Can You Survive Without Amazon? Really?!?
This came up because of a month with only 30 days in it.
When I got the bank statement, I freaked (mildly.) There were no Amazon payments for that month. Amazon sent my royalty payments on the 29th and it took three days to clear.
Until I got to the bank to find out for sure, I was mildly worried it was permanent.
What if this happened to you?
Or worse, what if you are one of the few who’s account is canceled and even emailing “jeff AT amazon.com” doesn’t get it back?
That has happened to others. Are you sure it couldn’t it happen to you?
It’s happening more and more in these days of DMCA where they don’t have to prove anything, just accuse. Because Amazon is one big fat target with hundreds of thousands of authors making money for them. So if they have to lose a few, it’s no big deal to their bottom line. There are also thousands of hungry lawyers out there, not that you need one to file a complaint – anyone can.
If you didn’t know, Amazon doesn’t have a heart. They only have that bottom line.
I’ve gone over this before:
- When I started my tests, I first made more money outside of Amazon than I did inside it. Until a single book became an “Amazon bestseller” and that lasted years until it finally faded away. Not that it was huge, but it did very well. Meanwhile, my other income from other sources was more consistent. And they also had that book as a bestseller. And they also declined about the same time. But they started first, and I was able to get my financial freedom from them, months before Amazon spiked those sales.
- Other tests have shown that it’s possible to service the long tail with multiple books through other ebook outlets and earn as much as you do on Amazon. Of course, this varies according to your books and if you are advertising, and genres, etc.
- The biggest successful authors don’t just publish with Amazon ebooks. These authors have taken a similar route, even if they leave their ebooks partially or all exclusive to Amazon – they publish in paperback and audiobook as well. They also leverage their books (and bestsellers status) to go paid speaking gigs and sell courses. In short, they diversify.
- All books aren’t sold on Amazon. Bezo’s company has 70% of the ebook market, which is 30% of all booksales (and plateaued there.) That means they have just over 21% of all books sold everywhere.
- Meanwhile, more ebook aggregators have started up to service both the U.S. and the rest of the world through the long tail. Between a couple of these, they have several hundred other ebook outlets.
- Amazon only offers exclusivity on ebooks. Meanwhile, several authors have found their print versions well outsell their ebooks (and with similar royalties per unit.) With print on demand (POD) publishing, this is about the same effort as uploading ebooks.
The point is this:
If Amazon was gone tomorrow, how would that impact you?
Take out a bank statement. Make a copy of it. Scratch out your Amazon earnings and retotal the amount for that month. Could you live on that? Now, you could probably would take your advertising amounts and spend them elsewhere to generate income. But would you be able to generate that same amount of income?
Might be horrifying for you to face that idea.
Some people make the bulk of their income from Amazon.
And you’ve also probably heard about the idea of building on rented land. People have built income models based on YouTube and other “platforms” and find themselves shut out and having to rebuild their new income model. Sometimes this is a seven-figure replacement job. Scary.
That is why I preach the age-old idea of diversification.
The books I’ve written on Writing and Publishing cover this, regardless of how well they sell (or not. ) The point is to tell you the truth. But truth is only as valuable as it is workable. You have to find a workable set of data for yourself. Best data comes in a system. Amazon isn’t a system. It’s stacked on algorithms which are set to make the most income for Amazon, not the author.
There’s no real mercy inside those calculations. If your book costs Amazon income, then it’s going to be discouraged. Do anything that makes Amazon have to spend money on defending them after your book is published, then you’ve made yourself a target. DMCA is one of these. Anyone can file a complaint, and the accuser doesn’t have to even reply to a request for a copy of the complaint. The publisher and accused simply bow out. Amazon can suspend or cancel your account for a single complaint, dependent on severity. It’s their platform. They can do whatever they want.
No love lost in this situation.
Your defense? Diversify. Be everywhere, in all formats possible. Enable people to find your books anywhere and everywhere they look. That’s the long tail. Get enough selling in all these points, and you aren’t dependent on any single book selling or not selling.
Look up the Long Tail, that original book. It was based on Amazon’s statistics. The simple summary is that the few selling very well can be replaced by a lot that don’t sell anywhere near as well. But that is a lot of work to make that many booksales. A lot of work.
But it’s a safer income base. Because you aren’t just pushing a handful of books that can be knocked off their perch or canceled outright, losing all income. If you lose a few books off your long tail set, then you can replace them. None of your books are sacrosanct. They are like a herd. You select your herd for the best performance. But you don’t pamper them. You want a tough breed that will live off scrub brush, not needing to be propped up with a long feed bunk full of great-tasting, expensive rations.
Books that are propped up by advertising and exploiting holes in Amazon’s algorithms will be in trouble when those algorithms change. And the use of constant advertising is one of those exploits. Sooner or later, Amazon will close holes in their algorithms. You and I have seen the books that describe how to “win on Amazon” have changed over the years. Very few “strategies” have survived that winnowing.
What has changed is that the authors who are exclusively in Amazon wind up “working for the beast.” That means they have to keep cranking out content, and running advertising for them, and doing all the special tricks that will keep their books at the top of their genres. And some of these genres are top-heavy with books like these, that never lose their standings. Because they are being kept there with additive ads or list promotion or other promotion outside of strict Amazon promotion. A lot of money and time is being spent to keep those books on top.
- Don’t fight to that artificial top spot.
- Grab the long tail spots that aren’t taken.
- Put a ton of books out there which all sell regularly.
- Put them out under many pen names so that no one can guess your strategy.
- Figure out whether you want to do lists, or use some other alternative. (Like your own blog, or Library Thing/Goodreads/Wattpad, even Facebook pages.)
Yes, according to Amazon’s TOS, you can only have one account. Unless you use aggregators post to Amazon for you. You can post lots of books that sell OK, just not great. Very little data exists on this, as no one is particularly studying this approach. All your books together will keep you doing quite well indeed.
By also publishing in all formats, you again are out from under Amazon. Get into wholesalers like Ingrams and your print books will get bought by all the book outlets as well as Amazon. Get your ebooks into wholesalers like OverDrive and libraries will be regularly re-leasing your books (meaning they buy the same book over and over in order to keep lending it.)
If you follow my advice and “talk your book”, you’ll have audio versions. Use Author’s Republic to submit them everywhere. Also post them as CD’s on CD Baby and internally to Amazon through CreateSpace. Meanwhile, sell both digital and audio versions yourself with Gumroad, singly and in bundles. Also put up bundles on BitTorrent for sale, which will defeat piracy. Take your dependably selling books and make courses out of them, and publish them to the many course marketplaces out there. Start building affiliate sales for your book bundles and courses.
Sure, it’s a lot of work and a lot of details to keep track of. By building networks of aggregators and affiliates to help you publish in every possible format, you can harvest the long tail and not have to depend on any single book outlet to make your seven-figure passive/residual income.
Then you can have any single book outlet dump you with no major worries, if worse comes to worst.
So: can you survive without Amazon? Really?
Also published on Medium.