Books written by Ray Sullivan

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Not Counting on Amazon

There's been a number of real initiatives in the eBook world lately, mainly from Smashwords the distributor of eBooks that supplies Apple, Barnes & Noble, Sony and, when they're feeling receptive, Kobo.  To be fair to Kobo, it appears they've gotten over the issue with the revelation the other week from a British tabloid that some of their catalogue contains erotica.  Or more specifically they've worked out that my books don't contain erotica as they're all listed again after a brief hiatus.  WH Smith, the British book retailer, is still being a bit sniffy about it all though.  I guess I won't be selling many through them this side of Christmas.

But Smashwords has been doing some backroom deals lately, all reported in some depth on this blog in recent weeks.  One such improvement is the ability to set up pre-orders on books before they are launched.  That is something I'll be testing on my next release.  Another initiative is the link up with Oyster, the eBook subscription service that aims to be the Netflix of eBooks.  I've got some reservations about the business model, but then again Netflix probably shouldn't be able to keep going but it does. 

Critically the Oyster hook-up is challenging Amazon's KDP Select, a service that is aimed at depriving other eBook retailers of access to titles by tying them up in exclusive deals in return for a pot of cash shared out each month.  The benefit for certain Amazon customers is that they have a library of eBooks to dip into at will as part of their Prime package - there are limits, but it is consumer friendly in that respect.  The downside is the insistence that authors offer their books only through Amazon.  They're American, haven't they heard of free economy?  It isn't my favourite part of Amazon and I'm still resisting joining.  Sure, I'll probably end my days an impoverished jobbing author but at least I'll have my pride.  Of course the Oyster deal, and others that Smashwords are working on, will help hopefully persuade other authors not to succumb to Amazon's bribes.

Actually Amazon haven't been too innovative recently, apart from the KDP Select programme.  They had the majority of the eBook market a few years ago, but a lot has changed since then.  Apple books are a force to be reckoned with, as are Barnes and Noble.  Kobo has the backing of a major company, Rakuten, and Sony - well Sony should have been the market leader all along but somehow lost its way, however it still has a large and loyal customer base.

So it is with real interest that I see Amazon have actually seem to have produced an innovation.  An email dropped in my inbox from the big A the other day that said I could set time limited promotions on one or more of my books.  Crucially the deal allows authors to retain the 70% royalty rate even if the promotion rate drops below the $2.99 threshold limit that normally takes you down to 35%.  This royalty rate is one of my biggest bugbears with Amazon.  Any books you sell that fall below $2.99 only attract a 35% royalty.  All other major retailers give the author 60% regardless of selling price.  I think $2.99 is a lot to pay for an unknown writer in an unregulated market.  Sure, you may have read his or her blog ranting on about technology or eBooks, or even dipped into a serialised book or two and decided that you don't mind trying the whole novel on your eReader, but might bulk at the price of a pint of beer.

Amazon call this the countdown programme and have even set up a dedicated we page where customers can browse books currently on promo.  So it has the double benefit of all the above and a window for discovery.  Amazon coming of age, or at least acting like a responsible teenager (I know, that's an oxymoron).

Anyway, reading the blurb it seemed that Amazon had seen the light, had felt the pressure from Smashwords.  However, when I opened my dashboard to set a cheeky discount promotion to support this blog entry it transpires that Amazon only offer this facility to KDP Select enrolled books.  It took a bit of working out, I thrashed around the dashboard for about ten minutes, went back to the email and checked it for the details. Back at the dashboard it became obvious that I'd have to register any book I wanted to set a promo on in KDP Select, delisting them from Apple, B & N, Kobo, Sony et al first.  The only thing Amazon wanted to countdown was the other retailers.

Now it's not like Amazon are doing badly out of eBooks.  They have a preponderance of the dedicated eReader market with their Kindle range,  which naturally drives customers to their books, they have freely distributed software that lets their customers read their eBooks on their phone, laptops and tablets, including Apple and Android.  To try an squash all competition out of the market is not going to be a good thing for the consumer long term, it never is.

So if Amazon is counting on me to join countdown, it can count me out.  I'll continue promoting my books using other retailers, where I sell my books for the correct price, not the Amazon price.  It means I sell a lot less books through Amazon and to be fair I feel the odd pang of guilt when I do sell through them, wishing I could nudge my readers to Smashwords, where Kindle compatible versions are available at least a dollar less, two dollars for my shorter but funnier comedic novels.

While I urge all readers of eBooks to look at the Amazon countdown page for offers - we all like a bargain after all - I urge all self published authors to consider giving it the big E as a service.


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