Kindle MatchBook has Launched at Amazon (Updated)

Just Launched

Update: It looks like Amazon has updated Kindle MatchBook to display an advertisement about Kindle MatchBook on the top of the page for print books, where there is a corresponding Kindle edition enrolled in the MatchBook program.

Note: As of October, 2019, the Matchbook program has been canceled.

Today Amazon launched the new Kindle MatchBook program. There is an advertisement for it on Amazon’s homepage, presently, and a very brief email was sent out to authors who had already signed up for it.

The idea behind the MatchBook program is to allow customers who purchase a print edition of the book to receive a significant discount off the Kindle edition of the same book (it may even be free).

MatchBook only applies to books where the same edition is available both in Kindle and in print (i.e. paperback or hardcover).

Not all books are in the MatchBook program. The publisher (or author, if self-published) must manually enroll the book in the program. Some publishers may opt not to do this. The discount is also at the publisher’s discretion, provided that it is a minimum of 50% off the Kindle edition’s list price (and must be free, 99 cents, $1.99, or $2.99).

You can learn more about the new Kindle MatchBook program by clicking the following link, which goes to a Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) page:

https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/help?topicId=AVJCUBZXDNUM4

If the Kindle edition offers MatchBook, you’ll see one of three things near the top of the Kindle edition page:

  • Nothing at all if you already own the Kindle edition. Why frustrate you by showing you that you could have bought it for less by waiting for MatchBook to come out? If you want to see the MatchBook offer, log out of Amazon first.
  • An offer to buy the Kindle edition at the discounted MatchBook price if you already own the print edition of the same book.
  • A note that you could buy the Kindle edition at the discounted MatchBook price if you also purchase the print edition if you don’t already own the print edition.

There are a few important things to note here:

  • If you try to give the book as a gift, you must pay the full list price. Apparently, the MatchBook price doesn’t apply to gifting. That’s too bad, as it would be a nice incentive for someone to buy the print edition to keep and the Kindle edition to gift. However, you can keep the Kindle edition and give the print edition away as a gift (or try to resell it used, perhaps).
  • It looks like you can only buy one Kindle edition at the MatchBook price. This may help to prevent possible abuse.
  • The print edition page now includes an advertisement about the MatchBook program at the top of the page if the Kindle edition of the same book is enrolled in the MatchBook program.

A cool thing about MatchBook for authors is that if you ordinarily earn the 70% royalty rate on a sale, you still earn 70% if the MatchBook price is below $2.99.

Note that if you make the MatchBook price free, MatchBook sales won’t affect your book’s paid sales rank. Instead, they will affect your book’s free rank. This is what KDP told me after a week of research. If you discover otherwise, please share the news. 🙂 (It will be interesting if your book toggles between free and paid sales ranks with a free MatchBook price, since some customers will still be buying the book at the list price because they don’t own the print edition.)

It doesn’t look like the month-to-date sales report will help you see how many MatchBook sales you have, but you should be able to see it in the six-week report. Unfortunately, it will be a while before any MatchBook sales appear in a six-week report since the program started today.

Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Vol. 1 (formatting/publishing) and Vol. 2 (packaging/marketing)

Gifting ebooks outside the US: Any Problems?

Present

We received a new comment on Misha’s article about how and why to gift an e-book today. It relates to gifting ebooks at Amazon outside the US.

Does anyone know if this is a problem? For example, suppose you live in the UK and wish to gift a Kindle ebook to a friend who also lives in the UK. What’s the best solution?

MatchBook and Kindle Sales Rank (A Hard-to-Get Answer)

When I went to enroll my books in Kindle MatchBook—a new program from Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP); you can learn more about MatchBook by clicking this link—an important point occurred to me:

  • Will the MatchBook sales improve your Kindle sales rank?
  • If so, if you make the MatchBook price free, will that also affect your sales rank?

Note: As of October, 2019, the Matchbook program has been canceled.

Here’s why it’s important: If the MatchBook freebies would improve your Kindle sales rank, that would serve as an incentive to offer print customers a free Kindle edition.

I checked my email, the September KDP newsletter, and the information about MatchBook available from a link on my KDP bookshelf (which all boiled down to the same information), and this point wasn’t clarified. I then posted this as a question in the KDP community forum; there was some interest in the answer, but nobody there apparently knew the answer, either.

Next, I contacted KDP. They responded in a day, but only to tell me that they needed 5 more days to figure out the answer. (!) Today, KDP responded (yep, today was day number five).

If I was informed correctly, 99 cent, $1.99, and $2.99 MatchBook sales will improve your Kindle sales rank, whereas free MatchBook sales will instead count toward your free sales rank.

Wait a minute. Something seems strange here.

When you make an e-book free through KDP Select, the book is free all day. During this time, the e-book has a free sales rank. When the free promotion ends, the e-book returns to the paid sales rank.

But MatchBook won’t be free all day! People can buy your Kindle e-book at any time. So if one customer “buys” your e-book for free through MatchBook, three seconds later someone else might pay for it at the Kindle sales price.

What’s going to happen? Will the book have a free sales rank and a paid sales rank at the same time? Will your book be ranked among freebies and paid books simultaneously?

It seems it may be so, based on what I’ve been told. (Or your book could toggle back and forth between the free and paid sales ranks with every free or paid purchase.)

Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Vol. 1 (formatting/publishing) and Vol. 2 (packaging/marketing)

Unpublishing, Republishing, and Updating Your Book

Ideally, you would publish your book perfectly the first time, everything would work out nicely, and you’d live your happily ever after publishing fairy tale.

Ah, but it doesn’t always work out that way.

For whatever reason, suppose you’re considering whether or not to unpublish your book.

Before you decide, you should learn exactly what will happen when you unpublish it. Here are some questions you need to ask:

  • Will the book disappear completely? If not, in what ways will it remain visible?
  • Will the book remain on your author page?
  • If you’re only unpublishing one edition, will the reviews stay linked together?
  • If you republish a revised version later, will old reviews return?
  • How long will it take for the book to be unpublished?

Of course, different publishing services have different policies, as do different online booksellers. So you want to consider all the possibilities.

A book won’t vanish from Amazon. However, an unpublished e-book can be removed so that customers won’t find it when they’re shopping. Print books, on the other hand, are permanently listed for the benefit of anybody who might have a used copy to sell.

At Amazon, once you add a physical book to your author page at AuthorCentral, it will evidently remain there forever. If you publish a paperback, for example, and add it to your author page, even if you unpublish the book, it will remain on your author page. The rationale behind it is that a previous customer could potentially have a used copy to sell, and this allows other customers to purchase such copies.

That’s something to consider when you sign up for an author page and when you add a new book to it. Think it over very carefully to make sure you won’t want to remove it from your author page in the future. (Suppose you have a Kindle edition already on your author page and then publish a paperback edition. If these become linked together, your paperback will appear on your author page even though you didn’t specifically add that edition to your author page.)

However, this isn’t an issue with e-books. If you unpublish a Kindle edition, the e-book can be removed from your author page. If it’s linked to a print edition, the print edition will remain on your author page, but the Kindle edition can be removed.

Suppose you have Kindle and print editions linked together. Some reviews may declare that they are for the Kindle edition or for the print edition. If you unpublish the Kindle edition, all of the reviews for both editions will remain on the print edition’s product page. However, you can politely ask AuthorCentral to unlink the two editions once the Kindle edition is unpublished, if you wish to have the reviews from the Kindle edition removed from the print edition.

A print book can’t truly be unpublished from Amazon. You can disable the Amazon sales channel. If you publish through CreateSpace, you can disable all other sales channels, too. You can even ask CreateSpace to retire the book for you once the sales channels have been disabled. However, the book will still continue to appear on Amazon, even though customers won’t be able to buy new copies directly from Amazon. This allows any customers or vendors who have new or used copies to resell them on Amazon.

If you unpublish an e-book and republish a revised version later, any reviews that you had before could suddenly appear on the republished e-book. It might be a month down the line, if not sooner. (I’ve never tried republishing an e-book, but other authors have discussed their experiences with this.) If it does happen and you’ve made significant revisions, you might contact Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and politely explain this. Nevertheless, nothing prevents a customer who left a review the first time from finding your e-book again and leaving a new review.

You could republish an e-book with a new title or cover. However, this may confuse customers to the point that some of your previous customers buy a second copy of the same book by mistake, which could result in negative reviews. (Perhaps a clear explanation in the blurb could help minimize this.) With a new title, old reviews are unlikely to show up on the republished e-book.

If you just need to revise your book, you may not need to unpublish it. It depends on the circumstances. If it’s desirable to prevent the sale of your book until the corrections are made, then for an e-book you must unpublish it in the meantime, and or a print book you must disable the sales channels until the changes are made.

It’s not necessary to create a new edition (with a new ISBN, for a print book) when revising your book. You can simply update the current edition, perhaps mentioning this briefly in the blurb. Include the edition number (or something that you’ll recognize) in the Look Inside for your own benefit. This way, when you check out the Look Inside at Amazon, you’ll be able to tell precisely which edition is showing; and if a customer shows you your book or inquires about the content, you’ll be able to check which edition the customer is referencing.

With Kindle, it is possible to notify previous customers that a file has been revised, but it depends on the circumstances and what KDP (not you) decides. You can find a place to send a request to KDP from the KDP help pages.

  • If KDP determines that the issue is minor, they will not contact customers. However, if a customer visits the Managing Your Kindle page at Amazon, the customer can receive the update there. The problem is that the customer won’t know to look for the update.
  • If KDP declares that the issue is critical, your e-book will go off sale until you correct the problem. When you fix it, notify KDP of the update. Then there may be a lengthy delay. Once KDP approves the revision and puts the book back on sale, customers will be notified.
  • If the issue is major, but not critical, in KDP’s eyes, then customers will be notified that an update is available.

There may be lengthy delays if you use an e-book aggregator like Smashwords, if the e-book has already been distributed.

The best action is to do everything possible to get the book right the first time. You only get one chance to make a good first impression.

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

  • Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
  • Volume 2 on marketability and marketing

Read Tuesday: Have Website, Need Slogan

Read Tuesday

I changed it to Read Tuesday because http://www.readtuesday.com was available. I also purchased the domain so we now have a website for it. Don’t rush over there; it’s empty as of yet. 🙂

I asked an artist to work on the images. But it’s still not too late to share your ideas and help shape things. We’ll include “Read Tuesday” and the date (December 10, 2013) with the images. I’d like a set of images that include a slogan of sorts. TamrahJo provided a suggestion for some text. Does anyone else have ideas? We could really use slogan, phrase, or other short text ideas.

Regarding the catalog idea, I’m thinking we may not want to release it, if we make one, until much closer to the event date. Just like stores don’t want you to know exactly what will be on sale and for how much too far in advance.

There is an opportunity for someone who loves Twitter or Facebook to take one of these on or get involved with it. If you run one of these, you can have your name on the about me section, and you have the opportunity to interact with people through the Red Tuesday concept. I’ll do it if needed, but I know some of you have a knack for these, so I’ll give you the chance. I have other ideas beyond social media, but Twitter and Facebook pages are probably something we want to get up and running very soon.

Once we have the images ready to go, we’ll want to build buzz for it and start promoting it. Remember, if you write a post or article about Read Tuesday, you’re able to promote your own book while promoting the program simultaneously (at a minimum, you’re going to mention that your own book, Whatever the Title Is, will be in the program, and your audience may look forward to it).

You have a chance to help shape this event. If you have ideas, you are encouraged to share them. Ideas are greatly appreciated. 🙂

Red Tuesday: Idea for Boosting * Your * 4th Quarter Book Sales

Fourth Quarter Pic

This idea came to me this morning. It has the potential to help you sell many books in the fourth quarter. It’s a simple idea; it’s free; and it will be easy. It just involves a little marketing, but, as you know, marketing is exactly the kind of work that can move books.

I’m not talking about marketing for a few sales. I see potential for a great deal of exposure.

THE PROBLEM: Black Friday and Cyber Monday are huge days for holiday shopping among retailers. However, booksellers probably won’t reduce the price of your book any more than usual, they probably won’t advertise your book as part of the sale, and you might even sell fewer books than normal because all of the customers are too busy buying electronics, toys, tools, and clothing.

You can discount your book significantly on these days and promote your sale to help stimulate some traffic during this time, but it probably won’t be any more effective than promoting your book this way on any other day of the year. In fact, it may be better to do this on some other day where you’re readers aren’t too busy shopping for other items.

THE IDEA: Thousands of authors participate in special one-day pricing of incredible discounts. We’ll call it Red Tuesday (a homophone with the past tense of what you do with a book). Actually, we’ll do it again just after Christmas, when everyone just got a new e-reader and still has holiday money to spend. We’ll call this one White Thursday (a play on “write,” perhaps).

It’s simple, really: Each author promotes his or her own discount while simultaneously promoting the huge event. You don’t do any more work than normal, but by being part of a huge group of authors involved in this, you can gain the enhanced publicity of the event as a whole.

For example, you would write, “Title of My Book will be 80% off as part of the Super Incredible Red Tuesday Extravaganza.” Take a moment to briefly describe what Red Tuesday is all about in addition to promoting your book. Link to the event page as well as to your book. Think of all the content you could post on your blog and social media regarding Red Tuesday, where you will also mention your own book’s participation in the event. Red Tuesday helps you with your marketing.

One author is really tiny. Together as a community, we can thrive.

All we need to do is spread the word and get super-mega-incredible participation among authors.

If we can get significant participation, it will open up many marketing opportunities that may otherwise elude us. Imagine the growth and buzz building up so large that the media takes notice. I have a list of other ideas below, and more will come. Together, we can help Red Tuesday go viral.

ELIGIBILITY: You just need to be an author who is willing to significantly discount your book on Red Tuesday and/or White Thursday. All authors are welcome, regardless of how you published, what you write, etc. (You don’t have to worry about your book being listed in an electronic catalog with an adult content book because we could always make separate catalogs for different kinds of books. At this point, there is no guarantee that there will be a catalog; that’s just one of the ideas below.)

If your book is already 99 cents, pretty much the only way to discount it is to make it free. However, many authors might want to just drop their prices, but not make them free. Why not allow for both? Any catalogs could easily come in separate editions for discounted titles and freebies. We could also feature the deepest discounts at the top to help catch interest in the program.

I have several e-books priced between $2.99 to $5.99. I’m thinking to drop all of the prices to 99 cents (except where the file size is so large that it prevents the e-book from being priced this low).

I also sell several paperbacks. These could be reduced, too. Or I could make a significant percent-off discount code for my CreateSpace eStore. Or I could sell them from my website at 50% off and take payments through PayPal.

The important thing is to make the book on sale during the promotion for a significant discount.

EXPRESS YOUR INTEREST: If you’re interested in this, please post a comment below to let us know. If there doesn’t appear to be interest, this idea will just slowly die out. The idea can only succeed through your participation. Please share the idea to help spread the news, so that we can find more authors who are willing to participate.

If there is plenty of initial interest, then we’ll move onto the next step and Red Tuesday may become a reality and a success.

We’re still in the planning stages. So if you have ideas, suggestions, comments, or concerns, this is a good time to express them. Nothing is set in stone yet.

There is no cost. You’re only commitment is to significantly lower your price for Red Tuesday and/or White Thursday. Any other work will strictly be voluntary. It would be wise for you to promote your discount and the event in order to help you get the most out of it.

MORE INFORMATION: As long as there continues to be significant interest, I’ll post information about Red Tuesday here on my blog. Please feel free to help spread the news – directly, by reblogging, or by creating your own posts about Red Tuesday.

If there is significant interest, I’ll send out a sign-up post on my blog, whereby authors can sign up. If you have a better idea for how to get authors to sign up besides just using the comments section of a sign-up post, please share your idea.

If several authors sign up, I will put up regular posts with information, ideas, suggestions, etc. here on my blog. Again, feel free to help spread this information.

DATES: In 2013, Black Friday is November 29 and Cyber Monday is December 2. Everyone is now exhausted from shopping. So my thought is to wait until Tuesday, December 10 to celebrate Red Tuesday. Then we’ll have White Thursday on January 3. (I liked White Wednesday better, but it falls on January 2, just a day after New Year’s.)

IDEAS: First we need to brand the concept of Red Tuesday. We’ll want to have a small number of images that we can all use with our blog posts and other Red Tuesday promotions. I can announce a contest to submit images for consideration. Then we’ll use the winning image to brand our image. Everyone should use this image with all of their Red Tuesday promotional materials.

We’ll also want to brand White Thursday (which will come about a month later). But we want White Thursday to be a surprise. We don’t want readers skipping Red Tuesday, knowing that White Thursday will come later. We want to generate huge exposure twice, not once. We’ll need a different image for White Thursday.

Some kind of catchy slogan, jingle, strapline, or something of this sort would be nice, too. I can solicit suggestions in a separate post.

Soon we’ll need to build a great deal of buzz and generate plenty of author participation. We can post and reblog about Red Tuesday to spread the word. Assuming this takes off, I’ll make a post in a couple of days with more ideas of how to help create buzz for this special day.

If we succeed in creating ample buzz for Red Tuesday, this may create additional marketing opportunities. Write an article about it and try to publish it in a relevant high-traffic zone. (Your article won’t go to waste because you can always post it to your bog if it doesn’t get used anywhere else.) We can try to get writers with a large following to write about Red Tuesday, and we can aim for a little media attention.

We can make a webpage specifically for the Red Tuesday event and everyone can link to it in all of their posts. If we’re able to make any electronic catalogs of books (volunteers can make this possible), we’ll post them on the event page and circulate them in others, too.

If many authors do a few small things in the way of promoting Red Tuesday, it will really add up. We all have different areas of expertise. If you’re a video whiz, for example, you can post a trailer on YouTube about Red Tuesday, and the rest of us can help get people to check it out. Remember, any marketing that you do voluntarily to promote Red Tuesday will also help you with your own book as a part of your promotion.

As we approach Red Tuesday, our marketing campaign should go nuts. Everyone should be posting and promoting in anticipation, and especially on Red Tuesday itself.

It’s very important to reduce your price in time, allowing for probable delays (which can be several hours or more – and may be longer if there is widespread participation) to get your book’s price reduced in time for the big event. Better early than late.

GREAT FOR READERS: Red Tuesday doesn’t just have the potential to benefit authors. It can greatly benefit readers, too. Red Tuesday would be a great day to stock up on books by all your favorite participating authors. It’s also a great day to buy books as gifts. There is ample reason for authors and readers alike to spread the word and make Red Tuesday a huge hit.

Sure, some readers will see Red Tuesday coming and try to hold off of buying books until Red Tuesday comes around. There will still be readers buying books before then. If your sales rank does slide somewhat going into Red Tuesday, just think what a potential avalanche of sales on Red Tuesday could do for it. The better you promote your discount and Red Tuesday and the more marketable your book, the better your chances of having a successful Red Tuesday.

NO GUARANTEES: There is no guarantee that this will improve your exposure or increase your sales. However, if participation is widespread, there is much potential for numerous authors to receive a marked boost in both exposure and sales. The more marketable your book (i.e. good content, appealing cover, effective blurb, well-formatted and -edited, attractive storyline and characterization, and good readability), the better the prospects for you to benefit from the promotion. Also, the more active participation we receive and the more effective we are, collectively, at marketing the event, the better the chances of success.

FINAL WORD: Ideas, comments, suggestions, and concerns are not only welcome, they are strongly encouraged. 🙂

We can be part of something much bigger than ourselves. The magic word is participation.

Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Vol. 1 (formatting/publishing) and Vol. 2 (packaging/marketing)

Kindle MatchBook: What Do You Think?

As you may have heard, Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) has launched a new Kindle MatchBook at Amazon. You can read more about it at the following link:

https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/help?topicId=AVJCUBZXDNUM4

Note: As of October, 2019, the Matchbook program has been canceled.

This program is for books that are available directly from Amazon both in hard copy (paperback or hardcover, for example) and as a Kindle e-book. (This is completely independent of KDP Select, so you can enroll in Kindle MatchBook without enrolling in KDP Select. Exception: If you have KDP Select and make your book free, then that will override the MatchBook promotional price while the book is free with Select. Otherwise, the two programs are unrelated.)

The idea is that some customers may want to purchase both a physical copy of your book and a digital copy. In fact, many customers have already done this for several books in the past. What’s new is that Kindle MatchBook provides an incentive for customers who do this.

Here’s what Kindle MatchBook does: It allows the publisher to sell the Kindle e-book edition at a reduced price to a customer who wants to purchase both digital and print editions of the same book.

The promotional price can be free, 99 cents, $1.99, $2.99, or $3.99, but must be at least a 50% discount off the regular digital list price set at Amazon.

Some good news: If you ordinarily earn a 70% royalty rate for the e-book, you apparently receive 70% on the promotional price through Kindle MatchBook, even if this price is 99 cents or $1.99. When you proceed to sign up for Kindle MatchBook, you’ll be able to check your potential royalty right then, so you don’t have to guess or do math.

A promotional price of free could be a selling point. You’re basically saying, “If you buy my book in print, I’ll throw in the e-book for free.” For any readers who may appreciate this, it adds value to the print book.

Let me put a little marketing spin on this: The customer can buy the paperback book, sell the paperback book used (or give or loan it to someone) when he or she finishes reading it, and still keep a digital copy of the book on Kindle. This allows a clever customer to reuse the book, yet still keep it. If you give the customer this idea, Kindle MatchBook helps you add value to your book. (Can a customer buy the paperback, return it, and still keep the e-book at the promotional price? Good question! Publishers hope not!)

It seems like a program that could help publishers to some extent (any help is better than none), but probably won’t hurt. If hardly any customers take advantage of Kindle MatchBook, or if you almost never sell books in print, it probably won’t hurt your sales. But maybe it will help significantly: The only way to know for sure is to try it. Even in the worst case, you can simply opt out of the program whenever you feel like.

Keep in mind that whatever a customer might do with the e-book, the customer can already do that if you’re book is available as an e-book, so this shouldn’t affect whether or not you choose to use MatchBook. The customer has to buy the book in print as well as pay for the promotion price of the e-book. It’s not like the customer is getting something for nothing (which can happen with KDP Select). With MatchBook, the customer is buying the print book in addition to getting the e-book at a reduced price.

Perhaps one concern is if you ordinarily receive a much higher royalty for e-book sales than paperback sales. If the paperback royalty plus the MatchBook royalty amount to less than your current e-book royalty, then you might prefer to either raise your paperback list price, or not opt into the program.

So what do you think about MatchBook? Do you think it will catch Fire?

Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Vol. 1 (formatting/publishing) and Vol. 2 (packaging/marketing)

Traditional & Indie Publishing: A Symbiotic Relationship?

I’m borrowing the word ‘symbiotic’ from biology, which is used when two different types of organisms live together (rather intimately) to their mutual benefit.

For example, there is a rather brave bird (called a ‘plover’) which shares a symbiotic relationship with the crocodile. Incredibly, the crocodile opens its mouth and lets the plover pick meat out of its teeth, not harming the plover. The plover gains a meal, while the crocodile gets its teeth cleaned.

Perhaps this wasn’t the best example. I’m not implying that the traditional publisher is like a crocodile and indies are bravely picking its teeth. I am implying that the relationship may be symbiotic, but not quite that way. 🙂

In biology, the relationship may not always be mutually beneficial, but that’s what I have in mind by applying this concept to the publishing world. I believe the relationship between traditional and indie publishing to be mutually beneficial, not parasitic.

Here are some ways in which traditional and indie publishing are mutually beneficial:

  • Authors have the opportunity to avoid possible rejection letters by self-publishing. This benefits traditional publishing by reducing the number of proposals that need to be filtered.
  • Self-publishers provide ample business to print-on-demand publishers like CreateSpace and Ingram Spark. Traditional publishers benefit from this service, too, keeping titles ‘in stock’ which would otherwise be retired. The combined use of this service helps to keep the cost low for everybody.
  • Small publishers have increased their business by offering formatting, editing, and cover design services to self-publishers. This helps self-publishers improve their books.
  • The presence of indie authors significantly enhances the population of authors overall, which helps boost participation in author support groups – like writing groups, blogging communities, and social media sites. Many traditional authors in these communities have much experience to share.
  • The combined number of books – i.e. indie plus traditional – has led to an increased number of writing contests, review sites, magazines, etc. This increases the opportunities for all authors to improve their exposure and branding.
  • The combined number of e-books – i.e. indie plus traditional – impacts the price of e-readers in a positive way for consumers, and the availability of e-book publishing services for authors.
  • Both types of authors draw readers, especially when the books are very readable, enjoyable, or informative. I personally buy and read many more books now than when there only used to be traditionally published books available, and there are many others like me in this regard. Both types of books may generate sales for the other type through customers-also-bought lists.

Let me take the analogy a step farther.

The crocodiles could eat the plovers. They would gain some meals in the short run, but their teeth would be dirty in the long run. Even worse, the plovers could bite the crocodiles’ tongues.

Now imagine traditional publishers marketing negative things about indie books or vice-versa. If successful, this would be bad business for everybody. Many customers buy Kindles not just to read traditional e-books and not just to read indie e-books. If marketing efforts portray a lousy image for many e-books, it makes the e-reader itself less attractive.

If you could put a huge dent in either type of publishing, that would reduce the usage of print-on-demand services and e-readers both, which would impact pricing, competitiveness, and availability of services. It would also put a huge dent in readership.

The relationship between indie and traditional publishing may not be ‘obligate,’ meaning that survival of one entirely depends on the existence of the other. However, if either form were to vanish, it would have a major impact on the other.

From a marketing perspective, it makes sense to say good things about books, e-books, readers, authors, and publishers of all kinds. Putting time and effort into marketing your own book would be partially negated by also spreading a negative image for books at large. That negative image would decrease sales overall, which would come back to haunt you, statistically. Spreading a positive image of all kinds of books helps to reinforce your own marketing.

Similar books may also share a symbiotic relationship. Customers usually don’t buy one-or-the-other, but buy several similar books (if not all at once, spread over time – thinking, “Where can I get more like this?”).

Foolish authors who blast the competition shoot themselves in the foot. If successful at hurting the sales of similar books, they also hurt their own books.

When instead similar books are thriving, they all tend to thrive together – e.g. through customer-also-bought associations.

It’s not like there is only one book at the top and nothing else sells. There is plenty of room for readable, enjoyable, or informative books. Similar books can thrive together in symbiotic relationships.

It used to be that a paperback book selling about once a day had a sales rank around 50,000 at Amazon. Now it might sell once a day and have a sales rank well over 100,000. This shows that the total number of books selling frequently has increased. Much of this may be the result of symbiotic relationships among similar books, plus the increased number of good books to read and an increase in readership, as well as an increase in e-readers and e-books.

Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Vol. 1 (formatting/publishing) and Vol. 2 (packaging/marketing)

Should You Publish with an Imprint?

Every self-published author is faced with this decision. First, here is a little background on the imprint choice; we’ll return to the question in a moment.

The paperback author can select a free ISBN from CreateSpace or pay $10 to $100 for an ISBN from CreateSpace to publish using an Imprint. Another option is to purchase an ISBN directly from R.R. Bowker (the price becomes more affordable per ISBN if buying a block of 10 or more).

http://www.bowker.com

https://www.myidentifiers.com

The eBook author can leave the publisher field at KDP blank or enter an imprint there. Although some eReader services, like the Sony Reader, require an ISBN, you can get a free ISBN to use with your eBook if you publish through Smashwords (but you’re not supposed to use that ISBN for other eBook editions, like your Kindle edition).

Many authors publish both paperbacks and eBooks. Entering an imprint for the eBook while having the paperback publisher show as CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform kind of defeats the purpose of using the imprint. For $10 at CreateSpace, the imprint names can match.

Back to the question: Should you publish with an imprint?

That depends; there are advantages and disadvantages both ways.

Benefits of having CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform listed as the publisher:

  • CreateSpace is a positive name among many indie authors and their family, friends, acquaintances, and coworkers. There are so many indie authors that this number is very large.
  • People who like to support the self-publishing concept often buy CreateSpace books (or Kindle eBooks where the paperback lists CreateSpace as the publisher).
  • Readers who know your book is self-published are more likely to enjoy your book.

I entered CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform into the search field in Books at Amazon, and pulled up 300,000 titles. So many authors are content with this.

One of these authors is Amanda Hocking. She has been extremely successful; this label has worked for her.

Amanda Hocking’s Author Page

Benefits of using an imprint:

  • Some readers avoid self-published books.
  • The indie label can be a hurdle to get your book stocked in stores, reviewed by the media, etc.

If readers buy your book thinking it was published through a traditional publisher, but it looks very amateurish after they buy it, they are more likely to be frustrated with the experience. This places a premium on professional book design (cover, editing, formatting, writing, etc.) for the author who chooses an imprint. A traditionally published book, for example, has a very detailed copyright page, which most indie books lack. A simple feature like this could give the indie book away.

Note that bookstores and reviewers can clearly see that your book is print-on-demand from the printing number on the last page whether you use an imprint or not. There is a way around this. You can find another printer (i.e. not print-on-demand) to print a small number of copies of your book. The custom order will cost more money per book if you buy a small quantity, but the overall cost may be affordable if the quantity is really small (like 10 books). This way, like many publishers, print-on-demand (POD) will merely be one of your publishing channels. You can approach bookstores and reviewers more confidently with the non-POD edition of your book.

Indie authors who are clearly self-published have succeeded in getting their books stocked in bookstores. If your book looks professional and you have a professional approach, it is possible to overcome various publishing obstacles, including the CreateSpace label; but sometimes there is a flat ‘No!’ to CreateSpace and POD. On the other hand, if you go to the trouble to use an imprint and have some non-POD copies printed, but your book looks unprofessional (cover, copyright page, formatting, typos, etc.), all of this extra work may not open up any doors.

People can also search for your imprint online. If they don’t find a website for it, or if there are just a couple of books that use the imprint, this will reflect that the imprint isn’t a serious publisher. Most shoppers aren’t going to check out the imprint. (However, they probably won’t recognize the imprint; using an imprint certainly isn’t the same as publishing with a household name.) But a wise bookstore manager or serious reviewer might do a little research before investing in your book.

Of course, you must do some research on the imprint name. You can’t enter Amazon or the name of an actual publisher like Random House (or many other publishers you’ve never heard of).

The name you choose should sound authentic. It should fit the book nicely. (It will also show up in keyword searches, but if you just make the imprint name based on keywords, there is a good chance it won’t sound authentic or fit the book.)

Before you publish using your own imprint, consider these questions:

  • Will your cover look professional?
  • Will your front matter look professional?
  • Will your formatting be professional?
  • Will your editing look professional?
  • Will you be approaching bookstores, libraries, newspapers, etc.?
  • Will you be selling copies in person at presentations, signings, readings, etc.?
  • Will you make a website for your imprint?
  • Will you be publishing other titles with this imprint?
  • Do you expect a lot of support from the self-publishing community?

Personally, I’m proud to have my books wear the CreateSpace label. CreateSpace and KDP gave me my chance, and I’m very grateful for it. I’ve also met several fantastic indie authors. I search for self-published books when I look for books to read, and I’m happy to support good indie books. I’m glad to be part of the self-publishing community. If you’re going to wear the self-publishing label, wear it proudly. 🙂

Publishing Resources

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Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

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How Would You Improve Amazon?

Imagine you suddenly have the job of Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon. Well, even then, you couldn’t do anything you wanted.

So let’s go a step further and grab a magic wand. That’s better. Now you can do anything. Wave your wand a couple of times to test it out.

If you could do it, what would you change at Amazon in order to improve it?

Don’t be selfish here. Don’t just think about bad reviews that you’d like to make vanish or advertisements for your book if you’re an author, or how to make products free for you as a consumer.

I’m not asking how you would make Amazon better for you alone. I’m asking how you would make Amazon better for everyone.

Not just customers. Giving everything away for free would greatly benefit the customers. For a few days, until the company went bankrupt. If you want Amazon to benefit customers in the long run, you must balance what’s best for both the consumers and the business.

Okay. Spend a few moments in fantasy land. Do absolutely anything to Amazon that you want with your magic wand. Then when you return to reality, think about changes that may be beneficial to all.

What would you like to change?

(1) The Amazon Customer Review System

Almost everyone who is familiar with customer reviews on Amazon can write down a few things that they don’t like about them.

Not everyone is in agreement on what should be changed, though. Authors, readers, product owners, editors, publishers. There are some conflicting perspectives here. Even just among customers.

If there is one feature of reviews that we can all agree on, perhaps it’s spitefulness. Some reviews are downright nasty. There are reviews that slander the author, but don’t even mention the book.

You’d think that Amazon would remove such spiteful reviews, right? It even says right there in the terms and conditions that spite is not allowed. But when spiteful reviews are reported – by the author or even a customer – much of the time Amazon simply responds to say that they understand your concern, but this review doesn’t violate the terms and conditions.

Huh?

Evidently, a reviewer must be blatantly spiteful in order to warrant removal of the review.

How is this in Amazon’s best interest? That spitefulness is very negative. Wouldn’t Amazon create a more positive ambiance by removing that spite? By not removing it, they’re actually encouraging such behavior.

Would customers prefer to see the spite remain or be removed? Does such spitefulness help to brand Amazon’s image with a negative shopping environment? How does this help buyers determine which product to buy? How does it help Amazon sell products?

Maybe you can think of some reason to keep it.

I’ll suggest a couple of possibilities. For one, the spiteful reviews are mostly one and two star reviews. If you wave your magic wand and delete all of the spiteful reviews, millions of one and two star reviews will suddenly vanish. Some products, which only have a few reviews, will suddenly seem better liked than they actually are. The customer who loathed a product so much that he was very spiteful when he wrote the review did cast a vote when he gave it one star. Maybe Amazon wants to retain those votes of one or two stars associated with the spiteful reviews (perhaps there is a reason for this).

If Amazon would like to preserve the one star vote, it could be done while still removing the spite. Just edit out (or delete) the spiteful comments instead of the entire review.

Now we run into another possibility. Manpower. Amazon doesn’t have one of those magic wands to wave and quickly zap away all of the spite.

Remember, we’re not thinking of how to improve Amazon just for customers. We want to find changes that will improve Amazon for everyone. That means not going out of business.

How much would it cost Amazon to monitor the customer review system more closely than they already do? That’s what it would take to deal with spitefulness. Let alone other issues with reviews.

With the advent of self-publishing, there are presently hundreds of thousands of authors who feel that they have a bad review that should be removed for one reason or another. Some have multiple books and numerous reviews that they feel strongly about. Add to this number the legitimate reviews that clearly aren’t violations that some authors would also request to be removed.

Amazon already receives a staggering number of requests from authors for reviews to be removed. This occurs with the current policy in place. That is, it’s well-known that Amazon very rarely removes customer reviews, even when they’re fairly spiteful. Yet, they still receive a ton of requests every day.

Imagine how many, many, many, many, let’s add a few more many’s just for effect (but it may be realistic) more requests Amazon would receive if instead it were well-known that Amazon would remove a review if it were just mildly spiteful. Even if the requests didn’t crash the server, the manpower it would take to attend to these requests would be incredible.

Every day, there are numerous posts online on blogs, community forums, and elsewhere describing unfair customer reviews at Amazon. Bear in mind that the majority of authors don’t write posts about bad reviews because doing so would hurt their own author image and would help brand the image of self-publishing as unprofessional.

Have you ever seen an author get in a long debate with a reviewer using the comment system? It’s very unprofessional, but that’s not the point. My point is that, unfortunately, some authors tend to get highly emotional about reviews and find it difficult to stop arguing about them.

So just imagine those authors communicating with Amazon. They request to have a bad review removed. Amazon says no. They respond to Amazon in a long email. This would go back and forth for an eternity, just like they do in the comments, right?

Nope. Amazon learned not to waste resources on possibly endless communications. Amazon tells the author on their second response that they won’t be able to investigate the matter any further. That is, if the author sends a subsequent request, it will be ignored.

Consider that Amazon has this action in place. It suggests that manpower is already an issue. So is it worth the possible investment to deal with spite? Maybe this is one reason that it hasn’t already been done.

Maybe you can think of a way to deal with spite affordably. Perhaps there is a way.

(Amazon already responds to the request to say that they’ve looked at the review, and understand your concerns, but can’t remove the review. How much more work would it be to remove it? A lot. Because word would spread and the requests would pile up immensely.)

What about other changes to the customer review system?

We could eliminate shill reviews and sock puppets. That is, generating fake reviews to make a product seem better than it actually is. Actually, Amazon has already made this change to some extent. Amazon automatically blocks a very large number of reviews and has removed thousands – perhaps millions – of such reviews. This change was affordable, as a computer program could check for correlations between IP addresses and other information in their database between accounts. It may have removed some legitimate reviews, too, but overall the customer experience has been tremendously improved.

But there is still some review abuse, especially negative reviews that arise from jealousy of some sort (rival authors, ex-boyfriends). Can you think of a way to eliminate this?

A common suggestion is to require all reviews to be Amazon Verified Purchases. Why isn’t this done already? There may be reasons for it.

First of all, there are already millions of reviews that are unverified. Would you like to remove all of those? Perhaps those could be left there, and just impose this on new ones. There are still other issues.

Publishers send out a large number of advance review copies. Publishers provide big business for Amazon. It’s probably not good business for Amazon to prevent the recipients of advance review copies from reviewing books on Amazon, as they would all show as unverified purchases.

What about customers who buy the product elsewhere? A bestselling book might sell many more copies in bookstores than on Amazon. Bestselling authors – and Amazon, too – want all of those customers to be eligible to review the books on Amazon.

What about eBooks? Well, customers don’t have to use Kindle to read eBooks, but Amazon still allows them to post reviews. They can be gifted and lent, too.

But maybe there is one aspect of this that most of us would agree on. Amazon has made it clear that customers can review products even if they’ve never seen or used them.

What?

Does this seem crazy to you? Imagine that you invented a machine and one of the first customers left a review saying, “I didn’t buy this, but just looking at it I can tell it wouldn’t work.” Okay, nobody who reads the review is going to take it seriously, but it does affect the average star value.

When a customer clearly states in the review that he or she hasn’t read the book or used the product, maybe those reviews could be removed. Wouldn’t this be a small improvement?

Amazon’s customer review system isn’t perfect, but it is pretty effective at soliciting opinions, and it does provide shoppers with diverse information that they can consider. Most of us may agree that it’s better than no reviews at all.

There may be other ways to improve the system. Remember, cost is a factor. You might want to hire external companies to leave neutral reviews instead of customer reviews, but with tens of millions of products, is that feasible?

I have a few suggestions. I’ve heard a few others express similar ideas. Maybe you have some other ideas that haven’t been addressed.

When you finish reading an eBook on Kindle, why can’t you type your review right then and there? Wouldn’t that be convenient? Why can’t you click on the book on the device and find a quick and easy place to post the review? I have the Kindle in front of me. I’m in the mood to review the book. It’s on my mind. But I must be inconvenienced to login to Amazon, which I would rather do on my pc. How many customers were ready to leave a review, but decided against it out of inconvenience?

I’ve typed reviews and stopped when I saw the preview, thinking I was done. I wonder how many other customers haven’t finished the review process, not realizing that they had to check the preview and approve it? Oops! Or maybe they rated it when they reached the end of a Kindle eBook, thinking that was a review? There may be a little room for improvement here.

How about separating the rating from the reviews? That is, let customers rate the book without reviewing it, like they can do at Goodreads. Some customers can put a number on a book, but feel uncomfortable describing it in words (including reaching the minimum word count).

If you want to drastically increase the frequency of customer reviews, offer a penny for every review. Or make it a nickel, dime, or a percent if you really want to see tons of reviews on Amazon. I bet many authors wouldn’t mind this being subtracted from their royalties to help encourage more reviews. But the discount (off a future purchase, perhaps) might inspire more sales.

(2) Self-Publishing Quality Control

First, let me say that I put this here because it’s a popular issue, not because I personally am in favor of this. I’ll try to show the pros and cons, and you can decide for yourself. Or maybe you will think of better ideas that I’ve left out.

If you could wave a magic wand to remove every book that doesn’t meet a minimum degree of editing, formatting, and writing, would you do it? As long as it’s a magic wand, rather than removing these books, maybe you could just make them magically look more professional.

But we can’t fix them with magic. It would take an insane amount of manpower to format and edit them. It would take an insane amount of manpower just to screen them. So just hiring a very large editing team isn’t feasible.

Amazon could charge a publishing fee to cover the cost. Some people would be in favor of this. But many people would also be against it. Currently, Amazon is free. Amazon has done an amazing thing, opening the doors of publishing to everybody. Amazon has an abundance of support from the self-publishing community for this. These authors – and their family, friends, and acquaintances – don’t just write books, most of them read books, too. Imposing an inhibitive fee may not be good for business in the grand scheme of things.

Even an optional fee has an issue. By being free, Amazon is differentiated from vanity presses.

Free publishing gives Amazon an unbelievable selection.

There are some books with formatting, editing, writing, and even storyline issues. These books are a problem for customers and also adversely affect the image of Kindle, Amazon, and self-publishing.

But how bad is the problem? I don’t mean this as a percentage of books. I mean that most customers check out the description, reviews, and Look Inside and generally are able to avoid such books. Those who don’t are apt to learn to do this through experience. These books tend to have lousy sales ranks. So are they selling enough to be so concerned about? Perhaps a few years ago when Kindle and self-publishing were newer, more customers were coming across such books. Perhaps it was a bigger problem before Amazon’s program started removing and blocking most of the shill reviews and sock puppets. Perhaps it’s not such a problem now. Especially, in terms of cost-benefit analysis. Or maybe you have a better suggestion.

Self-published authors have a strong incentive to improve their books as much as possible, as this will greatly improve their chances of success.

Also, customers can report formatting issues. This helps Amazon catch some of the more serious problems. They actually suspend sales of eBooks until the issues are resolved.

(3) Order of Search Results and Categories

This might be something to consider. Most book categories have thousands of books even in the final subcategory, yet only a dozen books show on the page. If you type a search, you sometimes receive interesting results. Obviously, Amazon wants to order the search results based on what consumers are most likely to buy as well as what is likely to please the customer. But it seems like there could be a better way to sort through tens of millions of products to find what you’re looking for. And there may be ways for people to abuse the system (i.e. to get their products to show higher in the search without merit). Fortunately, Amazon doesn’t publish their algorithm, and may revise it, which makes it harder to abuse.

Amazon is probably considering this on an ongoing basis. Categories have changed over the years, and they have probably revised the program which determines the order of search results. They have also added filters, like “most reviews,” so you can see which books have been reviewed most (whereas searching by the highest customer review would put a book with a single five star review ahead of a book that has hundreds of reviews that are mostly five stars); that’s a small improvement. Can you think of other ways to improve this?

(4) Other Changes

I selected a few popular topics to discuss. Maybe you can think of other areas where Amazon could be improved.

Some of the changes I’ve mentioned I have suggested to Amazon (not all at once). Feel free to send your own suggestions to Amazon. The more times Amazon receives the same suggestion, the more likely they are to realize that there is a demand for it. They claim to welcome feedback, and that customer feedback is invaluable. So apparently this is encouraged.

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers