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.