Book Publishing: Emerging From the Dark Side of Amazon
It’s just too bad that Jeff Bezos has a “domination” aspect to his business. I recently ran across a very telling quote of his: “Your margin is our opportunity.”
This is all quite different from Sam Walton, who said, “You can sell a lot more for a little less.”
Compare those two, and you’ll see the intent. Amazon put their distribution centers close to major metropolitan areas. Walton put his distribution centers central to service wide areas of the Midwest’s smaller communities (at first – then expanded to the edges of metropolitan areas later.)
Both tended to be disruptive of existing retailers. Both take advantage of the existing inefficiencies of the existing retailers. Their approach is completely different. Amazon wants to dominate existing retailing. WalMart started by working to provide more choice to under-served communities. (And both are hated for their disruption.)
The difference is that Amazon pays for bots and overseas customer service, while eyeing the idea no person having to checkout your purchases in their stores (meanwhile applying for patents about putting warehouse workers in cages). WalMart continues to hire real people and insists they be friendly to all customers.
I live in the middle of nowhere in Missouri (although there are places in other states – the Dakota’s and Montana that are further out in nowhere). So I shop at WalMart and very seldom at Amazon. I’d rather go into town (instead of living there) and talk to friendly people (instead getting emails from trollish bots).
Books Discovery at Amazon: Cannibalizing the Customer Base
Yes, we’re talking about the new Author Tax at Amazon. If you want your book to be seen, you’re going to have to pay for ads on Amazon to get it discovered. The total number of books on Amazon is disputed (because they won’t reveal it, anywhere) but one link on Quora says they saw a book with a ranking of 13 million. (Using salesrankexpress.com, I chased my own books up and found one as low as 5 million – and many more books that had “no data”, apparently because they’ve never sold a single copy.)
Here’s the secret: Amazon isn’t for book discovery. It’s for book sales. By removing the “also-bought” carousel and replacing this with ads – they’ve just confirmed it.
You have to look at how these sites make their money. And the point is, as usual, if it’s free to do something – you are the product. It’s free to publish your book on Amazon because they make money from selling them. To them, both authors and books are commodities. 6 or 7 million books, hundreds of thousands of authors, and both of these climbing – they don’t have to care whether you publish with them or not. Only a handful of all their books sell very well, and only .04% of their authors make over $50K per year. (Yes, that’s four-hundredth’s of a percent.)
The graphs and their own re-branding show that Amazon is getting into the advertising business – competing with Google and Facebook. (And Amazon was found accessing Facebook’s stolen personal data this past year to “better serve their customers”. Thanks, Jeff Bezos.) None of these three companies care about the customers unless it becomes a PR flap. They exist to sell ads they put in front of people who use their free services. You are their product, as they harvest your data to put more ads in front of other people like you. The ones that don’t block their ads and do click on them.
Does This Mean Beginning Authors Should Give Up?
No. Absolutely not. But you have to realize that Amazon only wants your money. Like Google and Facebook only want your data (and for you to buy ads from them.)
Bottom line: there are no short-cuts to gettting rich from book sales and you’ll have to go elsewhere – at first.
The conventional wisdom has been to set up a great backlist of books and run ads on your current release to drive sales of the rest.
That quit being effective this year. Because the “also-boughts” carousel went away. Meaning: you’re also going to have to run ads on all your earlier books, even on each of your own book’s pages to get any sales.
This is an Author Tax. Pure and simple.
With the also-boughts going away, this also invalidates huge chunks of algorithm figure-outs the “guru’s” have been making their living from promoting.
So the bulk of the conventional wisdom about selling on Amazon has been thrown out the window in this last year.
And it means authors are going to have to spend (more) money to get their books sold on Amazon. Bottom line.
The Solution to Amazon-the-Cannibal Lies Elsewhere
Sorry to leave you on a cliff-hanger, but this is all leading to another post. I started out to write that one first, but saw that all this stuff about Amazon was going to get in the way of that discussion (and make that post another 900 words longer).
The simple solution lies in a few datums that are obvious:
- You build your audience first, and that action has never been on Amazon.
- As Steve Scott has said, “Amazon works as well as you send traffic to it.”
- Authors who publish wide find that only about 50% of their income comes from Amazon. (Especially those who don’t advertise every book.)
- Beginning authors are going to find more and more income by publishing books in places “other-than-Amazon” from here on out.
- All authors will continue to find them making less and less from Amazon.
Meaning: it’s time to find another business model for authors.
And those are your tips. The next post covers how to beginning authors (and struggling veterans) can work up their content-business – and I’ll give you more details of what I’m testing in this year’s challenge.
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Also published on Medium.