, which is when I found they'd opened a US branch last year, along with an Affiliate program that supports direct links.


Chad said...

One of my authors was visiting South Africa last month and discovered that some people had ordered his books there through Book Depository. I would have thought they'd have been printed/shipped by LSI UK, but the sales numbers showed up in LSI US reports. I started adding links to BD for global visitors, but don't know yet how much it will add to sales. Didn't realize they had an affiliate program, though; I'll have to take a look at it.

Morris Rosenthal said...


Not only do they have an affiliate program, but the reports are real-time, or very close. I don't have any sales yet, but 4 unique clicks.


Anonymous said...

A related observation: I have a book that is offered on my website in hardcover for $99.95. With shipping overseas (it is a heavy hardcover book)the total comes out to $142. Right next to the "buy" link is another "buy" link for the same book in e-format for $75 out the door. So, hardcover is 2x as expensive for overseas customers. Surprisingly, I still get quite a bit more overseas orders for the hardcover version! Explain that!?