June 8, 2009

amazonI deal with a lot of authors, publishers and clients who start out as clean slates, not knowing anything about anything. That’s OK. Ignorance is 100% curable. But I do end up repeating myself about certain subjects. A lot. So I thought I would cover some of these repeat topics from time to time. Today let’s go over some of the common questions about Amazon.

As long as I’m on Amazon, I can sell loads of books.

Well, yes and no.

Amazon, at the end of the day, is just a bookseller (albiet a really, really big one). Just having your book listed on Amazon (or on any bookseller’s shelf) does not mean the book will sell. YOU (the author) have to do marketing to drive people to the site.

There’s no magic to book sales. Write a great book. Create a great platform. Market. Sell books. Rinse. Repeat.

What does the sales rank mean?

The quick answer is: nothing.

The longer answer is that – as with so  many Amazon things – it is a completely opaque formula Amazon uses to calculate your book sales in an hourly, daily, weekly or monthly period (depending on rate of sales) in relation to other books sales in your category (sometimes), or against all 10 million books.

One day, your book may be at the 300,000 rank. The next 3 million. What happened? In the last month, you sold a book. Once that evaluation period was up, you were reassessed when you had no sales. I’ve seen books jump from around a million to 150,000 in one day. It meant I’d sold 2.



I’ve wrestled with the Amazon sales rank for 10 years. In that time I’ve come to view it as an authorial masturbation tool. It can make you feel good – or not. But really, if you don’t stop looking at it, you’ll go blind. And you know how your mother and I worry about you spending all that time alone.

Hey! Amazon is/isn’t discounting my book!

Once you sell your book to Amazon (directly via Amazon Advantage or Vendor Central, or indirectly via a wholesaler (Ingram/LSI, Baker & Taylor)), they get to sell it for what they want. You cannot control this. Ask the Scholastic folks about Harry Potter and the 1 cent sale.

What is true is that you will get the same payment whether Amazon sells it for full price or for 34% off.

Folks who object to the discount are trying to get the full price off the book on their website. Most customers want to buy from Amazon and not from some website they don’t know, but if you are really serious about making that full price sale, add value. Sign the book and send a free short story (for a novel) or white paper (for a non-fic) with it.

Folks who want the book discounted should work harder on their marketing. An Advantage book will not be discounted until it has sold a predetermined number – and then at the lowest discount. The more sales, the deeper the discount (they are going for volume). If your book is handled via the wholesalers, the book will be automatically discounted.

But again, stop picking at that. It’ll leave an ugly mark. Relax. Go write something.

Hey! Someone is selling my book for way low/way high!

While it is occassionally true that review copies get sold on Amazon Marketplace (selling galleys or ARCs is expressly forbidden), most of the books on the reseller site are ghost sales. That is, many booksellers sell over the internet. They get lists of books available via the wholesalers (Ingram and Baker & Taylor)  and simply list the title. When/if they get a buyer, they order the book and have it drop-shipped – thus never having to carry the book in inventory. But they pay for the book. You don’t lose any money on the deal. 

Some used booksellers are also using Marketplace. They have very little invested in the book (which was purchased once – you got paid), so they might offer the book at a substantial discount. Or, for some reason known only to the bookselling god, Bookji, they try to sell it for $400

Here’s a great example. Check out this page: Book Design and Production retails for $29.95, and is discounted by Amazon to $19.77. Marketplace sellers offer it for anything between $14.59 (used) to $360 (plus shipping).

Expend no brain sweat on this. Breathe in. Breathe out. Go write. Go market. All will be well.

Why should I put a link to Amazon on my website?

Short answer: you don’t have to.

The objection to putting a link to Amazonn on your sales page are two-fold, and both are valid.

Many people do not like Amazon’s monopolistic lock on books (what, you thought it was a coincidence that arrow in their logo looks like a dick?). Or their dictatorial polices that range from funny business with GLBT titles to demanding some small presses use only their Print-on-Demand solution, to being the #1 cause independent booksellers cite for being forced out of business. If it bothers you morally, ethically or just ‘cuz, do what you feel is right. But remember that this is a business. Try to remove the emotion out of the decision – and have a fall-back plan for other associate plans.

The other complaint we touched on above – that is, the owner of the website/author/publisher wants all the money and does not want to take any discount. This is a very narrow view of business. You will sell a few books at full price, but you’ll sell more at a lower price – especially if you do so in a place where there are plenty of people.

Not convinced? Ah, must be time for one of my weird stories.

When I was growing up, it was pretty typical for kids to set up lemonade stands and try and get passing motorists to stop and pay a quarter for watery lemonade (that mom made in the kitchen). I set up my stand at the end of our driveway. I didn’t sell much, but I got my 25 cents.

Contrast that with my enterprising husband who set up his lemonade stand on 42nd and Military Road (a really busy intersection) in NW Washington D.C. at rush hour. He offered his lemonade for 10 cents and would sell-out the 2 gallon jugs he’d dragged there. He ran the Dixie cups out to drivers as they stopped at the light. He made quite a bit of money that summer. Way more than I ever saw at the end of the driveway.

So, your website is your driveway. Yup, you will sell some, but not much. Amazon is that busy street corner. And you can get people to voluntarily (yes, I know I just split an infinitive, down grammar police dogs!) go to that busy corner rather than your nice polite driveway. You can fight it, or you can make money.

Become an Amazon Associate and put a link to your book’s Amazon page. You will not only sell more books (making more than a dime), you’ll make a commission on each sale (thereby paying you back most of the discount). Further, when the customer clicks over to something else and buys, you get a commission on THAT, too. We’ve gotten commissions on everything from a pack of “tightie whities” to a Nokia phone.

You don’t have to limit yourself to Amazon. You can also be associates with every indie bookstore via Indiebound and many other associate links.

So, the moral of our story is, yes, you can sell 10 books for $19.95. Or you can sell 100 books at $12.59. Do the math.

Go forth. Sell books!

© Jacqueline Church Simonds 2009


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  • Lovely blog! Thanks for the useful information.

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  • I wondered why sellers on Amazon tried to sell $20 books for $350 or more. I posed a question about this on the Amazon Sellers Forum, and was told that it’s apparently easier to put a very high price on a book that has sold out than delete the entry and re-list it. So when a book sells out that they expect to see again, they just put a super-high price on it. If someone were stupid enough to order that copy, the seller would buy a copy from someone else, have it shipped to the first buyer (ie, drop-ship it), and pocket the hundreds of dollars of difference. When the book reappears, they change the price to what they actually want for the book.

    Just thought I’d share that insight I gathered a few months ago.

  • As an author myself (Fantasy Football Guidebook and Fantasy Football Tips) these questions and answers were a gift. I never worried about Amazons discount because they can sell it for anything after paying me for it. But the tips for providing value for direct sales is eye opening. Thanks!

  • Great post! I’ll subscribe right now wth my feedreader software!

  • I published a book two months ago, and usually as soon as the ISBN is registered the title appears on Amazon. Not so this time. I can’t get any sense out of Amazon. They say I must go through their Advantage programme to get an answer, but in order to send them an email with this query, I have to set up and account, for which they are going to charge me £23 a year.

    I just want a question answered: if your book is not on Amazon, how do you get it put on there?

    • Where are you “registering” the ISBN? Amazon picks up data from the two big wholesalers (Ingram and Baker & Taylor), as well as those who submit their titles to the Advantage program.

      SInce I am not familiar with the UK links, I don’t know how British-published titles pop up in the US Amazon.

      There was a time when Amazon was searching Bowker ISBN registrations (when they were trying to have every book on Earth), but they haven’t done that for quite some time.

      Sorry not to have been of much help.

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