Despite what major publishers and some critics would claim, maintaining a diversity of book sellers is not the foundation of literacy and culture. The notion of thousands of bookstores is a relatively new (20th Century) development with publishing and bookselling prior to the last century controlled by a relatively select few. In fact I argue that the Internet has actually improved access to this important communication medium by expanding both the availability of content as well as distribution (anyone can retail now*).
But even if distribution continues to be controlled by Amazon.com (for now), is that something the average self-publisher should feel obligated to block, or mute? I don’t think so and I think that if that’s your goal, you pursue it at the detriment of your livelihood.
Let’s consider feedback from 2013 survey respondents
This first slide shows where self-publishers distribute their books. All of the major stores are represented and Amazon, while double Barnes & Noble, is well shy of 50% (click slide to enlarge).
But when we look at sell-through it’s a different story: Amazon is the dominant retailer of all eBooks, selling 85% of all eBook for our respondents. (Here is my original post on this topic.)
Shoppers may buy the book elsewhere but they visit to learn what other people are saying. Reviews are also a key success factor for encouraging sales of individual products. I have no data to back this up but doesn't it make sense that books with some reviews sell better than books with no reviews?
In this graph we see that Amazon, and its new acquisition Goodreads represent 93% of all book reviews for our 307 respondents. That percentage is probably lower for larger publishers but for the average self-publisher it’s just too time consuming to actively encourage readers to post reviews on other retailer websites. (Btw, serious reviewers also care how many people may be reading their reviews–Amazon is like the New York Times for online book reviewers.)
This last slide to highlight is the increasing focus on print-on-demand (POD) printing. I was surprised by the low percentage of people using Lightening Source (Ingram) and that nearly half are using Amazon’s CreateSpace.
Why it makes sense to concentrate on one retailer, at least for now
I don’t advocate a permanent, exclusive focus on Amazon for self-publishers but I do think it makes sense for most self-publishers. Here are 5 reasons:
- Time. As a self-publisher you simply can’t do everything. Picking areas to become an expert before branching out to new areas is a matter of survival.
- Knowledge. You can invest this extra time in learning how Amazon works and refining your book’s presence. Here 4 ideas: improve your personal profile, add blurbs to your book’s description, change your price and see what happens, approach other reviewers to review your book.
- Concentrating your audience. Chances are you don’t have the same fan base as Stephen King. So instead of sending your small (but growing!) fan base to 5 different stores, send them to one. It’s like a fire hose. Here’s another gut instinct: if eBook readers have the iBooks or BN or Play or Kobo or Bluefire or Aldiko reading app, they also have the Amazon reading app. In other words, I don't think you'd be excluding many readers by marketing only the Amazon edition of your eBook. (KDP Select is another story.)
- Selling resources. No other eBook retailer has Amazon’s line-up of self-publisher marketing tools. KDP Select is the best known but I think MatchBook will be right up there with it in terms of effectiveness. There is also their Associates affiliate program and AuthorCentral.
- Results. What does a store do when it finds out they have something a lot of people want? They promote it. It’s in their financial interest to tell other shoppers which is what Amazon does when they see your book is selling. So the more people you can get to visit your sales page—and ideally buy—the more they will promote your book. Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought, best seller lists and newsletters like Kindle Delivers (link may require login).
I know this may sound like selling out but I think it is smart publishing for busy self-publishers. I hope it does change over the next few years but until then learn all you can about marketing on Amazon.
If you haven't joined, please consider joining my LinkedIn Group Marketing on Amazon.
* This past week we’ve heard lots of stories about the unsavory content available from online stores run by major eBook retailers. There is clearly demand so I see this crack down expanding the market for eBooks which will have further repercussions. I’ll address this in a future post.
photo credit: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com via photopin cc