Beating Amazon at their own Game (or: how to game Amazon...)
Studies show that Amazon isn't what it used to be. Statistics are doing their usual song-and-dance, but tell that the big box giant may be around (or even below) 50% at this point, down from their peak of 90% just a few years back. Might be time to leave the walled garden...
With all the hype out there from and about Amazon, there are some facts about self-publishing and the potential for success on Amazon that you should know.
Main point is that there are other players in the market these days, and Amazon has eroded from their peak of 90% just a few years back. They've reportedly declined to around 50% (which is just educated estimates.)
And this author is apparently the only one outside the industry which put all this together, except for Mark Coker, who is more privy to Smashword's analytics than any of Amazon's - and is usually dissed for having a vested interest.
But you may want to check into a 1,000+ writer study undertaken to sort out what the best writers did, compared to the rest:
While this next one points out an additional survey, it does emphasize that these surveys were also non-definitive. They were self-selective, as even Taleist admits:
"For a start, no one knows what the total population of self-publishers look like so we can’t know for sure how closely our sample of 1,007 respondents represents that community. It seems likely that with a sample this size we will have good representation but do the experiences of our respondents match yours? Where are the differences? What do you agree with? What did you disagree with? What else would you like to know?"
"Also, as Nate Hoffelder of The Digital Reader points out, the survey needs to be considered in context: "The thing is, no matter how little those authors made while self-publishing their ebooks, on average they are almost certainly better off than if they did not have the option of self-publishing." Survey results support this: only 5% of respondents said that they considered themselves unsuccessful, regardless of how much they earned--reminding us that "success" is about much more than money."
You'll find that the "top earners" had achieved a tipping point that took them over the top. So they could actually afford to write instead of marketing all the time. They attracted and maintained an audience which would buy just about anything they wrote, just as fast as they could churn it out.
Here's the first of the Taleist videos, so you can check these out for yourself:
All this said, this survey also deals heavily with Fiction. There is no comparative to say that non-fiction runs by the exact same rules. Certainly, if you have 2 non-fiction books, the one with the lower price may win out, given similar titles, covers, and descriptions. But far more likely is the "Google-effect", where a non-fiction book can be more easily and more tightly SEO'd to a particular keyword and traffic driven directly to a page which gives far more information about it before you hit the Amazon (or other distributor) checkout. The reader is already pre-sold, and then meets an excellent price point. Since these books can hit a peak of selling, then this would "end around" Amazon's algorithms.
Speaking of which - there's evidence that the much vaunted review-system and "also-bought" recommendations are getting rickety and wheezing more these days, as they are adjusted from experience with the everpresent gaming.
This then leads to the cracks. Upshot of this is: the easy days of building huge readerships from low-price points is mostly over - at least on Amazon.
"Select isn’t the money-printing machine it once was. To sell many books, you’ll have to do more with it than “set book free, sit on couch, drink fruity drink.” You need to have a secondary strategy to make your book visible after your free run’s over, or use your free run to specifically generate visibility for your other books."
The algorithms were changed in May 2012 so that there was more emphasis on overall income the book was producing. Which essentially dooms the Locke formula.
That said, anecdotal evidence says that Amazon might have shot themselves in the foot with this. Supported by the rush for "free" Kindle books, and comparisons with Smashwords' analysis that the best price points are between 2.99 and 5.99. Amazon's pricing is: the higher the better, weighed against sales.
Another hole is that you don't have to buy the book to give a review - even though Amazon at one time would give more weight internally (placement?) to reviews from actual buyers. (This was at the time Locke was buying his reviews, which meant he paid someone to buy the book before posting the review.)
Meanwhile, this survey of Mobileread users by Mark Coker tends to point out that Amazon's algorithm's may only account for 25% of the people visiting their sites who rely on browsing to find their book. When you lump together word of mouth and reader loyalty, you wind up closer to 50%. This is an indicator that Amazon has had a good thing for quite a while, but as the online infrastructure has built up, they are no longer the only fish in this pond, however big they are.
This survey also brings up the social marketing strategy which many authors use, of being active on book-reader forums. You have to contrast this with the Taleist survey which shows that the authors who spend the most time marketing have lower income than the authors who spend the most time writing.
This may be that the "heavy hitters" have already established their audience, and now are concentrating on simply delivering what that audience wants, which is the next book.
Cokers's view of self-publishing gives him a unique perspective. He's running a profitable business built on helping people get their books to publishing outlets. So he has access to quite a bit of raw data - perhaps the most accurate analysis out there, especially compared to the Taleist and U.K. writers reports ( the latter mentioned obliquely above - titled "Two Surveys").
The data to hand shows that getting outside of Amazon and their Kindle-centric grasp may be a smart move.
The linked article below shows that while this author got some increased sales from her KDP Select days, she won't be doing this again, as it was overall a negative. (Something which backs up what Coker has been saying for years.) She gives some very valuable insight, as Baney obviously knows marketing.
Now again, I am working with the data to hand. There are a lot of books (especially on Amazon) which promote using the KDP Select program as a fast method of earning additional income online. And I've already gone over that a lot of these were written in the heyday which ended mid May 2012.
So we would then look for alternative strategies, and this brings up Mark Coker.
The strategy for 2013 is involved, but takes you right away from Amazon's KDP Select "walled garden" exclusivity. Part of it is as below - fiction needs to return to its pulp base - churning out regular content that is genre-specific as to plot, characters, and angst/emo. As our next author phrases it: commodity publishing. Digital first, then printed collections.
You also have to consider that any author is paralleling the publishing industry as a whole. It isn't the best book which gets the attention, its the one which sells the best. One hole in the Taleist survey is their point that people who are investing in copy-editing make better income (again this is fiction, mostly), they do not take up the content, with books which are genre-specific with their character and plots. (Again, this is a small sample, weighted toward the U.S. fiction writers who responded.) A stable of genre-tuned books was both Hocking and Locke's success feature - to find a specific genre and cater to those tastes, building a loyal audience.
In non-fiction, you see these features as well, mirroring the Mobileread forum survey. People are recommended by people they trust to get a certain book, and once an author has developed a reputation with them, they will stick with that author for later books. Such as Malcom Gladwell or Seth Godin, and even APE's rapid success could be traced more to Guy Kawasaki's social (fan) following than the content of his current book.
What you will then have as a strategy is to find and align with kindred author spirits to cross-post on their blogs, inviting their audience to your books - and vice-versa. (In affiliate marketing circles, this is called joint-venture - and they email their list to give them your pitch. Same concept - each of you is sharing your audience in order to expand your own.)
For 2013 and going forward, the platform of choice looks to be Apple. However, if you are already on Smashwords, stick with them. If not, there's a great option for those of us with Lulu accounts to ship directly to iBookstore with ebooks. Of course a person can post to both Apple and B&N direct, but if you can get 3 for the price of 1 with Lulu doing the heavy lifting for you (at a slightly lower royalty) it seems a no-brainer.
Let me quote from Coker's "Secrets" book, which lays out how a cohesive team approach might work:
"In an ideal launch, you’d have a large number of media placements (print media, radio, blogs, advertisements) hitting at the same time. You’d provide hyperlinks to your books at the different retailers, so you could get a large number of customers to swarm the retailers in a short period of time. This would increase your velocity, which would cause your sales rank to spike, which would lead to greater visibility in the bestseller lists and the also bought lists."Try to involve your fellow authors in cross-promotional launch promotions, especially if you write in similar genres or topics.If your fellow authors can provide you promotional access to their fans, such as in a promotional mailing to your mutual mailing lists, or a guest blog post on their blog, then these fans will spur on the "also-boughts" algorithm so that your book might appear in the "also-boughts" of their book pages (because their fans are now purchasing your books). This will also cause your partner authors’ books to start appearing in the "also-boughts" listings of your book pages. Such collective promotions are a win-win for you and your author friends.Although it’s helpful to orchestrate that swarm of buying with your initial launch campaign, be sure to also maintain some “rolling thunder” afterward, by which I mean additional media interviews, blog interviews, and proactive promotion effort."
Obviously, there's a lot of work to get this all set up. But it does lay out a practical approach which is based on Cokers experience and access to raw stats.
From this above, you could lay out a marketing checklist - of course you may also want to review Cokers other (free) book on marketing ebooks:
And I've run way overlong today. You can agree with me that all of us can do more research in this area in order to improve our respective incomes. (All of these curations are my research for an over-due book - but that's just my excuse...)
So let's leave this with our Twitter-verse reviews:
(Again, caveat emptor - I saw tons of "tweople" simply pushing the same [identically-worded] product pitch for services...)