The Hummingbird That Protects You From Amazon Going South
Because you never know when things will go to hell. Being prepared is a good option to keep open.
You’ve probably heard this pharse or some version:
“Plan your work, work your plan and always carry a spare.”
Another one you should also know is:
“Never build your house on rented land.”
These both describe the problem that authors have when selling on Amazon, iTunes, Nook, and Kobo. These four sellers cover about 96% of all ebook sales internationally. But is that fair?
You are trusting that they won’t go south on you or cancel your account overnight. And meanwhile, the trolls at Kindle threaten to do it for you with almost every email. My KDP account was suspended a month or so ago (for a few hours) for nothing I had done wrong, but because someone needed to be blamed. It was all that stupid DMCA law they passed a few years ago. It allows a person to bully others without recourse.
That brought to mind that my own backups weren’t in place.
GooglePlay already has shut out most Indie authors from publishing there. Google needed a solution to their self-created problem of allowed mass uploading. Pirates became whack-a-mole, as they could set up again within hours. So Google shut everyone out, and closed down a lot of regular folks as collateral damage. (Corporations don’t have to care, do they?)
Similarly, Amazon’s biggest problem is that they are the butt end of lawsuits. It doesn’t matter if you are right as a self-publisher. Certain titles won’t be published in the U.S. And some won’t be accepted at all. (Go ahead and try to publish something with “Think and Grow Rich” in the title.) And then there are the DMCA bullies…
Worse, someone published a click-bait piece this week saying that Amazon could shut down its book publishing branch and would do just fine without it. And what about those six-figure authors who sell exclusively there? Sorry, guys. Should have seen this coming. Rented land and all that.
Amazon owns the land many people are building their business on. They tell you how high to jump and when.
I’ve been telling people for years that they are probably losing more sales than they are making through the promotions that KDP offers. It’s doubly true now since Kindle Unlimited started up. The horror stories about how self-publishing authors have lost a third or more of their income keep showing up. In some cases, it has gone as high as 70%. Meanwhile, scammers are making more money on the Unlimited program than legitimate authors.
What if you lost the ability to publish on Amazon at all? Then what?
Another point I’ve pushed is to have a domain and site of your own, to capture the emails of readers and develop relationships with them. Additionally, you need to be able to sell your own books from that domain. Yes, of course it’s in case of disaster, but also to give an extra reward to your fans.
How to do this is another question entirely.
As I see it, you can and should build your own storefront on your own hosting. It should be simple to set up and maintain. And you can offer anything you want for prices (as long as it’s private between your and your list and the Kindle Trolls can’t send their ‘bots out to spy.) There are a few solutions in this area.
The other approach is to find a distributor who will help you set up your own storefront and push your books for you. This hasn’t existed until just this last year. Let’s take up this last one first.
In the most recent Digitial Publishing World Expo, Hummingbird Digital Media announced they were ready to take on all bookstores and self-publishing authors who wanted a way to sell their books online in addition to everywhere else. The biggest problem independent bookstores have had was in trying to sell ebooks. Kobo had one option, but it depended on selling Kobo ereaders, and the profit margins were a bit smallish.
Self-publishing authors have a similar problem, of being discovered by readers among themillions of other books on Amazon Kindle. If you build your own storefront to sell your own books, you get crickets for customers. You want marketplaces offering your book to others, and put your books right up there with the big-name authors with all the respectability that comes with it
HummingbirdDM allows you to build your own bookstore and stock it with your own books, as well as those of other famous authors. You are essentially being treated as a Big Publisher, since your books go across their network, and you get what any of the Big 5 get when one of their books sell.
On the site they provide for you, you can rearrange the shelves to feature your books when your customers come in that virtual front door. Plus, you can run ads for your books and feature a series or a certain book whenever you want. And if those customers want to browse for other authors, you get a cut of whatever they buy. Again, we’re talking having your books right up there with big name authors who are signed with the Big 5 publishing houses. You get a cut on everything people buy from your site, as well as any of your books selling somewhere else.
Brilliant, really. Treating indie self-publishing authors as real publishers.What a concept.
The great part for self-publishing authors is as I said – you can operate your own virtual bookstore and feature your own books in it right at the top. Any sales you make are yours to profit from (somewhere around 12-23% depending on the publisher’s agreement.) This is because the standard agreement has the book publishers taking the first 50%, with you and HummingbirdDM splitting the rest, after creditcard fees and taxes are paid. The same thing happens in reverse – when your book is sold on HummingbirdDM bookstore, then you get that 50%. Of course, when you sell on your own bookstore, you usually get around 70%, just like Amazon (except you can charge whatever you like.)
The trick is that there aren’t a lot of other indie bookstores and indie authors on board right now. It just got announced in March at that Expo. The predictions by HummingbirdDM is to have about 2000 merchant storefronts by the first quarter of 2017. So it’s very much an early adopter scene right now.
However, it does give you a free option to get your books on an upcoming market place where you only have 200,000 books to compete with, opposed to nearly 2 million on Kindle. The more storefronts they get going, the more exposure your books will have. So it’s a good idea to get in now and also sell through this distributor.
Where you are going to get customers are from supporters of independent bookstores and fans of individual authors. Like an exclusive club. Getting your readers to buy in will give you the ability to alert them to changes on your site so they can go there directly – which will happen every time they open the app.
The point is convenience and having your book secure from pirating. So right now 4 out of the Big 5 are on board and are porting all their books and audiobooks to that platform. Hummingbird is even in talks with Smashwords to get their books to show up there. This is how big these boys are thinking.
Another key advantage is in list building and customer relationships – you get the emails of all the buyers from your own site. Uploading these to an email service (like AWeber, MailChimp, or others) then gives you a way to build audience – something iTunes, Amazon, Nook, and Kobo don’t give you. You still don’t have the emails of customers buying from other sites, but that’s considerably better than what you’ve been getting. You could use those emails to build and distribute a newsletter, for instance.
What’s the Press Saying?
Let’s quote from some of the press on this (links in the show notes):
“Hummingbird’s solution was to create a platform on which anyone can set up an online ebook storefront for free. Potential merchants can range from independent bookstores to nonprofit organizations and professional groups. Merchants get a branded storefront where they can sell digital books, and a branded app that allows their consumers to download ebooks and listen to audiobooks.
“When it came to getting publishers on board with Hummingbird, [Steven] Mettee [President of HDM] says, each publisher responded differently.
“‘Nothing is easy in this world. Some publishers immediately said, ‘Yes, we want to be involved,’ and others—for one reason or another—were a little tougher to convince,” explains Mettee. “Some of the small publishers needed some explanation. But, overall, we had a really good experience. Today we have more than 2,700 publishers’ titles in our catalog, and many of the publishers who were looking ways for sell direct to consumers are coming on board as merchants.’
Throughout the last year, Mettee and his team have been taking steps to make sure their platform is a seamless experience, fine-tuning it to make setting up a storefront as easy as possible.
Or as Mettee puts it, ‘as easy as setting up a Facebook page.'”
“The program includes an app for reading and listening and a web-based storefront for the discovery, purchasing and downloading of digital media. The app is operating-system agnostic, meaning it works on iPhone, iPad, Android devices such as Nook and Samsung, and the Kindle Fire. Both the app and the storefront carry the brand identity of the organization or individual.”
“So what are the primary advantages to Hummingbird? ‘Authors (and publishers) get to dilute the control the three large retailers have over them; they actually make more when they sell a book from their own storefront; they make money for each sale from their storefront even if it isn’t their own book; and they get the reader’s e-mail address’ — a convenient way to build a ‘tribe’ of fans and stay connected with them.
“Mettee recommends that authors keep publishing their books to Kindle, iBooks, and Nook — “wide distribution is important for sales,” he said — but that they also apply to be a vendor on HDM and send readers to their storefront, essentially their main hub.
“‘Since whatever you put on your storefront shows up in your app each time the consumer goes back to continue reading,’ Mettee said, ‘they are again reminded of you and exposed to any changes you’ve made on your storefront.'”
That author (Stephanie Carmichael) tried it out and had her own customised storefront up without having to do any special training.
On those banners, you can link directly out with them. I’ve done a banner at the top which is lead magnet for my membership-library. I could also send people to my self-hosted bookstore (while we’ll explore in a few minutes.)
Next are the collections. You can create a collection of just about anything. (This is handy for me, since I’ve got a couple hundred books up which can be collected in a dozen dozen ways.) Of course, you then can have the whole page with your own collections if you want. The other thing you can do is to move the categories out of the sidebar. This doesn’t eliminate them, it just makes them harder to find as categories.
The search bar starts working instantly. It relies on the meta-data supplied by the publisher for the book. This means that like iTunes and others, your own book will be referred by author and series. There are no reviews or ways for trolls to affect your sales (feel somewhat better now?)
Go visit some of these sites and play around with the search and categories. You can amuse yourself for hours. (Did you know there was Steampunk Science Fiction?)
Then you get a five page agreement to sign (lots of boilerplate in it.) Once that’s approved, then you’ll get an FTP account to upload.
You use a simple FTP program and rename the files like this: ISBN.epub, ISBN.jpg
The Excel spreadsheet is pretty straight forward. It follows the type of operation that OverDrive and e-Sensical use to upload books (and GooglePlay used to.)
So it’s pretty simple. Great to batch upload a set of books you’ve already published. Just export from Calibre and then rename according to ISBN. Then copy/paste your metadata into your Excel spreadsheet and upload.
Self-Hosted Sites – Simpler and Safer than Ever
The obvious solution for author-publishers is to have their own site, based on WordPress.
Over the last few years, WordPress has become much, much easier to maintain. Now the updates are pretty much automatic. WordPress is a free install for most web-hosts. Simple to set up.
Once you are there, the trick for a self-published author is to install WooCommerce (free) and a template that supports it. What this will do is to set up your site to run your own shopping cart and enable you to list your books. It’s pretty generic. Your books are referred to as “products” and you host your own digital files for download. There are a few bells and whistles you can turn on and off, but the setup mostly leaves you with what you need to get going. Set up your merchant account and your good to go.
One note is that you’re going to have to .zip your epub and mobi files to get them uploaded.
If you aren’t familar with WordPress, then there are plenty of helpful tutorials online.
My own site is a little different as I had earlier purchased a template from StudioPress (part of Rainmaker Platform now) and installed it, as it was WooCommerce ready.
So, go visit http://midwestjournalpress.com/bookstore/ and see how you like it. Obviously a work in progress. I’ll have to find time to get all my books up there, but you can see it’s pretty simple and direct.
It came with two options for selling because I didn’t use a straight WooCommerce theme. As I got more used to it, and started integrating Gumroad for a “pay what you want” (PWYW) option, then I saw I didn’t need to do both. The site is really designed to help people find out about my books and the various series they are in. At the bottom of each book page are buy links. One will be for Amazon, the next for Lulu, and the third for Gumroad’s PWYW option. The third sales option I have is to send them to Lulu for discounts.
The chief advantage of WooCommerce is to have an easily administered storefront of your own. Otherwise, you could set up pages on a Blogger blog and sell them there. That would make you manually edit every change. But it could be done.
For now, at least you have an example of how to get it done.
Now, note that with a simple StudioPress template, you don’t need to host your own files to sell them. Essentially, you are sending them out to Amazon, Lulu, and Gumroad. Of course, that means you aren’t stuck to any one seller. It also means that these places host your books, so your bandwidth will be smaller.
Gumroad’s “pay what you want” pricing, often results in a higher payment and overall revenue than setting (and guessing at) a fixed price. It is one way around Amazon’s “race to the bottom” scheme.
Your Cost of Doing Business and Your Return on Investment
Since you install WordPress for free, and WooCommerce plus it’s template for free, this still fits into the idea of getting started using what you already have to expand and leverage your income even higher.
By now, you’ve invested:
your own Internet connection and computer.
autoresponder service (MailChimp is free)
domain + hosting (can be gotten for under $200 per year, total)
and maybe a podcasting microphone (about $100)
The trick is to get all of this stuff making income for you.
Since you have the domain and webhost, you can simply install WordPress and start sending fans to it. There’s a little more theory of marketing involved, but the main point is that you can add your self-hosted website to your workflow while publishing and then devote some time playing catch up to get all your earlier books posted everywhere.
Your HummingbirdDM site will be easier to play catch up with, since it can be just a few upload sessions to get your books there. (Do a test run first with just a few to make sure it’s fine, then do some bigger and bigger batches until you catch them all up.)
You’ll then have added two more places your books can be found. All in addition to the main book distributors you already have.
The point is to make your life more free by increasing your passive income and leveraging your resources.