Self Publishing on Amazon

As the author of Sell Your Book on Amazon, I speak at quite a few conferences, seminars, and writing groups on the subject of online book marketing. And since I am also the CEO of Outskirts Press, it is probably no surprise that one of the most common questions I am asked while at these events is why should an author publish with Outskirts Press rather than directly through Amazon.

When I am in-person and in “speaker mode” I strive to provide impartial advice and information, and I also strive to be very diplomatic. In other words, I prefer to not specifically answer questions that cannot help but shine a negative light on a competitor. That’s not my goal at events; my goal at events is to impart as much information about publishing and marketing that I can.

But on my blog, I don’t have to be quite so diplomatic.  The very short, glib answer to that question is, “You get what you pay for” and this is true in all areas concerning customer service and quality of the final product itself.   There is a reason Outskirts Press is called “full-service” and Amazon is called “DIY” (do it yourself).

But the answer is actually more complicated than that.

For one, many authors are, for some reason, under the delusion that publishing through Amazon is the only way to get their book listed for sale on Amazon.  This is due, in no small part, to a devious tactic Amazon undertook in 2008 to instill this very fear into new authors.  That exercise failed, yet the misconception lingers on.  Please allow me to officially dispel the myth.  Just about every self-publishing firm out there will get your book listed on Amazon.com.  I can’t think of one that doesn’t, although I can think of a few who accomplish this goal by using Amazon’s own Advantage Program, and that’s kind of silly — but that’s a topic for a different post, and I outline the silliness in my book.

I’ve even heard that Amazon’s customer service publishing reps will strongly imply this myth while courting new authors.  Do not be deceived; it is simply untrue.  All of us in self-publishing recognize the value of having our books listed on Amazon, and we’ve all made sure that our books appear on Amazon.

Ironically, this Amazon myth is perhaps also Amazon’s greatest weakness.  Up until the middle of 2010, if you published through Amazon, your book would ONLY appear on Amazon (and AbeBooks, if you really care).  Barnes & Noble? No.  Borders.com? No.  Books a Million? No?  Ingram, the largest book wholesaler in the US? Not on your life.

And, in fact even now, if you conduct a search on BookFinder.com for a book published by Amazon and compare it against a book published by just about any other self-publishing company (like Outskirts Press, for instance), you will see the major disadvantage to publishing through Amazon.  Hint:  Amazon doesn’t want anyone else selling books. Ergo, books published through Amazon typically receive far less availability. In other words, by and large, they are still only available on Amazon.

Let’s look at some proof.

The first screen shot below is for a book that Amazon published that I found by conducting a search on Amazon. I tried to select two books that had comparable retail prices to make this comparison fair. This book is titled Pocket Guide to the HCG Protocol with an ISBN of 978-1442152663 if you want to play along yourself at http://bookfinder.com  — Bookfinder displays all the online e-retail results for an ISBN search.

You will notice the Amazon book’s distribution is limited to 4 new sales channels (the left-column), although the first two are both the US version of Amazon, so it’s hard to count those differently. The right-column is for used markets, and there are 14, although 9 of those are Amazon.com, also. So if you count Amazon as just one, you’re looking at a total of 8 unique sales channels for this book published by Amazon.

For comparison, let’s look at my book Sell Your Book on Amazon, published by Outskirts Press. Its ISBN is 978-1432701963 for those who want to play along at http://bookfinder.com.

The Outskirts Press book’s distribution has 19 new sales channels (the left-column), of which 6 are Amazon. Interestingly, only the Outskirts Press book has new book distribution through Amazon’s own international sites (Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.ca, Amazon.fr, Amazon.de).  The right-column is for used markets, and there are 43.  Yes, yes,  Amazon plays a large role here, too. In fact, ironically again, Amazon’s presence for this Outskirts Press book is even greater than its presence for its own book, but with Outskirts Press, that presence does not jeopardize distribution through other book markets.   Perhaps even more impressive is that this isn’t even a comprehensive list, since I know for a fact my book is also on Barnes & Noble and BAMM.com, among others not found by Bookfinder. So if you still only count Amazon.com as one single source, that leaves a total of over 50 unique sales channels.

Books published by Amazon: 8 unique sales channels.

Books published by Outskirts Press: 50 unique sales channels.

You can do the math.

Speaking of math, numbers (royalties, etc.) are another good reason authors choose Outskirts Press over Amazon (and other) publishers. And I’ll discuss that next time.