Why didn’t Amazon buy Borders.com?

On September 26, 2011 the federal bankruptcy court approved the sale of  Borders’ brand trademarks, domain names, and customer lists to Barnes & Noble for approximately $14 million. The true value of the sale was just shy of $16 million but a bookseller — in Malaysia! — bought the remaining assets totaling approximately $2 million.  As a result, Barnes & Noble received customer information, mailing lists, and all the traffic resulting from www.borders.com – it now forwards directly to barnesandnoble.com.

These assets were offered in an auction. So one has to ask, why didn’t Amazon buy them?   Here are some thoughts:  Amazon probably already has all the customer information Borders.com was offering.  But wouldn’t the domain names redirecting to Amazon.com be something Jeff Bezos & Co. would value?  Perhaps. Perhaps not.  Here’s a comparison of the website traffic for borders.com, barnesandnoble.com, and amazon.com, courtesy of our friends at Alexa:

Perhaps Amazon felt the Borders.com domain name was not very valuable. And this chart below can demonstrate perhaps why Barnes & Noble did … their traffic is at least in the same ball park, once you remove Amazon from the scale:

What do you think? Should Amazon have bought Borders’ assests rather than allowing Barnes & Noble to take ownership of them? I’ll open up a public poll tomorrow…

How to market your book (or your business) on Amazon

I recently conducted a webinar for the Internet Marketing Club on the topic of using Amazon to market your book or your business. Rather than getting into the nitty-gritty or summarizing it, I’ll just provide the entire webinar here in its entirety. I hope you all find it helpful. It’s long — 60 minutes — but filled with content about how to establish your presence, your content, and your expertise on Amazon in order to promote your book or business.

Just click on the image below to watch. You’ll be taken from WordPress to MetaCafe’s website, since WordPress doesn’t support embedded MetaCafe videos and YouTube’s maximum video length is 15 minutes… 

Here’s also a convenient way to purchase the two products mentioned in the video.  You can save 10% on my book, Sell Your Book on Amazon, by clicking here.

And you can save 25% off a la carte pricing on three specific Amazon Marketing options (Kindle, Search Inside, Keyword Tagging) we offer with the Amazon Extreme package by clicking here (and in that case, we’ll include a free copy of Sell Your Book on Amazon).


Does Amazon represent the future or the end of books?

One has to marvel at Amazon.  In spite of the warnings provided by the music industry and iTunes, authors and publishers keep right on giving (yes, giving!) away their content to Amazon for the “privilege” of being listed on Amazon’s store and having a “Kindle” version of a book.  Do authors or publishers get a percentage of the Kindle device sales? No.   Should they? Well, for an answer to that question, you might want to ask a few unemployed music executives who thought a 70% margin on $0.99 iTunes downloads was sufficient, never realizing that Apple’s real cash cow was the device itself (the iPod), sales for which the music industry received nothing, even though without music the iPod was useless.    Does that sound similar to the Kindle?

Or you may want to ask musicians ranging from Garth Brooks to AC/DC, who believe iTunes is “killing” music, according to Prefix Magazine.  The analogy is right on point with what is happening in the publishing world today.

While I would never think to suggest that authors who choose to publish directly through Amazon are literally digging their own graves, it is worth considering.   I was reading the Nov/Dec 2010 issue of Boston Review article “Books After Amazon: Publishing’s Race to the Bottom” by Onnesha Roychoudhuri, and I wanted to share this excerpt:

Cheap books are easy on our wallets, but behind the scenes publishers large and small have been deeply undercut by the rise of large retailers and predatory pricing schemes. Unless publishers push back, Amazon will take the logic of the chains to its conclusion. Then publishers and readers will finally know what happens when you sell a book like it’s a can of soup.

To read the article in its entirety, click here.

Amazon threatens all publishers – It’s not just POD

When I was reading the Nov/Dec 2010 issue of Boston Review article “Books After Amazon: Publishing’s Race to the Bottom” by Onnesha Roychoudhuri, I was reminded of the period of time way back in 2008 when Amazon threatened to remove all the “buy buttons” from books published by print-on-demand publishers who didn’t print their books through Amazon’s own company.  That attempt at an anti-trust monopoly ultimately failed, which was good news for authors and publishers alike, but this article referred to similar tactics Amazon has been employing with traditional publishers for even longer, which I found interesting.  Here’s an excerpt, and I encourage you to read the article in its entirety by clicking here

Buy-button disappearances are just one of the tensions that have emerged between publishers and Amazon. Publishers accustomed to the more bibliophilic operators of independent stores and even Barnes & Noble find it jarring to deal with Amazon’s lawyers. Wood’s frustration at Amazon’s lack of “gentlemanliness” is echoed by many other publishers who wonder why Amazon keeps putting the screws to them. (The majority of publishers contacted for this article chose not to speak on the record, citing their fear of retribution for divulging Amazon’s tactics, which one publisher described as a “You do this, or we’ll fuck you over” approach.)

Does Amazon sell books like cans of soup?

I read a fascinating article in the Nov/Dec issue of Boston Review recently. The article is titled “Books After Amazon: Publishing’s Race to the Bottom” by Onnesha Roychoudhuri.  It was a well-written and astute view of the world’s largest book retailer.  I strongly encourage you to read the article in its entirety by clicking here, but just to whet your appetite for what’s in store for you if you do, here’s a small excerpt:

Jeffrey Lependorf, Executive Director of the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses and of Small Press Distribution, suggests that the difference between Amazon and brick-and-mortar bookstores is most evident in how they market books: “I think even people at Amazon would say that it’s essentially a widget seller that happens to have begun by focusing on books. Many people, like me, will say you can’t sell a book the same way you sell a can of soup.”

At the heart of the soup-can analogy are the algorithms that Amazon uses to “recommend” books to customers. Most customers aren’t aware that the personalized book recommendations they receive are a result of paid promotions, not just purchase-derived data. This is frustrating for publishers who want their books to be judged on their merits. “I think their twisted algorithms that point you toward bestsellers instead of books that you might actually like [are] a shame,” Gavin Grant, cofounder of Small Beer Press, laments.

How to link to your book on Amazon

If you don’t yet have a published book on Amazon, it’s time to get published. And if you have a book on Amazon, you probably spend a lot of time trying different online marketing tactics to send people to your book’s sales detail page.  If you don’t you should – -they’re not going to know about your book unless you tell them. And don’t just tell them about the book, send them to it.

So how do you “send” a link to a specific book on Amazon?  I often see people include long, unwieldy links that are filled with superfluous Amazon code.  Sometimes they even work.  And often, those links contain information like affiliate codes, or cookie codes that could result in the link working for you, but NOT working for someone else.  It’s best to use as clean and short of a URL (webpage address) as possible.

Amazon makes this easy.  Just follow this convention:

domain name/program name/10-digit ISBN

Amazon’s “program name” for its forwarding function is called “dp,” perhaps short for “direct point.”  So, for instance, to aim directly to Self Publishing Simplified on Amazon, which is our sample book and publishing guide, you would go to: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1598000810

That’s pretty short, and much better than the longer URLs you might be using, especially if you’ve ever wanted to TWEET the location of your book on Twitter or Facebook.

Here’s an even shorter path:  http://www.amzn.com/1598000810  — When you only have 140 characters, every character counts. Here, Amazon has taken the “dp” program and put it within its own domain name “Amzn.com” which shortens the URL by 5 characters. Brilliant!

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.