As if it isn’t confusing enough to publish online, when choosing an ideal list-price for your self-published eBook… you still need to understand that, for certain readers, the price will be inflated, thanks to Amazon’s infamous Whispernet Surcharge, also known as the ‘Whispernet tax’.
What is this Whispernet?
Whispernet is Amazon's AT&T-managed international wireless network for their Kindle eBooks. However, even customers that don’t own a Kindle device or don’t use the Whispernet network to download eBooks are charged this extra fee when they buy eBooks through the Amazon.com eBookstore.
What does this mean for authors?
If you are an author using Amazon's KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) interface to self-publish your eBooks, all your Kindle eBooks loaded for sale on Amazon.com through the KDP interface will have a $2 surcharge added for customers purchasing the eBook from outside certain ‘mainstream’ countries. These mainstream countries are first-world countries such as the US, the UK and Germany, where people are able to purchase for the intended list-price that you selected.
Anyone outside of the currently chosen countries (such as anyone readers in Africa, and surprisingly, a number of countries in Europe and South America) would see the inflated list price courtesy of the Whispernet surcharge and would have to pay $2 more for the same eBook. The reader buying your eBook would not realise that the inflated-price of the eBook was due to surcharge, and might just think that you were pricing unfairly.
I initially discovered this surcharge when publishing an author's novel through Amazon. I set the eBook price at a reasonable $3.50; however, browsing to the published eBook a few hours later, I noticed that the list price of the eBook was inflated to $5.50 (exactly $2 more than I had listed the eBook for).
This surcharge does not make the author any richer and gets paid directly to Amazon.
Unsuspecting readers from certain countries, might not just be saddled with the extra $2 surcharge, but also the added sales tax that some countries ignobly levy on (e)Book sales. For example, since the South African government started charging VAT on Amazon products in February 2014, Amazon has passed the extra charge onto South African customers, increasing eBook prices for South African readers by another 14%.
Amazon has implied that the Whispernet tax is to cover their data roaming costs, possibly incurred because of the specific AT&T SIM cards installed in the Kindles, but there is no confirmation of this. Another idea is that they have various overhead costs in various countries, and apply $2 per eBook across the board to recover these, but $2 is a lot of money compared to the low initial cost of each eBook. Some authors are already pricing their books at below $1 to make any sales at all.
A few important points regarding the Whispernet surcharge
This means that, as an international author publishing through Amazon's KDP interface, many of your readers will likely be burdened with this surcharge if they live in the countries affected, and it would be wise to keep this in mind when deciding on your eBook’s initial list-price.
As already mentioned, this $2 surcharge is only added to the purchase price for customers purchasing outside Amazon's accepted countries. Customers in the US and UK, for example, would see the correct lower list price.
Ways around the Whispernet tax?
Some customers have been able to get around the Whispernet charge by setting their location or country of residence as the US or Sweden on their Amazon or Kindle user pages:
Or try changing the download method selected for your book (“Transfer via computer” before clicking on the “Send to device” command and then transfer to your reading device via USB).
This is not always successful, as it also depends on factors such as your payment method (try using Amazon gift cards instead of credit cards), whether you are using a Kindle, your I.P. address (address of your computer), and so on. Amazon can check where you come from based on your IP address, according to some readers in the know.
Another way to lessen the negative impact of the Whispernet Surcharge could be ensure your eBook is available from all eBook retailers, I achieve this using a distribution platform like Smashwords. There is some hope: some countries that previously paid the Whispernet surcharge—such as the Netherlands and Australia—no longer do, which supports some claims that Amazon seems to be gradually abolishing it.
Amazon has yet to respond to numerous queries regarding this surcharge and it seems it will be a thorn in our side for the immediate future.
What are your thoughts on this surcharge and how it affects emerging authors?
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