Crowdfunding, International Shipping, and Brandon Sanderson

 

Brandon Sanderson launched his crowdfunding campaign today centered around selling leatherbound editions of Words of Radiance. This post isn’t about that book. I’m going to assume that if you care about the book itself this campaign isn’t news to you. This post isn’t about his new Secret Project either. This isn’t the first time Sanderson has said “Surprise! I wrote another book while you weren’t looking!” I doubt it will be the last. Rather, this post is about two epiphenomena of the campaign that I hope will be interesting to the Ricochetti at large.

Eleven Million Dollars

I really hope that Sanderson has some fun negotiations with his publisher and agent. I imagine him sitting across the table like The Bobs from Office Space and asking “What exactly is it you do around here?” The model of the publishing business has been (if you’ll allow me a touch of bitterness here) to beg agents to accept your unworthy manuscripts until you find one desperate enough to take on a new client. The agent then flogs your manuscript to every friend he doesn’t actually have in the publishing business until he catches an editor magnanimous enough to let his assistant summarize your book for him, at which point he consigns it to midlist hell and then blames you when it never earns out. Only with more rejection involved.

There’s more to it than that (Sanderson will be the first to tell you that a good agent — which is what he’s got — is useful in other ways.) A new author, whatever his skill level, will not command the same price tag. However the march of technology has offered new ways to distribute books which bypass the whole setup. For a new author the argument to sell $2.99 ebooks on Amazon is pretty strong. For someone swinging in Sanderson’s weight class, well, eleven million bucks will finance your own print-on-demand business. 

I’m not saying that traditional publishers are going the way of the dodo. I am saying that they’re Detroit facing the Japanese automakers. Their business model is changing, and they’ll have to step up their game if they want to stay competitive. 

Handling the Shipping

Brandon Sanderson has a video in the campaign itself explaining the various shipping prices around the world. Broadly speaking because he’s printing in America, not China, his shipping costs are much more expensive. As a red-blooded American I cry foul. As a nerdy American I also like charts, so hold up a second as I reproduce his:

Look at the column on the right; the price for shipping anywhere in the US is $25; the price for shipping to Canada & Mexico is $110. Didn’t we have some kind of free trade agreement going on? Where’s the extra eighty five dollars coming in? I don’t ship things normally so these numbers seem strange to me, especially the South America line. The cost of physically moving packages around can’t be that much.

More to the point, if I take Sanderson at his word then a large part of the problem is that he’s not printing in China. Why is it that all the world has better trade agreements with the evil communist dictatorship?

That’s all I’ve got for you today. I’ll leave off with a note that as I was writing this post his campaign has gotten another seven hundred thousand pledged. Or so. Who’s counting?

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  1. Hinch Member
    Hinch
    @Hinch

    I like Brandon Sanderson and his books.  He’s got a fun YouTube channel, and he seems to take an intense interest in publishing and how his work is perceived.  I worked my way thru about ten of his books, but realized there were dozens more to go, all with splintered and fragmented and forking storylines…so I quit.  I do like the fact that he’s become successful enough to attempt to shove the publishing process around some, hoping for positive change.   

    • #1
  2. Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw Member
    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw
    @MattBalzer

    Internet's Hank:

    Look at the column on the right; the price for shipping anywhere in the US is $25; the price for shipping to Canada & Mexico is $110. Didn’t we have some kind of free trade agreement going on?

    Sort of? I know there’s still customs and stuff that has to be dealt with so it’s not as free as all that.

    Where’s the extra eighty five dollars coming in? I don’t ship things normally so these numbers seem strange to me, especially the South America line. The cost of physically moving packages around can’t be that much.

    Yeah, it’s weird. I think it has to do with the routes that companies take to get stuff places. Shipping from CA to Costa Rica UPS routes packages through Miami. Same with some of our freight that goes via ship, it’s routed through Miami and I just got an email that they’re going to start routing it through Philadelphia. 

    More to the point, if I take Sanderson at his word then a large part of the problem is that he’s not printing in China. Why is it that all the world has better trade agreements with the evil communist dictatorship?

    Not so much trade agreements as the evil commies are the ones who declare things to be worth other than what people will pay so they can make stuff cheaper, for a while. Also I seem to recall reading that they own a lot of shipping containers and other tools of the trade so that’s probably another reason.

    • #2
  3. Internet's Hank Contributor
    Internet's Hank
    @HankRhody

    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw (View Comment):

    Internet’s Hank:

    Look at the column on the right; the price for shipping anywhere in the US is $25; the price for shipping to Canada & Mexico is $110. Didn’t we have some kind of free trade agreement going on?

    Sort of? I know there’s still customs and stuff that has to be dealt with so it’s not as free as all that.

    Granted, however that’s $85 in customs for places we have a nominally free trade agreement with. Then you look at the Middle East and that’s $110 more than in America. Even if you ignore the cost of throwing the package halfway across the globe I’d imagine getting it in to the nastier countries on the list ought to require a more significant markup than popping over the border into Canada like a busload of Seniors looking for cheaper meds.

    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw (View Comment):

    Not so much trade agreements as the evil commies are the ones who declare things to be worth other than what people will pay so they can make stuff cheaper, for a while. Also I seem to recall reading that they own a lot of shipping containers and other tools of the trade so that’s probably another reason.

    Not the point. Start with a shipping container of McGuffins in China and one in the US. It is cheaper to ship from China to Europe than from the USA to Europe. That isn’t a question of manufacturing or socialist bookkeeping; it’s at the very least three quarters a question of who’s charging what tariffs and so forth. The euros are giving the commies a better deal and I want to know why.

    • #3
  4. Internet's Hank Contributor
    Internet's Hank
    @HankRhody

    Hinch (View Comment):
    I worked my way thru about ten of his books, but realized there were dozens more to go, all with splintered and fragmented and forking storylines…so I quit.

    I can understand that. Me, I went the other way. You should see my spreadsheet.

    • #4
  5. Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw Member
    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw
    @MattBalzer

    Internet's Hank (View Comment):
    It is cheaper to ship from China to Europe than from the USA to Europe.

    Well it was, if the Red Sea stays closed it might not be. 

    That isn’t a question of manufacturing or socialist bookkeeping; it’s at the very least three quarters a question of who’s charging what tariffs and so forth. The euros are giving the commies a better deal and I want to know why.

    Game recognize game?

    • #5
  6. Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw Member
    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw
    @MattBalzer

    Internet's Hank (View Comment):
    Then you look at the Middle East and that’s $110 more than in America. Even if you ignore the cost of throwing the package halfway across the globe I’d imagine getting it in to the nastier countries on the list ought to require a more significant markup than popping over the border into Canada like a busload of Seniors looking for cheaper meds.

    Possibly, but on the other hand maybe the warlords are big fans so they put their thugs at the port to make sure it’s clear.

    Although that probably has something to do with it too. If your carriers are going to have something to pick up on the way back it’ll probably be cheaper than having to have them deadhead there.

    Although that doesn’t explain Mexico and Canada either.

    Also it strikes me as odd that the prices are set by region like that. Might be another reason, the prices are set by region but specific countries drive it up.

    • #6
  7. CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill Coolidge
    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill
    @CarolJoy

    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw (View Comment):

    Internet’s Hank (View Comment):
    It is cheaper to ship from China to Europe than from the USA to Europe.

    Well it was, if the Red Sea stays closed it might not be.

    That isn’t a question of manufacturing or socialist bookkeeping; it’s at the very least three quarters a question of who’s charging what tariffs and so forth. The euros are giving the commies a better deal and I want to know why.

    Game recognize game?

    Wanna know the reality behind the onerous charges of shipping a book from the USA to Canada or Australia or Europe?

    I explained some years ago about what happened to shipping rates due to how Mr Bezos managed to buy up the portion of the United States Postal Service so that his products could ship for free.

    Yes you and I and all other humans get Amazon products including books shipped free.

    But what happens to the smaller book distributors and publishers who have to ship books?

    Their rates went up in order to offset the “freebies” that Bezos has received via his agreement with the US Congress of Spring 2007:

    https://ricochet.com/504296/how-a-dem-majority-congress-sold-jeff-bezos-the-us-post-office/

    • #7
  8. Internet's Hank Contributor
    Internet's Hank
    @HankRhody

    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill (View Comment):

    Wanna know the reality behind the onerous charges of shipping a book from the USA to Canada or Australia or Europe?

    Stipulating all that, how does Amazon’s preferential treatment at the Post Office determine how much FedEx charges to move a shipping container to Europe?

    • #8
  9. Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw Member
    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw
    @MattBalzer

    Internet's Hank (View Comment):

    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill (View Comment):

    Wanna know the reality behind the onerous charges of shipping a book from the USA to Canada or Australia or Europe?

    Stipulating all that, how does Amazon’s preferential treatment at the Post Office determine how much FedEx charges to move a shipping container to Europe?

    I’m guessing from that statement that FedEx is who Mr. Sanderson is using to ship his books? It’s possible there’s some of that. I’m given to understand that my company has a contract with FedEx that gives us reduced rates so it might be they make it up on the people who don’t. OTOH given the amount of product he’s moving I assume he’d look for the best deal (speaking of “why would he need an agent”).

    • #9
  10. Internet's Hank Contributor
    Internet's Hank
    @HankRhody

    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw (View Comment):

    I’m guessing from that statement that FedEx is who Mr. Sanderson is using to ship his books? It’s possible there’s some of that. I’m given to understand that my company has a contract with FedEx that gives us reduced rates so it might be they make it up on the people who don’t. OTOH given the amount of product he’s moving I assume he’d look for the best deal (speaking of “why would he need an agent”).

    I think he’s using FedEx. He mentioned them by name in the video, and he has an organization and they’ve done some shopping around for better options. He mentions not being large enough to get a special deal with the carriers. 

    • #10
  11. Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw Member
    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw
    @MattBalzer

    Internet's Hank (View Comment):

    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw (View Comment):

    I’m guessing from that statement that FedEx is who Mr. Sanderson is using to ship his books? It’s possible there’s some of that. I’m given to understand that my company has a contract with FedEx that gives us reduced rates so it might be they make it up on the people who don’t. OTOH given the amount of product he’s moving I assume he’d look for the best deal (speaking of “why would he need an agent”).

    I think he’s using FedEx. He mentioned them by name in the video, and he has an organization and they’ve done some shopping around for better options. He mentions not being large enough to get a special deal with the carriers.

    I may take a hit on this one, but: unlike your mom.

    • #11
  12. CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill Coolidge
    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill
    @CarolJoy

    Internet's Hank (View Comment):

    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill (View Comment):

    Wanna know the reality behind the onerous charges of shipping a book from the USA to Canada or Australia or Europe?

    Stipulating all that, how does Amazon’s preferential treatment at the Post Office determine how much FedEx charges to move a shipping container to Europe?

    Price fixing?

    At least that would be what I would suspect prior to the 2021 to current day  overall massive inflationary “adjustments” affecting everything from the price of beans to the price of shipping containers.

    • #12
  13. Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw Member
    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw
    @MattBalzer

    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill (View Comment):

    Internet’s Hank (View Comment):

    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill (View Comment):

    Wanna know the reality behind the onerous charges of shipping a book from the USA to Canada or Australia or Europe?

    Stipulating all that, how does Amazon’s preferential treatment at the Post Office determine how much FedEx charges to move a shipping container to Europe?

    Price fixing?

    At least that would be what I would suspect prior to the 2021 to current day overall massive inflationary “adjustments” affecting everything from the price of beans to the price of shipping containers.

    I think that in this case it’s more incompetence than malice, but I’m not prepared to say that it isn’t malicious incompetence.

    You got your energy prices being driven up by lack of supply, coupled with conversion to electric vehicles putting extra strain on the grid. 

    You got your global instability coupled with things like the two canals that allow ships to cut the most time off their routes being cut off or having to reduce traffic.

    In the states we have increased regulatory uncertainty when it isn’t outright stupidity.

    But it also goes back to one of my rules: it doesn’t matter if it’s malice or incompetence when the results are the same.

    • #13
  14. Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw Member
    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw
    @MattBalzer

    Having said that, I think that’s another couple reasons why it’d be cheaper to ship from China: 

    1. They don’t care about climate change, so they can use whatever fuel is cheapest.
    2. They’re willing to cut deals with say, the Houthis to allow Chinese-flagged ships through the Red Sea, if they’re not funding them outright.
    • #14
  15. Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw Member
    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw
    @MattBalzer

    Although I still don’t have a satisfactory explanation for why shipping to Canada is more expensive, I think the safe play is to blame Trudeau, by which I mean I was gonna do that anyway.

    • #15
  16. Internet's Hank Contributor
    Internet's Hank
    @HankRhody

    Looked at Sanderson’s website today, and found an essay about negotiating independent author’s royalty rates with Audible. Sample quote:

    I know that there are plenty of people out there who are tired of hearing about me and my works (I’m sorry–I do have quite the group of evangelists, and we can be an enthusiastic lot). 

    Uh… With respect to the rest of his blog post it’s another piece of the puzzle regarding my first question in the opening post. That is, the shifting balance of power between old and new methods of publishing.

    • #16
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