The Numbers Racket and Amazon's Public Domain Problems.

Amazon's problem with public domain books are overcome by sheer numbers.

You beat Amazon at public domain by having a lot of dogs hunting for you.
(Photo: Conor Lawless)
You beat Amazon at public domain publishing by having a lot of dogs hunting for you.

Recently was in the middle of a test which had 30 public domain books submitted to Amazon to see how many I could get approved (thinking at the outset - all of them.) Also, I wanted to test their policies in this area.

Looks like it may have a great deal to do with their internal policies which aren't available.

What inspired this post was a reject which simply said:

Thank you for the information you provided regarding the following book(s):


We have reviewed the information you provided and have determined that we will not be making the book(s) available for sale in the Kindle store at this time.

Since each of these books had been carefully researched to be in the public domain, the only other problem is that it directly conflicted with a book which was being sold by Amazon itself which had the same or similar title/author. The problem with this reject was that they are giving no solution or recommendation - like "not well enough differentiated."

So the book was just blocked.

It could have been the personal problems and attitudes of the person having to deal with the decision on a Sunday evening.

It does make Amazon look a bit heartless.

And we are talking Kindle here. Just Kindle. I've got epubs everywhere else.

Otherwise, if you look up this book, you'll see my hardcopy version is sitting there.

These are the three points I learned from this test:  
  • When Amazon has the only Kindle book for sale, they won't be letting you put up competition to them any time soon. 
  • If other people have other public domain items there (and especially if Amazon is giving that title/author away for free) then you have half a chance, provided yours is "(annotated)" or "(illustrated)" in the title. 
  • If no one else has a Kindle version of that old book up there, then you can shoo right in.

It takes searching for your book title before you put your dog in the hunt.

The other option is to make the title completely different from anything seen before. (So that new title sounds like no book they've ever seen before...)

The bottom line here: Amazon doesn't really seem to like competition. They like unique, single, different items.

Everyone else who published ebooks simply let the market decide. The better cover, description, and price wins. Except on Amazon.

However, I'm not going to worry about it much (after I get this particular rant done.)

Look, in just under 72 hours since I submitted 30 books to Amazon, I've gotten 2 blocked, 4 are in "Draft",  4 are still "In Review" and 20 approved. Almost all of the books I submitted this time have hardcopy versions as well. Ebooks and hardcopy books supposedly sell more of each other (that's another test being done with this.)

The most important takeaway is what you can learn from this:
  1. Amazon doesn't apply it's public domain policies unless they are the exact same book with the exact same title. Technically, if you create a new version, it's not now in the public domain - whatever is yours about it, if it's only the cover - that gives you a new copyright. However, your agreement with them is that if it is composed mostly of public domain material, you can't claim the 70% royalty.
  2. If you compete head to head with Amazon, expect a query and a reject. Learn to research your books before you simply try to "float another book" up to Amazon.
  3. Amazon now has somewhat less than 50% of the ebook market. If you also publish on iTunes, GooglePlay, Nook, and Kobo - you'll have the rest of the market.
  4. Amazon is the pickiest of all of these. (Except outlets who won't even accept anything except original works - Smashwords, Leanpub, Scribd.) All the other distributors will take just about anything. And they don't base their "if you liked" recommendations on inflated reviews - only Amazon.
  5. The only reason you are at Amazon at all is to get better leverage over your sales. The bestsellers I have at Amazon generally sell well everywhere else as well. I am getting sales on the other distributors which are from PLR or PD books which haven't had to be specially edited or combined to jump over Amazon's higher bar. Meanwhile, any hardcopy book I'd publish will pass that Amazon bar easily. It's all leverage. Some leverage is better than having no book selling out there.
  6. Finally, recognize that Amazon is trying to keep a walled garden growing with their Kindle books - and failing. Their market share has been dropping every year for the last decade. (Something to do with how they are treating people.) If you make your book available everywhere else and are making income off these - it's more income than you'd make off Amazon alone. If you are also making money from those same books you have on Amazon, you are still making more money than you would have made on Amazon alone.

That is the key takeaway to this rant: show up everywhere you possibly can with as many offers as possible. (And meanwhile, don't sweat the small stuff.)

I'm now busy porting those same 30 plus the other 70 I didn't even bother putting up on Amazon to get them to work hunting up sales for me. (I can just about hear those hounds calling...)  I've got 4 more distributors to post these works to, and little time to be distracted by arcane rejects. Posting 400 versions is still a lot of work.

But you can see that 400 hound dogs will do a lot more hunting than 30.

Just because you were handed a mystery sandwich, don't get stuck on it. Just swallow hard and fuggetaboutit. Like I had to tell myself - I've got 20 out of 30 approved. So this is 20 more books which potentially can give me more income.

The six I've had rejected I've learned from. The four still in review I've got a 50/50 chance. Two of those, I'll ask (again) to withdraw so they don't get blocked (they are both competing directly with Amazon and look to be a problem - pulling them now would prevent them getting blocked.)

That would bring me up to eight which didn't make it. So it's just shy of a 75% success rate. Used to be about 66%.  So now I know.

The other point is that it's just been 72 hours. Sure, with these other distributors I may get some rejects, one or two maybe. So 398 books out there is still a much better reception than what I got on Amazon. But it's really their loss. My hardback is up there, and could be giving them a two-for with the ebook. My ebook looks better, has a better description, and will sell better - making them more profit than they will get by rejecting that one book. Again, it's their loss - I've got a lot more hounds to hunt with.

Frankly, I won't be trying a bulk test like this again. It's a lot of stress. I'll do my homework better, and then I should be able to raise it to closer to 95% or more. (Working on unique titles is the key, little else.)

So Amazon can stick their rejects where it could do them the most good. I'm just little fish to them. Not worth getting in a snit about this, or doing something which would reflect badly on my account.

I've got a lot more dogs doing my hunting than just one. So it's back to work.

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