One of the biggest decisions you face as an Amazon bookseller is whether to fulfill orders yourself (fulfilled by merchant, or FBM) or let Amazon fulfill orders (fulfilled by Amazon, or FBA).
Should you sell books with FBA or FBM? I recommend selling your books with FBA instead of FBM. It will take up less of your time, you’ll be able to sell your books for more, you won’t be responsible for order fulfillment issues, and you’ll have valuable leverage over FBM offers.
Despite my recommendation, there are a few instances in which selling books with FBM makes more sense than selling with FBA. The rest of this article will compare the two fulfillment methods and enable you to make an informed decision that best suits your Amazon business.
FBA will take up less of your time
Fulfilling orders yourself is a huge time investment. If you’re selling books in any kind of significant volume, you’ll likely spend just as much time organizing your inventory and fulfilling orders as you do sourcing.
If you sell with FBA, you hand off the nasty logistics of inventory storage and order fulfillment to Amazon, who are almost certainly the industry leaders in both regards.
Here’s an example: let’s say you sell 30 books per day.
If you sell them with FBA, you won’t have to take a single second out of your day to deal with those orders. The items are already stored in an Amazon warehouse, and Amazon’s team of robots and fulfillment center employees will pick, pack, and ship your items for you.
But if you sell them with FBM, you’ve got a ton of work in front of you.
- You’ll have to locate the books in the shelves and boxes and piles strewn about your house or storage facility.
- You’ll have to package each book in a box or bubble mailer.
- You’ll have to print shipping labels for each order and affix them to the mailer or box.
- You’ll have to drive to the post office and drop the packages off.
You also need to take into account additional fulfillment-related expenses:
- Packaging material
- Shipping labels
- Printer ink
- Shipping tape
- Gas and car wear to drive to and from the post office
As you can see, selling books with FBM requires a much larger investment of time and effort than selling books with FBA does. And we haven’t even covered the issue of returns yet.
If you sell with FBM, and a buyer wants to return their book, you’ll have to throw even more time into the black hole of manual order fulfillment.
- You’ll have to manually approve the return
- You’ll have to retrieve the book from the mailbox
- You’ll have to restock the book yourself
- You’ll have to relist the book on Amazon
Some of these tasks take anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes, but it’s all time out of your day that you can’t spend on more important tasks. And when you’re selling in volume, that time investment increases exponentially.
Books sell for more with FBA
Books sold with FBA often sell for significantly more than books sold with FBM. There are a few reasons for this:
- FBA offers get fast Prime shipping, which many buyers are willing to pay more.
- Amazon gives FBA offers Buy Box priority over FBM offers. More than 80% of sales come through the Buy Box, which means many buyers will simply purchase the Buy Box offer ‒ even if there are less expensive FBM options.
Go look at any random book on Amazon. There’s a good chance the FBA offers will be selling for at least double the FBM offers.
These higher sale prices usually more than offset the increased fees selling with FBA incurs.
You aren’t responsible for FBA fulfillment problems
In a perfect world, every shipment would arrive on time, and nothing would be lost or damaged on the way to the buyer.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world. Shipments arrive late, items get lost, and customers are understandably unhappy. Some of these customers make their frustration known by leaving you negative feedback ‒ which is where selling with FBA gives you an advantage.
Amazon takes full responsibility for any order fulfillment issues when you sell with FBA. If a customer leave you negative feedback because a shipment was late, or the packaging was damaged, or the item didn’t arrive at all, you can get that feedback removed.
If you fulfill orders yourself, Amazon doesn’t always let you get fulfillment-related negative feedback removed. It does happen in certain circumstances, but removal is not a sure thing like it is with FBA.
FBA gives you leverage over FBM offers
One instance in which I see a lot of sellers recommending FBM over FBA is when dealing with long-tail items. Books that probably aren’t going to sell for at least a year are better off sitting on a shelf in your home than racking up storage fees in an Amazon warehouse… right?
I’m going to go against the grain and say no. I believe that you should sell particularly valuable long-tail books ($50+) with FBA instead of FBM. When that next sale does come around, you’ve got to be doing everything in your power to convince the buyer to buy your copy over all the others. The best way to stand out, win the Buy Box, and increase the likelihood the buyer will choose your copy is to sell your copy with FBA.
My experiences back up this belief I’ve sold a number of long-tail books that were in worse condition than the competition. I still got the sale because my book had Prime shipping and the Buy Box, while the FBM offers didn’t have either of those benefits to offer.
The benefits of FBM
This isn’t to say FBM is the inferior option in all circumstances. There are a few benefits to FBM that could make it a smarter choice for some booksellers.
FBM sales aren’t subject to FBA fulfillment or storage fees
The main reason some sellers choose FBM over FBA is that FBA has significantly higher fees than FBM.
This makes sense: Amazon needs to be compensated for the additional effort and resources they devote to storing your items and fulfilling your orders.
These fees will eat away at your profits, especially if you’re selling larger items or items that take awhile to sell.
FBM gives you control of storage and fulfillment
While FBA generally makes life easier for solo booksellers, you might not be a solo bookseller. You might have a team of people who are willing and able to pack and ship orders as they come in.
In this instance, FBM starts to make more sense, as there’s a good chance your costs will be lower in paying your own people to perform the tasks Amazon would otherwise take care of.
FBA vs. FBM: a cost comparison
No comparison of FBA and FBM worth its salt would fail to include a detailed breakdown of the costs of each fulfillment method. So that’s what I’ve included here.
Let’s use a rather heavy biology textbook for our example. What would it cost to sell it for $19.95 with both FBA and FBM?
It turns out that the FBM sale will net you a slightly larger profit of about $2 (if we assume the shipping costs $3.99).
Before you walk away thinking that FBM will net you more money overall though, we have to look at what the book is actually going for on Amazon.
The lowest FBA copy is selling for $19.95, but the lowest FBM copy is selling for $7.98. If we go back to the revenue calculator, we can see that the FBM seller is making about $1, compared to the FBA seller’s $9 profit.
No matter what your situation is, it’s probably smarter to sell your books with FBA instead of FBM.
- You’ll save more time
- You can sell your books for more
- You aren’t responsible for fulfillment issues
- You gain leverage over FBM offers