15 Ways To Improve KDP – Progress Report

kindle-direct-publishingThe London Book Fair is underway again which makes it a perfect time to review the list of suggestions I presented to KDP last year.

As regular readers will know, I crowd-sourced a list of feature requests, bug fixes, and common problems via my blog and the most popular self-publisher hangout, Kboards.

The KDP reps at the Fair spent a great deal of time going through your list of suggestions. They asked for clarification at various points and I was able to follow up with them by email afterwards.

At the same time, a parallel effort led by Marie Force, Laura Florand, and Diana Peterfreund presented a similar list of suggestions at NINC in October last year. There were probably more such efforts too.

In any event, here’s the checklist, with progress (if any) indicated.

1. More Data! (see original request here)

A very common demand was for more data. While many agreed Amazon was unlikely to share traffic numbers (to our book pages), we expressed a hope that KDP could give us aggregated conversion percentages, sample percentages, and conversion rates on those samples. Anything really, we don’t get a lot of data.

Progress: Meh. We get a little more data now when we run Kindle Countdown promos, but nothing outside of that. And most of that is stuff we probably could have figured out anyway.

2. Coupons (see original request here)

Another popular request was for Smashwords-like coupons. We don’t have an easy way of giving free books within the Amazon system.

Progress: Fail. Amazon seemed to experiment briefly with coupons in December when giving free copies of Guy Kawasaki’s APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur to those who completed Nanowrimo. I had hoped this was a test for a wider roll-out of coupons but nothing has happened since.  Continue reading

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The Great E-book Pricing Question

soulsaleThere’s more guff written about pricing than almost anything else, resulting in an extremely confusing situation for new self-publishers. I often see them pricing too low or too high, and the decision is rarely made the right way, i.e. ascertaining their goals and pricing accordingly.

Price/value confusion

Before we get to the nuts-and-bolts, it’s time to slay a zombie meme. Much of the noise on this issue springs from conflating two concepts, namely price and value.

Authors often say something like, “My book is worth more than a coffee.” Or publishers might say, “A movie costs $10 and provides two hours of entertainment. Novels provide several times that and should cost more than $9.99.”

Price and value are two different things. From Wikipedia:

Economic value is not the same as market price. If a consumer is willing to buy a good, it implies that the customer places a higher value on the good than the market price.

The price is something we, as self-publishers, attach to the product. The value is the worth the consumer places on it (not the author or publisher). In simple terms, unless your price is lower than the value a reader places on your book, they won’t purchase.

Marketing isn’t simply about reaching consumers but also about convincing them to place a value on the product higher than the price-tag. The higher the price, the harder that job will be.

In other words, it’s a lot easier to sell a book at $2.99 than $9.99. Continue reading

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Publishers Weekly Ignores The Real Scandal At LA Times Festival of Books

PWLATimesPublishers Weekly whipped up a storm on Wednesday with news of a deal between Amazon and the LA Times Festival of Books, resulting in calls for the publishing community to boycott the event. But Publishers Weekly is ignoring the real scandal.

Amazon isn’t listed as a sponsor or scheduled to appear. The “deal” in question pertains to the LA Times Festival of Books signing up as an Amazon affiliate so they can earn a percentage from sales made through their website. Mary Williams, of Skylight Books in Los Angeles, complained that sales will be “siphoned away” by Amazon.

I’m not so sure that charge sticks. Either someone at the event buys the book in front of them or they don’t. I can’t see how the festival website being an Amazon affiliate changes that. If readers are going to spot a book, then check the price on Amazon (or wherever) to see if they can get a better deal, they would do that whether the website had affiliate links to Amazon or not.

Many independent booksellers have complained that the organizers should have partnered with IndieBound instead. That’s a better point, but perhaps the organizers had a valid reason to choose Amazon instead. I don’t know their logic, but I can think of three compelling possibilities:

  • Amazon’s affiliate scheme is much more lucrative. Not only does it pay a higher percentage than IndieBound, Amazon also sells a wide range of other products, many much more expensive than books. I’m an Amazon affiliate, and even though I only link to books, I make more per year from non-book items – more than doubling my affiliate income.
  • Many readers might not know who or what IndieBound is. They may feel more comfortable giving their credit card details to a retailer they are familiar with (indeed, with one-click purchasing they won’t have to get out their credit card at all).  In e-commerce, if you give the customer reason to hesitate there’s a fair chance you’ll lose them.
  • Amazon has a much larger selection. Many indie bookstores don’t sell e-books, choose not to stock self-published paperbacks, or sell anything that comes from Amazon Publishing. Perhaps the organizers wanted to partner with someone who stocked all appearing authors’ work (like Lee Goldberg, who has digital-only titles, self-published books, and some published with Amazon’s imprints).

It could have been any of those reasons. It could have been all of those reasons. But Publishers Weekly didn’t explore any of that, instead lining up a string of indie booksellers to attack the decision. The reaction was predictable:

The LA Book Festival is a place where book publishers, booksellers, and book lovers come together as a community to celebrate their shared values. Those values are far removed from Amazon’s. Giving Amazon such a prominent role is, to say the least, inappropriate and insensitive.

Give me a break. This is the same LA Times Festival of Books that has been welcoming Author Solutions for years without a peep. And aside from scamming writers in general, Author Solutions has also been scamming authors at the event. Continue reading

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IndieReCon – Free Online Conference Starts Next Week

IRCpromobadge1There’s a free, online self-publishing conference taking place next week.

It’s the second year of IndieReCon, and they have an action-packed schedule filled with all sorts of great stuff – a mixture of posts, vlogs, webinars, as well as the opportunity to drill deeper into the various topics with a series of online and Twitter chats.

The fun kicks off next Tuesday, Feb 25 at 10:00 (EST) and runs until Thursday, Feb 27 at 22:00 (EST).

I have all the details below from one of the co-founders, SR (Shelli) Johannes, which I’m happy to share. Be sure to drop in, there’s some cool stuff planned, and it’s all FREE (make sure to register to gain access).

Here’s Shelli with more:

* * *

In one week, IndieReCon will return to the web and we’d love to have you join us!

Last year with over 10,000 visitors, IndieReCon was awesome with chats and giveaways and days of helpful and pertinent information.

This year will be even bigger and better!

To kick us off, our keynote speakers, Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath, will host a 2-hour chat to talk about The Evolving Indie Industry and Standing out in the Pile and then entertain your questions. Continue reading

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A Victory Against Author Solutions

authorsolutionsPRHIt should be clear to everyone now that Penguin Random House has no intention of cleaning up Author Solutions.

The only development since Penguin purchased the company for $116m back in July 2012 is that Author Solutions has aggressively expanded operations (see here, here, here, here and here).

I’ve been covering the Author Solutions story for a while now – particularly since the Penguin purchase, which was met with disbelief in the author community.  It’s a frustrating beat, especially when faced with a wall of silence from the many companies and organizations in traditional publishing who have links to Author Solutions and its subsidiaries.

Documenting the links between Author Solutions and the rest of the publishing world is depressing work. The list reads like a Who’s Who of traditional publishing. Getting them to discuss their links to Author Solutions has been near-impossible, let alone taking any action with regard to those links.

One exception has been The Bookseller.

I criticized The Bookseller when I learned it was carrying advertising from Author Solutions. Those ads were being re-sold by Author Solutions to its customers at insane mark-ups (prices up to $10,500). Price-gouging aside, I felt that Author Solutions being able to offer such advertising to its customers bestowed legitimacy on its scammy operations.

That post led to a dialogue with Philip Jones, the editor of The Bookseller. Last week, he told me that The Bookseller is no longer accepting such ads. Here’s the money quote, reproduced with permission:

The Bookseller is no longer taking advertising from Author Solutions or its subsidiary companies. We’ve previously asked them to update the information they display about us on their websites, and have now asked them to remove it entirely.

This is wonderful news and Philip Jones and The Bookseller should be applauded for taking this step. Continue reading

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Fake Controversy Alert: Hitler’s Mein Kampf Was Not A Digital Bestseller

hitlerA juicy story broke last week, the kind that makes savvy sub-editors salivate over potential Twitter-bait headlines.

It had been discovered that Hitler’s pre-war memoir Mein Kampf was a digital bestseller, leading to a global bout of media hand-wringing and pontificating. One excitable commentator even suggested it was a sign the second Holocaust was imminent.

The only problem with this story is that it’s not true. At all.

Hitler’s “bestselling” performance was first reported by Chris Faraone at Vocativ under the headline Kindle Fuhrer: Mein Kampf Tops Amazon Charts. Then spread like wildfire.

Huge blogs and websites like Gizmodo, Huffington Post, GawkerSlate, and Salon reported on this phenomenon. Major newspapers also covered the story: the Guardian, New York Daily News, the Daily Mail, and the Los Angeles Times. Television networks got in on the act too, like ABC News and Fox, before the story spread internationally with media outlets picking up the story in Portugal, FranceIndia, and Russia.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, if you look at Google you will see pages and pages and pages of blogs, websites, and media organizations repeating the same story.

Any editor worth his salt is going to want a fresh angle on such a widely reported story, so we had a round of pieces trying to understand the uncomfortable “fact” that Adolf Hitler was a digital bestseller. The most popular theory was that it was the 50 Shades phenomenon – i.e. that people could now read Hitler’s words without being judged for their choice of reading material.

A nice theory to go with a juicy story. But none of it is true. Continue reading

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Astroturfing: The Source of Zombie Memes in Publishing?

international publishers associationWhy are there so many zombie memes in publishing? Why is there so much groupthink? It might be because the industry isn’t particularly diverse. Or it could be that book-lovers are nostalgic types who are automatically wary of change.

But I suspect it’s astroturfing by the publishing establishment, a practice admitted to last month by YS Chi, chairman of Elsevier and president of the International Publishers Association, in paragraph six of this article.

For the click-lazy, here’s the money quote (emphasis mine):

We gathered all the communications people together to discuss the issues and create an action plan. We have a multi-faceted audience to address, and in the next 12 months you will see key messages delivered, compelling stories of our impact on society for culture and education. We’ll ask you to personalize that message. I’m very excited that there is a meeting of minds on this.”

Yey, talking points! I don’t know if I’m more excited about the centrally approved messaging that’s going to flood the blogosphere, or the mental image of YS Chi doing a mind-meld with everyone in publishing.

But I digress. This post attempts to dispel multiple industry myths in one fell swoop. Perhaps then we can start having meaningful conversations, instead of batting around boardroom memos.

Self-publishing is a bubble

Remember Ewan Morrison’s prediction in The Guardian? “Epublishing is another tech bubble, and it will burst in the next 18 months.”

That was two years ago, but Morrison was never one to wave the white flag in the face of facts, evidence, or logic. He’s now pushed the date out for this bubble bursting to a point in the 2020s (don’t ask me to be more exact, I can’t abide his pseudo-intellectual crap).

I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised Morrison is still beating this drum, given he has admitted, “writing about the end of books generates more income for me than actually publishing the darn things.”

Publishers (and Apple) never fixed them prices

It was all a conspiracy by the pro-Amazon DOJ! Let’s just ignore the fact that Amazon donates to the red team and Apple donates to the blue team, that the Price Fix Six left a trail of evidence a mile long, that the publishing industry actively campaigns for fixed priced laws outside the US, and that any independent legal observer considered it an open-and-shut case, a per se violation of anti-trust law.

The e-book market has flattened/peaked/slumped

We’ve reached the stage now where over 50% of new release fiction is purchased in digital format, as reported by several large publishers last year. The market simply cannot keep doubling – you can’t have 110% of new release sales in digital format. This doesn’t mean the market has flattened or peaked (or slumped).

There is a difference between the rate of growth slowing, and the market actually shrinking, and official industry figures don’t measure any of the boom in self-publishing. Eoin Purcell had a good piece in the Irish Times noting this, and Nate Hoffelder at The Digital Reader drills down further here. Continue reading

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