Amazon Holds Back The Growth Of E-Books Around The World

Writers often wonder why the growth of e-books is so much slower in the rest of the world.

There are a number of reasons for that, but one big factor is the $2 surcharge that Amazon levies on all e-books in most international countries.

This charge is levied by Amazon, and kept by Amazon, and has nothing to do with taxes.

This charge is applied whether the user downloads e-books through their Kindle or not, and whether the user even owns a Kindle or not.

I wrote about this issue back in May when this blog was getting less than 1,000 views a week.

Talking with some writers over the weekend, I realized that there is still very little awareness of this matter, and as I am approaching 5,000 views a week, I thought it would be a good time to highlight it again.

I was first made aware of the “Amazon Surcharge” by a reader in Hungary who wanted to know why my 4,000 word, 99c e-book was costing him $3.44. He also wanted to know whether I was receiving any of the extra money he was being charged.

I wasn’t, and I didn’t know what he was talking about. However, after a little investigation, I discovered that Amazon were applying a $2 surcharge on all e-books in most international countries.

If you live in USA, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, or the “Amazon Germany” countries (Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Liechtenstein), you escape this surcharge.

However, if you live anywhere else that Amazon sell e-books, you will get hit with this $2 surcharge. In fact, the surcharge used to be applied much more extensively.

It was removed from the Amazon Germany countries after the Kindle was officially launched there. It used to be applied in Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, but was dropped some time last year, even though the Kindle hasn’t officially launched there.

If you read e-books, and live in the affected countries (which is most of the world), this drastically affects how much you pay. If you are a writer, and are selling internationally (and you should be, this is a global $80bn business), this is harming your sales right now.

If you don’t think this is a big deal, you are missing the point. There are millions of readers around the world who enjoy reading English books. Indeed, in some countries such as Denmark, the original English versions outsell the translated versions.

Also, many emerging economies, such as Brazil, lack a bookstore infrastructure, and publishers have to resort to methods such as selling books door-to-door. These countries should be ripe for e-books, but Amazon is suffocating growth.

When you go to and search for my e-book, you will see a price of $0.99, $1.16 or $3.44, depending on which country you live in. Whichever price you pay, I still get $0.35. Aside from around 15 percent in sales taxes, Amazon keep the rest.

Let me be clear. This is nothing to do with sales tax or VAT. Sales tax (VAT) is levied on top of this surcharge.

My e-books cost $0.99 in the US, as no sales tax is currently levied by Amazon.

My e-books cost $1.16 in Ireland (not one of the Surcharge countries, because Amazon are obliged to add 15% VAT (sales tax), and they seem to add a couple of cents more for “delivery costs” (despite being advertised as “free” to readers).

However, in most of the rest of the world, my e-books cost $3.44.

This breaks down as follows. $0.99 + Amazon Surcharge of $2 = $2.99. 15% VAT (sales tax) is then added on top of that, giving a total price charged to the reader of $3.44.

If you want to verify what I am saying all you need to do is log out of your Amazon account, fake your IP to, say, a Spanish address, then look at the prices in the Kindle Store.

(Some books seem to escape the net, for examples of that, see my earlier article in May, just note that I hadn’t discovered the full extent of the Amazon Surcharge at that point).

Why A Surcharge?

Now that we have clearly established that this surcharge is nothing to do with taxes, and none of it is going to the author, what is it for?

First off, there is no point asking Amazon. I have emailed them several times about this issue, and they have never responded.

Some of my readers have done the same, and got fobbed off with bogus excuses about higher operating costs in certain countries.

This is patently untrue. There is no cost difference to Amazon in selling my e-book to a customer in France rather than Kentucky, especially when that customer is using the site, downloading the book through their own computer, and on their own internet connection.

At first I thought this surcharge was something that only affected Kindle owners, that it was a surcharge for downloading books wirelessly because they bought their Kindle in the UK or the US and are using it in another country.

Amazon might have had some justification for that.

However, this is not the case. It affects all purchasers of e-books in those countries whether they own a Kindle or not.

My guess – and this can only be speculation as Amazon refuse to answer my enquiries – is that this $2 surcharge is bankrolling the free 3G access that certain Kindle owners enjoy.

If this is the case, it’s completely unfair to levy this charge on all the other users who don’t have a 3G Kindle, and indeed, only international readers.

Indie Writers

This is clearly an issue which affects all writers (and publishers), but it affects indie writers disproportionately. One of the key advantages that indie writers have is the ability to be flexible on price.

We can sell books for $0.99 or $2.99 and survive. And while trade publishers can do that for select titles for a limited time, they can’t do it with their entire list; they simply have too many overheads.

Adding $2 to the price of a $12.99 e-book will have some effect on sales, for sure, but adding it to a $0.99 or $2.99 book, and then adding 15% VAT, just kills them.

Since I discovered this issue, I have been directing all affected readers to purchase through Smashwords or iTunes instead (where there is no such surcharge).

Smashwords has gone from an insignificant portion of my sales to almost 10% (and even more in revenue because they pay me $0.56 per copy sold instead of $0.35).

And that’s just the readers I am reaching with this message. How many readers are we all losing because they think our books are overpriced?

Why This Charge Is So Dumb

Of course, there is a much larger issue here than my immediate bottom line. This charge is slowing the growth of e-books all across the world.

One of the big drivers of e-reader adoption is lower priced e-books. However, cheap e-books largely don’t exist in these countries.

Because indies and small e-publishers can’t exert the same downward price pressure, local publishers in the affected countries charge even more for e-books than they do in the US and the UK.

Amazon’s Surcharge plays right into their hands. They are able to shore up print sales by discouraging e-reader adoption with high e-book prices.

What’s particularly dumb about this, is that it runs counter to Amazon’s strategy in the more developed markets where they are straining at the leash to drive prices down to encourage growth.

If Amazon dropped the surcharge, e-book sales would rise across the board. More people would purchase e-readers (including, you know, the Kindle), and the market could expand dramatically.

In other words, Amazon’s Surcharge is hurting Amazon more than it hurts us. That’s why it’s so dumb.

If you want to do something about it, make some noise. Tweet this article, link to it from your blog, post it on Facebook. Best of all, email Amazon at – and please feel free to quote from this as much as you like.

Today’s blog post is a modified version of an appendix from my forthcoming book Let’s Get Digital. It will be out mid-July.

142 Replies to “Amazon Holds Back The Growth Of E-Books Around The World”

  1. My guess – and this can only be speculation as Amazon refuse to answer my enquiries – is that this $2 surcharge is bankrolling the free 3G access that certain Kindle owners enjoy.

    Actually, I think the additional cost for the device (which is roughly $30-50 more than the WiFi version) is what is intended to bankroll the 3G access on the 3G+WiFi devices. That’s how B&N did theirs with the 3G+WiFi nook vs the WiFi-only nook. Which brings us back to the question: “What the crap is Amazon adding the $2 surcharge for?”

    I had originally thought VAT, but then you pointed out in the IWU group (the last time you posted about this in May) that the $2 surcharge is completely separate from the VAT added in other countries. So I’m a total loss for suggestions, because I don’t believe the $2 surcharge has anything to do with the 3G access; people who have bought the 3G Kindle have already paid for the access, as it’s built into the cost of the device.

    This is why when I self publish, I will ALWAYS offer my book via Smashwords. Why should my readers suffer because Amazon has decided to apply additional fees to something that shouldn’t have those fees on it?

    they seem to add a couple of cents more for “delivery costs” (despite being advertised as “free” to readers).

    In my experience, the delivery costs ARE, in fact, free to readers. Amazon takes it out of the money they charged for the book and THEN gives you the 35% royalty. Which is basically a rip off, because they’re charging the author, not the reader, for the delivery costs (I noticed the delivery cost thing when I was self publishing; I also noticed that it charged on SOME US sales but not all US sales, and that on the sales it applied to, my royalties for that book were correspondingly lower).

    1. Interesting Jessica,

      I was thinking about the extra the 3G costs, and I was wondering if that was hardware, and maybe the $2 is to cover the ongoing data charges, but even then it seems steep (and unfair as everyone pays it).

      Good point on the delivery costs.

      1. I’m a tech-head on the side haha. I love my little gadgets. I can assure you that a 3G chip does NOT costs as much as the additional cost on the hardware. When B&N came out with the original nook, it had 3G+WiFi on it, and when they later released the WiFi-only, they cited the $50 price difference as covering the cost of the 3G data charges. It definitely wouldn’t cost $2 to deliver a ~100kb book, so I don’t think the $2 has anything to do with data or delivery costs or anything of that manner.

        I think another commenter may have it right when he says it’s likely because of the old reason to do with everything in business: cold, hard profit.

        1. Heh. I’m not such a tech-head, but I suspected as much.

          It may be cold, hard profit today, but not long-term. They are leaving the door wide open for competitors.

  2. Thanks for writing about this. I didn’t know about it.

    I have the opposite reaction as a buyer though. If I’m looking at a 99 cent e-book and $2. is tacked on, that still feels to me like a terrific value and would not deter me in the slightest from buying. However, I am already feeling annoyed when looking at a $9.99 or $12.99 e-book and if I know it will cost yet $2. more, that’s the straw that broke the camel’s back for me, regardless of who gets that $2.

    Now, I’d feel better if I knew the $2. went to the author and not Amazon, but on some level they are making a lot of things possible for me as a reader AND an author – and I’m not incensed over this. Glad to know about it, questioning it, but not incensed.

    1. Hey Billie,

      I’m not incensed. The snark usually comes out for that.

      As for your more general point, we should be careful not to extrapolate our own buying habits here. There’s reams of data to show that cheaper books = more sales. And there’s reams of data to show that cheaper e-books = more e-reader sales = more people buying e-books = much more e-book sales.

      Plus, if we look at the bigger picture, it is slowing the worldwide adoption of e-books. This is a global $80bn business, of which the US is only one (albeit important) market. My Smashwords sales rose to 10% of my total once I was able to redirect affected readers there. But again, how many are just browsing on Amazon that I don’t reach? Huge numbers.


      1. As long as your not participating in the KDPS select, can’t you have your books in both platforms (Amazon and Smash words) ?

  3. You’re right David, but they DON’T want e-reader adoption in countries where they’re not ready with a localized offer/catalog ! If e-reading get’s widespread before them getting there, it’s much more difficult for them to enter the market. They want to be there when the market grows, and help it grow, so that they are the predominant player in the field, rather than a latecomer.

    They seem to prepare a “rush” effect to their products, by forcing scarcity through higher price.

    1. This seems likely. But is it a good strategy? Doesn’t this leave the door wide open for a competitor?

      Apple are selling huge numbers of tablets in Europe (not to mention iPhones), and Kindles are nowhere to be seen outside of the UK. Part of this is down to price, the Kindle costs a lot more in countries where it hasn’t launched. But part of this is down to reduced demand for e-books, and hence, dedicated e-readers.

      Holding back the whole world market until they are ready to roll out the Kindle in each individual country could take forever at the pace Amazon are going at. They haven’t even rolled it out to the Spanish language market yet, which is huge, let alone Asia, where you can’t even buy Kindle books.

      Kobo are making moves in Europe. B&N seem to finally be looking internationally. It wouldn’t surprise me if someone like Waterstone’s in the UK made a move to sell the Nook or the Kobo reader, and I’m sure other European retailers have similar plans. Plus, Telefonica, one of the world’s largest telecom companies, have just launched their own e-reader and e-bookstore in the Spanish market.

      If Amazon aren’t careful, the market will take off without them.

        1. They ran a limited experiment with an e-tailer in France where the Nook was available at a low price, and it sold out almost instantly.

          There was no press release, no PR, it just appeared on this site, without any comment from B&N.

          I’m guessing they were testing the waters. And the message was: warm.

  4. I guess the real reason is the old. old one, more profit for the company. Though who the profit goes to is anyone’s guess.

    I agree with Billie that Amazon have done a great deal to improve things for readers and writers (and the generous royalty is a proof of this.) However, the increase in sales if the surcharge were to be eliminated will probably make sense sooner or later. Such open, anti-discriminatory practice would be good for the company.

    Also, when other sites like Smashwords start making more inroads into Amazon they may sit up and notice.

    (I’m especially annoyed because my historical novels have lots of Danes in them.)

    I’d like to hear Amazon’s reasons for it.

    Martin Lake

  5. And let’s not forget that for authors who have chosen the 2.99-9.99$ price point for the 70% royalties : when selling in a “surcharged” country, the royalties are limited to 35% and not 70%
    So for a 2.99$ book sold 4.99, the author gets 1$ and Amazon 4$ instead of 2$ / 1$ …
    So Amazon quadruples its profit…

  6. Thanks for highlighting this, David.

    An orchestrated campaign of emails to Amazon might well cause them to sit up and take notice.

    Amazon pride themselves on being customer-centric and responding to emails, so perhaps emailing BOTH kdp-support AND customer support using the “Amazon contact us” button will get the message across. There’s also a phone number for direct contact and a “chat” option (on, anyway).

    A few thousand people asking the same question over and over might make someone sit up and take notice.

  7. I also love the map, but then it left me a little sad as it may be truer than even I want to believe.

    I have heard of this $2 charge before, but assumed it was the same as the avg. delivery cost that I see being allocated in Amazon KDP. If I had looked more closely at it, I might have realized this was not the case.

    As much as I don’t see the justification for this additional $2, the reason I don’t think it will go away is the fact that many of us are hooked into Amazon. They are the Microsoft of e – commerce. Case in point, I’ve steered potential buyers to other sites like Xin Xii, where my books can also be found. Only to be asked why I was doing that when “everyone just buys from Amazon.” Your reader cared about the fact that he was being charged an extra two dollars, but I wonder how many do not notice because Amazon is just their preferred site. For an indie selling at 99 cents, to suddenly have the price be the equivelant of USD $2.99 might be a factor in whether or not a sale results, but for those buyers who rely on Amazon, the extra $2 might seem a small price to pay.

    Did I mention the map is sad, but true?

    1. Yes, the map stirred up a range of emotions in me too. It’s a little unfair to pick on America here though, you could draw a similar map about most countries.

      I think there is no doubt that more than tripling the price of a 99c book will kill its sales, especially if its a novella or short story. But the bigger picture is more important than what’s selling to current e-book customers. Less people are going to buy e-readers without the incentive of cheap e-books.

    1. They will thank you. Many of them don’t know that prices are artifically inflated and that they have access to a whole world of cheaper ebooks on other sites.

  8. I should be offended. You know, being American and stuff. But that map made me laugh like a lunatic! It’s so ridiculously true. Some Americans (Note I said SOME.) really do view the world like that.

    Consider this re-blogged and tweeted.

    This is why I also sell through Smashwords. One of my readers is from Helsinki. She has a Kindle. I made sure the Kindle version was available on Smashwords so she could buy it there without paying the extra $2. Even better? I get MORE money from Smashwords than I do from Amazon. Granted, it doesn’t help my Amazon ranking, which right now is what really helps sell books, but it does mean I have a happy reader. And she will tell her friends (hopefully) and they will buy lots of my books and I will be very famous and popular in Helsinki.

    1. Yes, exactly! I have a couple of readers who were very thankful that I was able to show them how to avoid Amazon’s charges. They have since all bought my new book.

      Thanks for re-blogging and re-tweeting.

  9. How did we get ourselves into a situation where one distribution company has a virtual monopoly of the market? Why can’t something be done to break this stranglehold?

    1. Because when they focus on a market, like they do in the UK and the US, they blow the competition out of the water on every metric: price, customer experience, selection, author royalties, features, etc. etc. The problem is they don’t care as much about international markets, partly, it must be, because there is less competition there.

      I think that will change, and Amazon will be forced to change. I would love to know the details of why they dropped this charge in Australia, Canada, and Ireland. I would love to know if it was competition or customer pressure.

    2. Happily , they don’t have a monopoly, and it seems their share is sliding down a bit. They also don’t hold a stranglehold yet.
      However, as the first to manage to help the market mature in the US, they got the “recognition” and “branding” they “merit”. This allows them though to surf on that brand, as they’re doing.
      I had some hope that Google would be able to counter this, but so far they are SO disappointing … a,d I’m not sure we would gain if they became predominant either.

      1. Their e-share is sliding, yes, but they still have around 60% of the e-book market in the US, and are on target to control 50% of the overall US book market in 2012. So, not a monopoly, but certainly dominant.

        Google have been disappointing on so many levels. Perhaps they are waiting for the Google Books settlement to be fully done before they pimp their offering. I expect full search of all scanned books with lots of buying options and so on in the future.

        I know many indies won’t list with them though, for all sorts of reasons. Plus, it’s US writers only.

    1. 60% of the US e-book market (down from 90%). I don’t have e-figures for the UK, but they do control around 30% of the print book market, and it must be well over 60%/70% of the e-book market. Not “monopoly” but “dominance” would be accurate – and the purchase of the The Book Depository will only strengthen that.

      1. So many good reasons to buy through other retailers, and such a shame the e-readers are so “linked” to a single retailer…
        I personally prefer buying through Smashwords when possible.

        1. The one thing holding me back from a full-throated endorsement of Smashwords is the Meatgrinder.

          I spend a lot of time hand-coding the HTML so my formatting is perfect on every device, and Smashwords can mangle it. I wish I could upload my own files.

  10. I can note you that the all the EU country ( i heft only test in the Netherlans) are the same prise as in Germany or unite UK (i think that this one is cheaper than Germany).

    1. Being chilean I kind of feel offended by the “Cocaine and Coffee” thing O.o I mean, that’s saaad.

  11. It’s my understanding that the $2 is for the ‘whispernet’ charge, which is apparently something to do with the cost of sending it outside the US. I believe that Australia is now exempt from this charge, but I could be wrong. This is one of the reasons that I kept my prices at 99c because with the extra $2 and the exchange rate, it means that cheap books are not really cheap outside the US.
    I should also point out that when I gifted two of my books to people within the US I was still charged the extra $2. When I complained to Amazon they said they were working on this. Months later they are still working on it.

    1. Yep, I’ve heard complaints about the Surcharge being added to gifted books. “Working on it” seems to be code for “not a big priority”.

      You are right, Australia is now exempt from this charge, as are Ireland, New Zealand, and Canada, which were previously charged it.

      But Jan, they apply this charge whether you own a Kindle or not. So while it might be paying for the maintenance of the Whispernet, it’s nothing to do with it.

  12. Dave – Thanks for bringing this up once again.

    There’s one small (and interesting) mistake in your text: the surcharge is NOT levied on ALL e-books – some manage to escape, and I couldn’t find out yet why.

    And to highlight once again: the higher the original price, the bigger the surcharge (which probably is a combination of the $2 and 15% VAT).

    It looks like the following (for Hungary):
    $ 0.99 = $ 3.44
    $ 2.99 = $ 5.74
    $ 4.99 = $ 8.04

    $ 12.99 = $ 17.24

    1. Hi Stefan,

      You were indeed the reader who first brought this to my attention, for which I am grateful. Would you like to be named in my book, or would you prefer to be anonymous?

      I did mention in the article that there were some books that slipped the Surcharge net (and don’t have VAT levied either btw), and linked back to my earlier article which goes into some detail on that, but maybe I should have made that clearer.


  13. Dave – Sorry, maybe I should have read the article more carefully (but: you start by claiming “the $2 surcharge that Amazon levies on all e-books in most international countries.”).

    No problem with naming names. You can even quote from the e-mail replies I received (I gather the good cause would bring enough donations if there were legal problems to arise).

    Yes, of course you are right, the 15% are on the original price and the surcharge together.
    BUT: are you sure this is VAT? – When I bought a $ 3.44 book the other day (shame on the author, not putting her books on Smashwords), my order summary said (and still says): “Tax collected: $ 0.00”, so I surmise they are not accounting for the 15% as VAT…

    1. Hey Stefan – I’ll put your name in! I’ll leave the emails out though, and just refer to them.

      It’s VAT, because it’s 15% and it’s applied in every EU country. In places like India where the sales tax is different, the prices are different (but the $2 is still applied).

      As far as I am aware, Amazon are legally obliged to apply 15% to the sale of all e-books to EU customers as they are “selling” them from Luxembourg, which is in the EU. I think the zero tax message you are seeing is just because their system isn’t smart enough to cope with it. In the US they don’t levy sales tax and advertise this to customers (with the message you are seeing). I don’t think the site is smart enough to differentiate between US and non-US customers at that stage in the transaction – instead they catch them by IP address when they display the price.

    2. Oh and I’m not sure what you mean when you quote that line. The $2 surcharge is applied not just in the EU, but in South Africa, Thailand, the Phillipines, India etc etc.

      1. Dave – The quote says “on all e-books in most international countries”, but this is not really true, it should be “on most e-books in most international countries” (as you point out later in the text).

        1. Sorry, I was being stupid. I see what you mean. Poor word choice by me. I should have said something like “on all affected e-books”. In fact, I’ll change it to avoid confusion – thanks.

  14. David, am a bit late, but thanks for this post! I was hoping someone would address this issue that’s driving so many of us nuts who can’t get proper access to ebooks. Was moving house and unpacking really old books I’ve kept for ages – most of which have yellowed beyond belief. You can guess how much I wanted to get a Kindle at that point (buying everything in print from scratch is just too pricey an alternative right now). Well, it looks like the Ipad and Smashwords are gonna have to do it for me. It’s beyond me what Amazon’s thinking – they tend to lead usually, not follow. This time though, Amazon’s really being backward with addressing this issue, and – as you said – it’s their loss as well if they don’t practice a wider distribution of Kindle ebooks (minus the onerous extra charges you mentioned), so I’m pretty bewildered about their long-term strategy. Others will definitely be edging a solid foot into their market share worldwide very soon if they don’t do something to correct this.

    On a side note, am beginning to adore Smashwords – it’s so EASY to use, and the coupon option especially is a great way to spice up book sales:) If anyone’s wondering, other than my books being on Smashwords, I’m not affiiated to them at all lol so my input’s pretty unbiased:D. Anyway, once again a great read! Cheers:)

    1. Not too late, the post only went up a few hours ago, just a lot of early comments.

      I like Smashwords too, but it’s not without its own flaws. The customer side is horrible, ordering books is clunky, and the Meatgrinder can turn out some funny looking books. But, I love the coupons (great for marketing), and I love the way they can get me into all those channels with minimum work. The site is only 3 years old, and they have come a long way in that time. I expect them to continue improving, and I believe the retail side is the next big thing they are working on.

      The strange thing about all this is that it runs counter to Amazon’s normal strategy. For years, they have sacrificed short-term profit to aggressively pursue market share. But with this, they seem to be doing the opposite. A short term hit off the few buying e-books in those countries at the expensive of a much larger market (and a bigger share of it).

      1. Heyya, yup, I’ve been getting complaints from some customers about the issues you mention… Hmmm, only 3 yrs old?… I didn’t know that… That’s impressive…

        You know, the funny thing about Kindle ebooks not being big in parts of the world is, I think it will put off the shrinking value of bookstores and print books in those regions… over here, I guess ebook growth is going to be more ‘evolution’ than ‘revolution’:)

  15. I can think of a couple other reasons why they’d charge extra, mostly having to do with exchange rates. Perhaps they want a buffer in case rates change in the near future, so that people don’t get too used to a price which ends up costing them more after the shift. Not too long ago, the US Dollar was much stronger than it is today, and it’s always easier to drop prices than it is to raise them.

    1. Joe – they already have a buffer, as does the credit card company, so by the time it hits my bank account I got a very poor exchange rate. This is not just Amazon, all companies do this.

      Good point though.

        1. Oh, it’s certainly possible. I’m sure they have some justification for it. It could be a combination of that, offsetting the costs of the 3G data charges passed on by carriers, and just wanting to make sure the market pops when they roll out the Kindle in each respective country. I don’t think any of those are a smart strategy though, and run counter to the strategy they have employed elsewhere to great success. I would love to bend an Amazon exec’s ear on this for 30 minutes.

    1. Lissie, Smashwords didn’t get Amazon to sell their books. So it won’t work.
      If you want to sell through Amazon, you need to go directly to them.

  16. Great article. I’ve retweeted it. Other international readers are getting around the additional charges by attaching the Kindle to an American/Canadian/etc. account, even if the reader lives outside of those non-extra-charging zones 99% of the time.

    David, I also agree with your thoughts on Smashwords. I also choose to buy from Smashwords instead of Amazon whenever possible. There’s a lot that needs improving in Smashwords, but I heartily support any non-DRM, mutil-format retailer out there. Just because I own a Kindle at this point in time doesn’t mean I want Amazon to take over the world.

    1. Hey Frida,

      I’m living in Sweden, but I avoid the surcharge because my account was set up when I was living in Ireland, my main delivery address has stayed the same, and the credit card is also Irish (and attached to that address). I’m not sure if all of that is necessary, but it works for me.

      If you are in the “Surcharge Zone”, and log out of your account, and fake your IP address to, say, a US address, you will see normal US prices. I would imagine that this trick won’t be sufficient to purchase the books, and the system will catch you when you log in again.

      I agree on Smashwords. There is a lot to love about them, but they have a lot of work to do also. There are lots and lots of things I like about Amazon, and they are #1 for good reason, but competition is always healthy, for customers, writers, and publishers.

  17. “Since I discovered this issue, I have been directing all affected readers to purchase through Smashwords or iTunes instead (where there is no such surcharge).

    Smashwords has gone from an insignificant portion of my sales to almost 10% (and even more in revenue because they pay me $0.56 per copy sold instead of $0.35).”

    I do not get this surcharge. It is costing Amazon market share anywhere it applies. I’m big into ‘game theory’ in trying to figure out why a company is doing something. This I do not understand; unless Amazon is trying to keep Sony and Kobo in business. 😉

    Since the Kindle is electronics… it is either win the fight globally or get blown out of the water. Japan, Korea, Singapore, the rest of the EU (from a German HQ), etc. That won’t happen with a $2 surcharge. Not when many will buy a Kindle/Nook/Sony/Kobo for access to low cost books.

    I don’t worry about justification; as you noted in prior comments that fewer people will buy ereaders without cheap ebooks. So Amazon is making a *tiny* amount of extra short term revenue at the cost of e-reader sales. I don’t get it. If there are true costs, charge by the country (or region if costs are fairly level). Or just force wi-fi downloads where the end user pays the ‘delivery costs.’

    I’m not an author so I’m not getting upset over the impact to me. I’m miffed as an Amazon supporter that they are doing bad business strategy; the money in the $2 fee has to be negligible. Profits from millions of new ereader customers? $$$$


    1. I look at it from a similar perspective. What’s Amazon’s motivation here? They’re smart, they rarely focus on the short-term at the expense of the long-term, in fact, they usually do the exact opposite. So, what’s their logic here? Are they trying to keep the markets cool until the Kindle officially launches there? If that’s the case, I think that’s a pretty dumb strategy too, and leaves the door wide open for competitors.

  18. Pingback: Amazon restricting e-book growth in some countries? « Kindle Authors Australia
  19. This is, for the record, why I recommend authors offer a “direct sale” option at their website. My direct sales have inched up toward 30% of total sales, and many of those are international.

    — c.

    1. Hey Chuck,

      Approaching 30% is phenomenal. I just put you one book closer, and picked up “Irregular Creatures”. I was sold after the first couple of paras of “Product Placement”. I’m looking towards selling my stuff here too. What cut do PayPal take? Is it a percentage or a fixed per-transaction fee?

      About 99 people have recommended me “Confessions of a Freelance Penmonkey”, but I’m nothing if not contrary, so I’m holding out for one more. At the rate I’ve been getting them, that should happen some time this week.

      Love your site,


  20. Pingback: Amazon Holds Back The Growth Of Ebooks Around The World | The Passive Voice
  21. Thanks for the heads-up on this, David. I’m planning on doing some indie publishing either late this year or early next, and this is good to know. I’ve posted links to your essay at both my blogs, Adventures Fantastic and Futures Past and Present.

  22. Interesting article David, I’ve tweeted it. I have the feeling we don’t have the whole picture here, and my hunch is that there is a better reason for this than mere greed or shortsightedness. Amazon has a history of growing markets with an aggressive pricing strategy, and has demonstrated pretty good foresight as far as the booksellling business goes. Because of this, I have a hard time believing that they are arbitrarily putting on an unnecessary fee for a few extra bucks. After all, they have the most to benefit from e-book growth internationally. It will be interesting to see if they slowly scale back the fee as they develop their infrastructure.

    1. Hey Liv,

      I think that’s exactly what will happen. After all, they removed the surcharge when they officially launched the Kindle in Germany. However, given the go-slow pace of Amazon’s international roll-out to date, it could take forever before the surcharge is removed in all affected countries.

      I also agree with your take on Amazon’s general approach. They have ALWAYS sacrificed short-term profit in an effort to grab greater market share. That’s why I can’t understand this policy. The only way it makes sense, from a strategic point of view, is to keep the respective markets cool so they can pop when the Kindle launches. I just think that’s a terrible strategy, counter to how they usually operate, and leaves the door wide open for competitors. I also believe that they would be making more money now if they instantly got rid of the surcharge, as the resultant boost in sales and market share from $2 cheaper e-books would more than make up for the paltry income they receive from levying the charge in the first place.


  23. I bought a Kindle recently, and discovered this shortly after receiving it (and having bought one book with the surcharge applied).
    I have since updated the Country Settings on the Manage Your Kindle page. Since they now show I live in the US, the surcharge is no longer applied.
    My paper books are still shipped to my ‘old’ address in the Netherlands 🙂

    1. Hi Jaap,

      That’s interesting.

      So… let me word this carefully… would I be right in assuming that a crazy person living in France could pretend they were living in the USA and avoid the surcharge?


      1. Yes, I guess that if you believe that surcharge to be a pointless rip-off, and want to avoid paying it, you can pretend you live in the USA. I am pretty sure there is no way they actually check that you have moved.
        But it would be crazy to actually do that.. yeah… crazy…

  24. While the surcharge is ridiculous, the reason I don’t have an ereader is territorial rights. While publishers can usually be bothered to negotiate distribution rights to the UK, they rarely do so for the rest of the world. It simply incenses me to see that none of the books I’d want to try (or the cheap deals) are available to me, and so I jump onto ABE and simply order a cheap paper copy.
    To us authors not in the US, Smashwords is awesome. I direct people to buy my stuff from there if I can.

  25. To explain why Canada is include is simple; the largest brick & mortar book retailer (Chapters-Indigo) partnered with Kobo, selling the Kobo e-reader devices through their retail stores (online and physical). They are also Amazon Canada’s largest competitor online as well as far as I know.

    I still order books from Amazon (US), rather than Amazon Canada ( because they tend to have more wider selection of titles on sale (and a often 30% sale or discount more than makes up for the higher cost of international shipping).

    I wonder if it may be due to pressure from traditional publishers, and the $2 levee is being applied to all books rather than trying to make an accurate list of publisher’s imprints (trade name). They have spent significant amounts of money to build a physical international presence which they may wish to scale back on slowly over time, rather than at the pace of e-book adoption. — The reason I speculate this is in the past couple of years the Canadian dollar rose in comparison to the US dollar, but when it hit par, Canadians started to ask why many goods cost significantly more in Canada, than the same item in US. Part of the answer has to be with Canada being a smaller market, thus able to support fewer competitors, and discounts based on things like economy of scale break down. The other was most large companies import under their national presence, such as Microsoft Canada, or Saab Great Britain Ltd., and in smaller markets either a greater percent of unit sales goes towards the national presence overhead (less profit goes to world headquarters), or the price is increased. Guess which one is normally picked as long as the economy can or will support it (thanks to real or perceived trade barriers, e.g. import / export restrictions, duty & tariffs, and other complexities)?

  26. Hi, I live in that zebra striped place in the middle where there is nothing but big animals to kill.

    Anyway, just want to turn this around seeing as us people outside the USA don’t count to Amazon enough to give us a fair deal. And yes, with a fear deal I mean charging $2.99 for a book I want to sell for 99 cents.

    Directed to you USA authors. Do you realize that on these sales you do not get a 35% commission but less than 12%. Ha! ePublishing doesn’t look like such a sweet deal anymore does it?

    Amazon is a god given boon to self-publishing. The Amazon mistake is that they are thinking that they are also the god.

    I will use Amazon because it is a great tool. But Amazon is not the savior of ePublishing. They can be replaced and they are losing in the rest of the world. So, back to you Americans, save you’re beloved Amazon and make them stop this silliness. We heathens also wanna place in heaven.

  27. Hi David, Thanks for clearing up this little mystery! I too have trouble with the Meatgrinder on Smashwords. My books are heavily formatted (hundreds of internal links). We spend a lot of time crafting a epub only to have Smashwords require a doc. Word docs seem to “hang onto” a lot of formatting and bookmarks which causes a lot of Meatgrinder issues – at least that seems to be the problem, it’s not 100% clear what all the issues are. Even when I pass their premium check, my books still look awful and never work right.

    I can’t justify the time to redo and redo the word doc when I have a “perfect” epub sitting right in front of me. I have dropped out of Smashwords and gone direct to most of their outlets. I wish we could just upload epub to Smashwords!

    Maybe someday.
    Thanks again for your insight on the $2 issue!

    1. Hi Veronica,

      I know exactly how you feel. I take the time to hand-code all the HTML for my e-book files so that they are formatted perfectly on every device. It causes me great pain to subject that document to the Meatgrinder. Even so, I must do it. Barnes & Noble don’t allow international writers, and I have no other way of getting into Apple (no Mac) or Kobo, Sony, or Diesel (at the moment they make it difficult for self-publishers. I can’t get into Google Books or OmniLit at all (only US writers).


  28. Pingback: Is Amazon hindering international ebook adoption? | Ebooks on Crack
  29. Hi David

    I also live in Africa, but I’ll tackle this from a reader’s perspective. This is an issue I was aware of before I bought my Kindle, but it didn’t deter me for a number of reasons:

    a) Even with the $2 surcharge, most Kindle books are still cheaper than their paper counterparts, and indeed, even the eBook stores here are more expensive than Kindle books.
    b) Amazon makes it easy – at least for me – to purchase books.
    c) The Kindle was one of the cheaper eReaders and easier to obtain
    c) I don’t know of many eBook stores that allow my country to purchase from them (that allows conversion to Kindle format). We are restricted from the iBookstore, for example.

    That’s not to say the surcharge hasn’t affected me. I’ve increased the number of indie authors I purchase, and I’ll run a comparison on Smashwords first – often opting to buy there instead. I also no longer purchase anything above $10 ($8 for Americans) because if I just wait a few months/years, I’ll likely find those titles in print for a lower price. I’m not a “buy the next big thing right now” kind of person – though I certainly am becoming that way for indies.

    My biggest pet peeve is actually the regional restrictions (which means you can’t get a book) and the different regional editions (which means you can get a book but you are paying FAR more for it). Off the top of my head, that George W Bush memoir was, I think $10 in the American store and $20 in our store. Times that by seven, and you’ll see how much we’d have had to pay for that. Even something simple like an author’s back-catalogue can cause a bit of a jump in price. Another example, the Percy Jackson books are listing for about $6 in the American Amazon store, and about $10 in our African store. I think that issue has more to do with the publishers than Amazon though.

    As an interesting tidbit, there were never any free books in the Amazon store for me until recently. I’d say somewhere in the last couple of months they removed the surcharge off the “free books”, so I suppose they finally realised that many of us were flocking to free book sites for our copy of Alice in Wonderland 🙂

    1. Hi Claire,

      You make some very good points.

      The regional restrictions are something Amazon can do nothing about, and it all goes back to the way that publishers have historically carved up rights by territory and/or language.

      That will change, it has to, and there is a growing trend for publishers to seek World Rights or World English Rights (although that’s not always in the best interest of the writer).

      I think we will have to see books carved up more by language than by country – the internet has no borders after all.

      I’ve lived all across the world (but not in Africa yet!) and I know what a pain it is trying to find books locally or order them online.

      You are right when you say that – even with the surcharge – Kindle books are still significantly cheaper. However, I believe that if the surcharge is abolished, there would be downward pressure on all e-books, and print books.

      I think Amazon will get there eventually, but it would be nice if we could nudge them along a little. I think competition will do that anyway, but customers making some noise could help.


  30. Pingback: Do you buy indie ebooks from Smashwords? « Frida Fantastic
  31. Thank you David! I found your article very helpful. I was researching which device to buy (Kindle versus Nook) and it started me on an exploration of why my self-published book (Menopause in Manhattan) is $2.99 for international buyers when I priced it at $.99. Very annoying! Also the sales of my book have gone though the roof this month on bandn whereas on amazon – a small steady climb. Maybe its time to switch allegiance to Barnes & Noble.

  32. Pingback: The European Market: What's Slowing Ebook Growth and What's Driving It | The Passive Voice
  33. Pingback: The European Market: What"s Slowing Ebook Growth and What"s Driving It | The Passive Voice
  34. Nice article David. If there is no surcharge in books for other countries, Why I cant buy books from India in nook store. I cant even download their android app from India.

    1. Hi Ahamed,

      Barnes & Noble refuses to sell books to any customer outside the US. It’s a stupid policy which costs them lots of money, and there is no logic behind it whatsoever. I think it’s what happens when a bookstore tries to become a tech company, but doesn’t quite get it. I’ve sent you an email explaining.


  35. Pingback: Amazon e-books plagued by international surcharges, lack of availability in some parts of world | Ebooks on Crack
  36. Pingback: Author Gaughran Publishes Free How-To Book | TPN Weekly
  37. Great post! Thanks for the clarification on the surcharge.

    I’m wondering if they dropped the surcharge to NZ because the Kindle started getting sold by a lot of retailers here in 2010…

  38. Amazon is setting up a distinct Amazon store for each country – in the past few months they have added a whole bunch of (European) countries. As an author, I can set a different price for each of these countries. I think they are trying to accommodate competition between physical book shops and electronic delivery. I suspect that the surcharge is a ham-fisted way of making sure that the country price is never going to rise when the “official” store is launched. The trouble is that this implementation looks very similar to taxation: a tax on people being stupid enough to be born in Africa or Asia.

    You can easily change your country with tor – in Germany my $0.99 book is selling for $1.17. Until this surcharge goes, I cannot recommend my book to my friends. Maybe my friends in “approved” countries, and my enemies – but not friends.

  39. Okay, so I have so many questions. First I am so new to self publishing. I currently live in the USA and we are moving to Scandinavia in 2013. I have a dual citizenship with the USA and Norway. Just that in itself will be interesting. I was so shocked to learn of this ridiculous charge for Scandinavian’s using Amazon. Here’s the question, Should I keep my bank account open in the US and use it for my Amazon account? Should I become a sole proprietor or get a LLC for self publishing? The taxes on being a dual citizenship is intrusive enough, now this. It is so overwhelming to know that Uncle Sam and Amazon are basically living in my empty wallet. Is it even worth the effort of publishing my $0.99 eBooks?

    1. For a multitude of reasons (not least the fact that I’m not a tax accountant/lawyer), I can’t give you tax advice. However, I can say that you may find it possible to keep your Amazon US account open while you are in Norway. My Irish account (no surcharge in Ireland) remained open while I was in Sweden for two years – presumably because it was still linked to an Irish credit card with an Irish address. Perhaps a similar situation could work for you.

      As to whether a sole proprietorship or LLC would be most advantageous for you in terms of tax etc., you would really need to consult a specialist.

      Whatever you decide, it’s certainly worth publishing those books (and you don’t have to price at 99c either)…

  40. I’m not quite sure how I came to your page Dave, but I’m very glad I did. Thanks for bringing the subject back to light… As a reader, writer and avid traveler this info is very important to me.
    dam. greed breaks my heart.

  41. David, it’s great that you want to rise awareness of this problem amongst authors.

    As reader who lives in Poland, I experienced this issue. Although, I think we should look at it from another angle. It’s not price that is problem, but awareness that some readers (USA, UK, Germany) can buy it at lower price. It’s feeling that holds sales, not prices.

    So it’s great that you inform authors about it. Hopefully, more of them will publish also on Smashwords, which will let readers like me to buy their books in regular prices.

    PS. David, I have send you e-mail recently (18.09.2012), but I did not received any answer. I am afraid that it’s in your SPAM folder. Could you check?

  42. Thank you for this post, David. I worked out that as almost all my ebook customers will be South African and if I manage to shift 1,000 copies of my the ebook I priced at $2.99, which Amazon subsequently tacked on the surcharge to reprice at $4.99, my royalty rate would be 21% and not the 35% Amazon advertises.

    I’m appalled most of all by Amazon’s non-disclosure. I’ll be warning others about this.

  43. Morning David

    Just over two years since you first made this post, and Amazon continues with the $2.00 surcharge for readers like me at the bottom end of that zebra-striped empty area on your map. I was wondering if you ever managed to nail down a definitive justification for it from Amazon?

    I am yet to publish anything with KDP, and this situation does make me wonder if the potential reach and exposure would be worth it. At least for material that is written primarily for a local audience.

    A 20K word novella priced at $2.99 will list to my next-door neighbour at $4.99. And not only will Amazon keep the illusive $2.00, but I’ll also only receive the lower 35% royalty rate for making a sale in this dark, forsaken place.

    Reader doesn’t win, writer certainly doesn’t either. Amazon though… they’re smiling broadly at the naiveté of the unwashed savages in Zebraland.

    Add to that the fact that when I eventually (more likely to be an “IF I eventually”) sell enough to accumulate the $100 minimum required for a payment, I will get some archaic slip of paper called a “check”. (Personally, I’d much prefer a more elegant looking “cheque”, but I digress). I then have to take that bit of paper down to my local bankers, find someone there versed in the dark arts of translating Americanese, and have them convert the check into a useable form of local currency. For all of this, I will have to pay the banker anywhere from 15%-25% of the value of the original $100, further slashing my proceeds per sale.

    (The fact that South Africa has one of the most advanced electronic banking systems in the world is by-the-by for Amazon it seems. Our politicians may a corrupt bunch of swine, but our bankers are pretty sharp.)

    When all is said and done, I have to wonder if it’s really worth all the trouble? Two years down the line, and Amazon are yet to see the light of the potential market in these, and other similar, parts of the world. And they continue to make the value proposition tough on a writer based in these parts.

    1. Greg,

      If your book is meant for local audience, you should use local retailer to sell it – you will have greater chance or reaching your target audience.

      However, if you want to see if international availability will increase sales, I would recommend publishing on Smashwords. They charge exact price that you set and they pay with PayPal.

      1. Hi Rafal

        Thanks for the Smashwords recommendation. I have been looking into using it as an avenue to improving potential royalty payments and the processing of them. But it does sort of highlight the point here – if SW can pay full royalties, don’t add random surcharges to local (SA) buyers, and can process payments through electronic means (not that I’m advocating that Amazon go the PayPal route mind you), why isn’t Amazon able to do similar?

        As for local (as in South African) retailers… the ebook market here is still very small. The bricks-and-mortar booksellers and online retailers that do offer ebooks through their sites are all pretty much tied into the traditional publishers, with no ability to self-publish to their marketplaces.

        There are one or two very small sites that do allow self-publishing, but their footprint is so small as to be negligible. I imagine authors would do equally well, if not better, selling directly from their own web sites to be honest.

      2. Greg,

        I think the difference is that Amazon is focused mainly on US market. Sure, they expand internationally, but still US market is their main target. As far as I know, checks are still popular in US (I live in Europe, so can’t tell for sure), so it might be a reason Amazon uses them (which is, of course, not a good for international authors).

        Smashwords, on the other hand is open to other markets, because it does not have as strong position at eBook market as Amazon.

        Simple answer to “why isn’t Amazon able to do similar?” is – Amazon can do similar, but it doesn’t have to or want to do so. Amazon have very strong position and elimination of additional charges for international buyers are not going to change its situation too much.

        I think that you should publish both on Smashwords and KDP and see how your sales divides beetween them. Nothing is as good as testing 🙂

    2. Hi Greg,

      I wrote this post back in 2011. Since then, a lot has changed. The surcharge still remains in parts of the world, and it’s still regressive and unfair. I have had it confirmed to me that it’s there to subsidize the cost of Whispernet – which is especially unfair for non-Kindle device owners who use the Kindle Store to purchase e-books.

      The positive side is that as Amazon opens new Kindle Stores around the world (at a pretty good pace, considering the logistics involved) the number of countries taken out of the surcharge zone has increased dramatically in the last two years (Spain, Andorra, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Italy, San Marino, France, Belgium, Monaco, Japan, Brazil, and China). There’s still a fair way to go, but some progress has been made.

      In addition, the expansion of Apple’s iBookstore has had two positive effects. First, it keeps the pressure on Amazon to continue its international rollout. Second, as Amazon will tend to price-match a lower priced book in the iBookstore, and as Apple add no such surcharge, Amazon’s pricing bots will wipe out the surcharge with price-matched books.

      Does the iBookstore have a South African store yet? If not, you may not be seeing the effect of this yet, but I know that in South America, they are seeing the surcharge disappear on lots of books.

      Ideally of course, Amazon would abolish it, but I’ll settle for it disappearing by any means.


      P.S. If you are self-publishing, there is zero reason not to use KDP.

      1. Kind of you to reply David – thanks.

        I’m glad to hear that it was eventually confirmed as a Whispernet related cost. And all power to them for finding a way to fund the costs of something which is a great aid to Kindle users. But the way they’ve gone about it is a little sneaky. Why not just indicate the $2.00 as an additional cost on the product page with a “What’s This?” explanation tip? Why hide the surcharge in the purchase price? And, as you say, why charge it to non-Kindle users in the first place anyway?

        We do have an iStore South Africa, but the iBookstore is sparse to say the least. Nothing commercial in it at all. Just free public domain works. Top 3 Bestsellers at the moment are The Art of War, Pride and Prejudice, and the iPad User Guide. (War, romance, and technology. Read what you may into the psyche of the average South African from that lot 🙂 )

        I think the traditional publishers are aiming to hold onto their regional licensing, rights and distribution agreements for as long as they can. They really don’t want upstart self-publishers encroaching into their small market.

        The biggest stumbling block for us publishing to the iBookstore is the need to use iBooks Author and the small Mac user base in these parts – Apple products are a serious premium purchase cost-wise, and probably not in the affordability range of the average as yet unpublished indie author. Certainly not an option for me at the moment.

        That said, I know there are ways around those limitations. Including using the Smashwords platform I believe? As Rafal suggested earlier, I’ll definitely be investigating the options over there.

        I definitely do intend using KDP, just not certain I want to put all of my eggs in that one single basket, even if it is the biggest basket by far.

        Thanks again for all the wisdom and insight you share on these pages. I have lurked around here alot lately, and have learned many new and wonderous things.


      2. Greg,

        That’s correct. You can use Smashwords for distribution to Apple (details: Smashwords is definitely best option to publish with Apple if you do not want to buy an Apple computer for that purpose 🙂

        Actually, you don’t need to (and you shouldn’t) use iBooks Author to create reflowable eBook for Apple. You can just create EPUB, but to upload it directly to Apple (with iTunes Connect: you would need Mac.

  44. David, I just discovered that Canadians pay more for ebooks on iTunes than Americans (and maybe other nationalities?) – my book is $2.99 on the US iTunes store, and $3.99 on the CDN store. Have you heard about this from others? ~ Zoe

  45. As a non-American writer (I’m Canadian), I find that using Smashwords to distribute to other companies like Apple and Kobo are critical to international sales.

    Amazon seems – from my perspective anyways – to place most of its focus on the US market. I understand why they do so, as the US market represents the majority of the global e-book market, but it does have the effect of leaving money on the table.

  46. That’s one of the reasons people not buying ebooks at all, and downloading the m online from various sites.
    What doesn’t help as well is the very limited kindle ecosystem allowing only specific ebooks formats. Savvy readers will think twice before locking in kindle.

    The map is great, and diverts attention from your message

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *