The Great Content Business Challenge: Publishing Premises
The Premises of This Year’s Challenge
Last year, I worked on an Fiction Writing Challenge – and it was a great success.
I produced far more content than I imagined I would, or predicted I would.
Because I concentrated on building the habits of writing “Damn Good Books.” And along the way, I had to study and throw away craft texts that didn’t help me achieve that.
Initially, it was started with a book called “How to Stop Feeding the Beast“. That was based on escaping Amazon’s algorithms through very different approaches to volume writing. And to find that out, I had to go back to earlier successful writers who were brought up in the high-volume days of pulp magazine publishing. (And I still owe you a text that quotes these references – although you can already find a lot of data from some of them in “Plotto Genie: The Endless Story“)
This Writing Challenge was supposed to verge into the business aspects at some point, but simply kept going at improving the craft and habits of writing. Because it was fun. And the business was anything but nailed down.
The Changing Face of Book Publishing
“The only constant is change.”
And, as many predicted, Amazon decided to change toward more profit and away from better author service. They instituted an Author Tax by replacing their “also-bought” carousel with one of sponsored books. Now half the book pages are filed with ads instead of ranking-placed books.
Since the conventional wisdom has been to drive traffic to Amazon (with Facebook ads) and so increase your ranking – and so your sales – the discussions now center on how you also have to run Amazon Ads on your books – even on your own book pages – in order to replace the sales that the missing carousel provided.
Meaning, that on Amazon, the conventional wisdom that “people will buy your earlier books when you promote your most recent book” is failing, if not dead. Many authors saw a 40% drop in earnings when this was implemented in the U.S. That’s already on top of diminished earnings via Select and Unlimited participation.
Earlier, the comparison between authors who were entirely Amazon-centric and authors who published “wide” showed that the Amazon-only authors were leaving between 20-30% of their income on the table. It used to be that wide-published authors were anecdotally getting about 50% of their income from Amazon. This is now obviously shifting lower.
Since only about .04 percent (four-hundredths of a percent) of all Amazon authors were making $50K or better, this is now getting even worse.
The good news is there are a lot of non-Amazon places to buy (and publish) all sorts of books – and more now than ever before.
The Changing Approach to Book Discovery
“If you throw out conventional wisdom – and do the opposite – 90% of the time you’ll be right.”
It’s obvious that in order for someone to buy your book, they have to discover it. The Amazon-centric (let’s be less polite and call it Amazon-addicted) approach was to give away free books through Amazon, even boxed sets at .99 in order to get them to read your book and then join your list and buy your backlist.
The problem – it’s become less and less effective. More books showed up at .99 and readers quit buying them, as the price denoted the quality. And their readers were already filled with tons of free and cheap books that they would never get around to reading. The prices of books on Amazon started increasing, and sales of more expensive books were better than the cut-rate ones.
But the gorilla in the room is that Amazon was never built for discoverability. You can’t really build audience via Amazon without investing in ads on Facebook. Go figure. You have to exploit the privacy pirates at Facebook to get book-buyers on Amazon to buy your books so they can find you. (Or even to download the free ones, which is expensive.)
The actual success of authors on Amazon has been to build their audience first, then put the book up on Amazon, where it became and “over-night” best-selling sensation.
What you never see is the five to ten years those authors had been building up their audience base and then enabling a book or book series for purchase on Amazon and elsewhere that begins selling well.
I tested this last year by producing a life-time’s worth of books in a single year, which gave me a deep backlist of titles and should have resulted sales. But sales there only started moving to the degree I got my own subscribers via Instafreebie/PW and mailed to them. (Again: Amazon works only as well as you send traffic to it.) There was no discovery via Amazon itself. Not in a single year. Their instituting the Amazon Tax just cemented that.
All we accomplished last year were to verify two points:
- to map out the book craft and habits an author needs to develop in order to start building a deep backlist of titles,
- and work out incidentally that Amazon was almost completely broken to book discovery
The last point was to find out that you need to give a lot of books away for free in order to build your audience – but it needs to be on sites where people who love to read a lot will frequent: Wattpad and Medium.
“Wool”, “Shades of Gray”, and “The Martian” all started with exactly that process. There are others before (and since), but the model was Wattpad first, Amazon last.
Finding Where Amazon Isn’t – and Going There First.
The shrill “Amazon Only” guru don’t see the forest for the trees. They are fixated on just that one very huge tree that shadows everything else nearby. ACX and CreateSpace/KDP Print only work within Amazon. No one else wants their imprints in their stores.
Meanwhile Findaway is going everywhere else with your audiobooks, as the bigger players like Apple and Kobo are now expanding into these.
Lulu.com will get your paperbacks and hardbacks into more bookstores through Ingram than Amazon can. (And cost you nothing in setup fees and revisions as does IngramSpark.)
Aggregators such as PublishDrive and Streetlib can get you into hundreds (a thousand perhaps) more ebook distributors worldwide.
Along with Draft2Digital, they are all adding library wholesalers to get your ebooks and audiobooks available there.
Amazon doesn’t do courses, and this is growing at a faster rate than audiobooks. Plus, the profit from courses can be about 100x what you can get from digital+text+audio books.
Amazon also doesn’t do real bundles (just paperback+ebook). Gumroad has been making these available for years. Many artists market through them first to reach their audience.
(Update: There was some hope for bundles on BitTorrent Now – but on submitting a couple of tests last night, I saw they said I had to get some emails accepting me. The news about them say the whole thing was sold a couple years back and most of the execs and staff had left. Really smart idea, but they didn’t know how to manage money – lights on, and no one home. I did get a dozen email opt-ins in both 2017 and 2018, so I can hope, anyway…)
Amazon might be the big tree – but they aren’t the whole forest. And, after time, any big tree topples as they get corrupted inside…
The more Amazon cannibalizes their customers and suppliers, the more it’s time to hedge your bets and get everywhere else as well.
Again, the lesson is simple – start re-examining how you publish your book content.
Isn’t it time to boot the Amazon guru’s?
The Content Inc Model of Author Discovery
That is really the point of all this. You want people to discover you as an author (or pen name) not a single book.
The worst advice I’ve found is where that blinders-on author model has been pushed. One author/one book only. All the emphasis has been on someone writing a single book and then making it succeed. The most successful authors write hundreds. Over decades. Each is improved over the previous.
What you already have is a content-based business. You start consistently churning out books, one right after the next. Put that next sheet into the digital equivalent of your typewriter and start writing your next story. (The second-best time is now.)
The trick is to get your books selling so that you can afford to keep writing full time (meaning that you write for a bit each day, you run your business for a bit each day, and you read books/watch movies a bit each day). Or you set this up to write intensively for a day or two and run your business intensively for a day or two, and read/watch when you’re too tired – or just before bed.)
You already have a content business. And the model for a content business is Joe Pulizzi’s Content Inc.
Funny enough for an author, you don’t take his model literally – other than what you should be focusing on. As I mentioned, the worst advice is to put anything up on Amazon and work at getting sales right off. That’s “monetization” at the far end. And so the vast amount of authors never make it.
You start writing right off – in high volume – so you can find your sweet spot and content tilt of the type of books and genres you find the most fun writing. Because having fun will build the best books.
But the crazy thing is that you also set up your base, enable opt-ins, and put your books up for sale everywhere so you can harvest your audience. You just don’t pay too much attention to them. You have to keep your day job and write in the cracks.
The sequence I worked out toward the end of last year’s challenge was to write/revise/proof and then publish wide with links in the back of those books to get people to opt-in. All those books are put up for sale, but at last when the Amazon version is accepted (on pre-order) you then publish to Wattpad and Medium, with links to your own site where they can get the books2read.com link. Then they can buy it anywhere they want. Or from you personally.
You’ve got your Blogger blog, your email service provider, and you post each book up on Gumroad with a “Pay What You Want” offer. Your efforts are to send people to your blog where they can buy through the author – and you email any list you have about your recent releases. And meanwhile get started on your next book.
Once you have that backlist and audience building, you can start expanding your focus to other things on the model above. As you’ll need them.
The overall foremost thing you focus on is building your audience. Your real monetization will come after you find your first 1,000 true fans. But you focus on monetization last of all – when it will be obvious. (Again, get and read his book, listen to the many podcasts where he discussed how it fits together.)
But we have to get away from the next biggest Amazon-centric lie – which is that “books” are fiction ebooks only.
Books Are Containers, Not Just Digital Downloads
See that link above (it’s also a podcast episode). This is an important breakthrough. Once I started shifting my focus to working up how this business should work, that post became far more vital to understanding than when I saw at first.
Originally, this was simply a way to leverage the content you were producing anyway. Now, I see that I had it backwards.
Your highest leverage of content is from courses. Because they have the highest potential income with lowest delivery overhead (and Amazon can’t get their taxes in there.)
The new model is that you are taking the bits and pieces of your course and pushing these out to those areas where they can be sold and give you subscribers. This is a “funded proposal” in MLM – and it’s known as a “reader magnet” in Nick Stephenson circles. If it’s on Amazon, it’s in ebook format, or print format, or audio format.) If it’s on thinkific or teachable, or udemy or skillshare, it’s a course. If it’s on YouTube or similar, it’s a video. If it’s on your own blog or Wattpad, or Medium, it’s a blog post or book chapter. If it’s on Slideshare, it’s a presentation.
All those point back to your blog/site, and your blog/site points to all of those – particularly the ones where they can pay for their own copy.
Meaning, you want to work from the course backwards.
Sure, that’s fine for non-fiction…
Chasing up where people use content marketing for fiction left a lot to be desired. (Or pay $99 for a mini-course for what you could find through a search engine. In short – they don’t know how other than using “social media” which is long known to sell or even giveaway next to no books.)
In non-fiction, you also get a lot more paperback sales. Just the nature of the beast. And why people got stuck into the ebook-only publishing route. Especially if they bought into the Romance “writing to market” scam. Almost all the Amazon “bestsellers” in this genre are ebooks. This graphic from K-Lytics.com shows what genres/categories sell more hardcovers and paperbacks – non-fiction:
Fiction “Courses” are Subscriptions
You have to look at what a course is – it’s a membership. And courses these days aren’t what they were originally. People are buying these for the experience, not for the result. They want somewhere they can go to find out data, and pick up the piece they need. Most people aren’t trying to get a degree or certificate for the online course they picked up. They just want to hear and read and watch (and maybe download material) about some particular subject area.
The equivalent for Fiction writers is to offer and promote that people become patrons and automatically get copies of your output every month – or whenever it’s published. That’s also called subscriptions. (And you can also set this up through Gumroad.com, you don’t have to pay more for Patreon.)
Another option is to set up bundles on Gumroad.com, which is a similar arrangement. You are doing audio and video and trailers and so on – so put these up along with any other digital files – in a bundle they can purchase. Like a course, the bundle can stay up there indefinitely, so they can access it with any Internet-capable device from anywhere online.
That’s how you content market as a fiction writer. Offer subscriptions and bundles.
How Those Ideas Set the Premises to Test in This Challenge
We work backwards from the original concept. The highest leverageable content package you have.
Build that first, then publish in pieces – using all the paying sites as lead generators.
In fiction: Build a bundle of text, audio and video that describes the book and all the universe it’s in.
In non-fiction: build your course with text, audio, and video that tells that reader the why’s and how-to’s of your core idea or breakthrough.
In each case, the model is to then publish everything everywhere that they can buy, as well as where it’s free.
The whole reason is to build paying audience who will continue to pay for your courses/bundles/books.
If you run ads, they send people to your site. When you mail to your list, you send them to your site.
On the site, they find links to get to the material they should be buying to support you. And are encouraged to donate or sponsor you as well.
Those links go out via books2read.com links so they can find what they want. Or the links are to Instafreebie/PW where they can get a free copy.
Or to your podcasts where you promote the audiobook version (with links.)
The underlying model is Content Inc. – even though we have all the parts, the important points are to focus on one channel first (your blog/site) and make that a success by churning out content about your courses/bundles. You focus on one part of the Content Inc. model, starting with getting used to churning out great content and your own specific best “content tilt” to narrow to the audience you can best service.
The Content-Business Implementation Plan
This challenge in this year, is to just focus on audience building.
All the basics, for me, are mostly there:
- I have this site.
- It has potential for podcasting.
- My home office is set up for recording audio.
- I have ample graphic backgrounds for producing artwork to combine with audio into videos.
- I already have a list provider and course provider (Thinkific).
- And I can crank out content on a regular basis in both fiction and non-fiction.
Next would follow a production assembly line.
I want to test this out with fiction, and only publishing a single “book-worth” each week and publish that to all remote outlets – a hub and spoke model (which post needs updating).
Below is a possible pattern to follow, based on tracking links that are created as the publishing process continues:
- Assemble text, audio, and video to create a good user experience as a bundle.
- Port text files to paperback through Lulu. (Consider a second version in large format.)
- Port audiobook through Draft2Digital to Findaway and so to everywhere
- Port text files as ebooks through Draft2Digital, own site, Gumroad, StreetLib, PublishDrive, and last: Amazon.
- Separately post podcast episode to own site, and syndicate through Feedburner to iTunes, Stitcher, etc. Links to ebooks and audiobook.
- Build any video, like a book trailer or author interview based on that podcast. (Can be posted to YouTube, Vimeo, et al. if it doesn’t require excessive time.)
- Post bundle to gumroad – with links.
For non-fiction, this revolves around the videos you need to create for the course.
- You are still creating text and audio first, then the graphics for each lesson and sync with the audio – output to video.
- Then you port everywhere.
- Modules are ported to Udemy and Skillshare as mini-courses of themselves.
- Figure that every chapter is a series of short videos which form a module – that can stand alone as valuable data.
- The modules then build up into a full course on Thinkific.
Premises in Summary to Test This Challenge-year
Content Inc as the model – focusing on audience building first. I’ll continue my work with Instafreebie/PW to continue adding subscribers for fiction and sort out how to add non-fiction subscribers as well. These are mailed to regularly, as is habitual now.
Course/Bundle first, Amazon last model. Means examining but throwing out Amazon-centric theories and practices in favor of reaching wide internationally and through other models than just ebooks. (Podcasts promoting to audiobook listeners. Full courses being promoted through Udemy and Skillshare mini-courses. Videos probably to YouTube, etc. to attract others who like to read/view/listen to stories.) Amazon ebooks are published last, on their own, as they have “requirements” (and treat aggregators like authors – shabbily.)
Expanding the Anthology/Collection model to include higher-value audiobooks for fiction. Which promote the bundles where the author tells about the book’s background universe and easter eggs found in each book, and references to earlier books where characters are mentioned.
Probable Metrics to Measure
- Words Published Paid/Free
- Bundles/Courses Published
Ongoing goals will be
- a short fiction book published each week as bundle, ebook, audiobook, paperback, Wattpad/Medium serial.
- an existing non-fiction book upgraded to course, with all previous versions updated or recorded, and including Wattpad/Medium article-series.
- all earlier ebooks ported to wider aggregators (PublishDrive, Streetlib) As possible, these worked up into courses/bundles.
Books pitch bundles/courses, bundles/courses pitch books. Every blog post pitches giving donations and becoming a patron.
An Example of This Concept
I started out doing this with Backwards Book Publishing.
That is a book, but needs to be published to all aggregators.
I recorded it and only published as a podcast series.
It is also available as a course (currently free).
This needs an audiobook created as I already have the audio. I have some graphics, but need to create videos for each of the 7 lessons.
I’d update the book with additional text (not changing the text on the site, as the audio would have to be re-mastered) and add material from this blog post into it as bonuses.
Then work out if I need to fix a price on it (after a beta trial, and asking for testimonials) – and then port a mini-version to both Udemy and Skillshare.
You can see here that Amazon plays a tiny part of the entire universe of this book.
Also in that area is a proof-of-concept course where I had Dorothea Brande’s “Becoming A Writer” recorded, and then created a course out of it. Interesting that I haven’t gotten around to getting that audiobook published. Must be something about my old priorities…
Do You Get a Lightbulb Moment Here?
Publish to Amazon last.
Quit listening to the guru’s who push “Amazon Only” mantra. They are digging themselves and their followers an ever-deeper ditch daily. And leaving lots of money everywhere else they could be picking up.
Below this is: build your audience first. Give them incredible value. Then you’ll have ebook bestsellers – but meanwhile will already be earning 100x that with your courses, bundles, and other subscriptions. From everywhere else worldwide.
This lays out the premises I’ll be testing this year. Starting this week.
PS. This might seem funny to you…
I see that I’ve just committed to publishing two books each week (more or less) – one fiction, and another non-fiction. Of course, I’m not stuck in working up the non-fiction, since it’s obviously more work. But overall, I’ll expect to spend three days (at the outset) working on the fiction bundle, and another three days on the non-fiction course. Still looking for somewhere to putting bundles in addition to Gumroad, so I can get a comparative test going. Also, that will be to build new audience, while Gumroad will be for existing ones. Funny to me that I thought I wouldn’t be publishing as many books this year…
Be sure to sign up above and keep posted through emails of the progress and breakthroughs…
Also published on Medium.