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.

Altering the Amazon cover graphic

Yet another posting referring to the screen shot I took of an Amazon search results page which displays two larger graphics for my most recent book, The Highly Effective Habits of 5 Successful Authors.   Already we’ve discussed the importance of adding a Kindle edition to secure two such listings, and the importance of not having a white cover, lest it get “lost” among all the Amazon screen clutter. 

But what do you do if you have a white cover? Or what do you do if you want to increase the size of your book cover on Amazon (as I have done with many of my books). You change your cover graphic on Amazon…

I wrote on this topic a while ago, where I detailed the advantages of increasing the size of (and/or changing the color of) the Amazon cover. 

Take a look over to the right and see the cover of the second edition of SELL YOUR BOOK ON AMAZON (it’s right below Self-Publishing Simplified).

That’s how the cover looks of the actual book. But, strangely, that’s not how I want the cover image to look on Amazon.  And this has to do with online marketing in the new millennium, combined with the aspect ratio of books in relationship to the aspect ratio of the graphic footprint Amazon uses on its sales pages.  In other words, a 6×9 rectangular book cover is not OPTIMAL for use within a 260 x 260 square space, which is the graphic footprint Amazon allocates for product images on its detail pages.   Showcasing portrait-shaped books results in a graphic that is 260 pixels HIGH, but only uses 50% of the available WIDTH.  In other words, most book covers on Amazon sacrifice some of the space Amazon is giving to them.  And let me tell you, with the number of shoppers on Amazon, that is some expensive square-footage going to waste.

So, the solution is to provide Amazon with a different graphic other than the “actual” graphic of the book cover – one that is square rather than rectangular.  Of course, most books are rectangular (portrait) so this means you must ”change” the appearance of the cover.  You can either “squash it” so that the entire cover fits in a space that is 33% shorter. Or you crop off a portion of the cover in preference of greater online sales.  I opted for choice number 2.  

So when SELL YOUR BOOK ON AMAZON was first published in its first edition, I manually uploaded an alternate “square” cover image (doing anything “different” through Ingram or Amazon requires some manual intervention).  By “square” I don’t mean boring — rather I mean that it utilizes ALL the space Amazon allocates for the image, thereby making the cover image “bigger” than other cover images within search results, or even within Listmania or Guide listings (see the image of Sell Your Book on Amazon along the left-hand side of our screen shot for an example).

Of course, the more observant readers may also notice another difference between the Amazon version of the graphic above and the “real” version to the right — other than the shape.  Yes, the Amazon version is a nice garish YELLOW.  And this brings me to one of the most wonderful things about marketing on the Internet — you can have your cake and eat it, too.

What do I mean by that?  I would never design an actual cover of a book to look like the image above. It’s too… well, “ugly” for lack of a better word.  I don’t want ugly babies, because I submit my babies to contests and awards and I want them to have a chance to win.   But sadly, what makes an effective cover “in person” is not always the same as what makes an effective cover online.  That yellow sure is ugly, but when you’re scrolling through 25 books about self-publishing on Amazon’s search page, guess which image your eye is going to see first?  The big ugly yellow one… 

In other words, yes, you can have a great actual cover that wins lots of awards and you can have an image on Amazon that attracts lots of attention. Having your cake and eating it, too.

This marketing tactic isn’t just reserved for authors of “Amazon books” either — Outskirts Press is going to soon launch a new a la carte marketing service to help any author perform this function, regardless of where you decided to publish your book.

Previously on this blog I’ve provided other examples of this, and here’s a good link to one of those…

Amazon search results and cover colors

 Now let’s discuss the color of the covers in this screen shot below:

 This exemplifies the importance of cover design, and specifically, the importance of planning ahead when designing your cover, or working with a cover designer.  You want your book to STAND OUT on search results pages like this, which means you want to avoid having a white cover.   After all, let’s look closely at the screen shot above. The only cover that is harder to see and pay attention to than the 6th cover is the 8th one, and that’s because the 8th cover is missing!

Does this mean you should never design a white book cover?  Well…. maybe.  I would challenge book cover designers to rise to the occasion in the “Amazon world” and create covers that are specifically designed to be seen on visual search results pages like the one above.  That means, no white covers.  But, even if the book cover for the physical book itself is white, that doesn’t mean your Amazon cover has to be.

Gasp! Change the cover image just for Amazon?  Yes – and in past posts I’ve given specific examples of how I’ve personally done that with my Sell Your Book on Amazon listing.  The actual cover is 2/3 orange and 1/3 white. That’s too much white for me, so for the Amazon cover image, I replaced the white with an obnoxious bright yellow.  You know what? It works.   In fact, if you look at the screen shot above, there’s a chance the most noticeable book cover among ALL the books on that page is that big bright yellow cover along the left, which, not coincidentally is for SELL YOUR BOOK ON AMAZON.  I say “not coincidentally” because that is actually the result of quite a bit of planning and effort on my part, but as you can see on this Amazon search page, it pays off.

And we can talk about that more in the future, along with why you would want to create a cover image specifically for Amazon (and how you do that).

The Amazon Kindle and Search Results

In the last posting I began analyzing this screen shot, which is the first page of the Amazon search results for a particular phrase. 

I’m using my latest book as an example to demonstrate the actual positive effects of completing some basic Amazon promotion tactics.  Let’s specifically look at three elements of this screen shot:

  •  there are two of the same graphics in the top 10 (thank you Kindle edition)- repetition matters
  • the cover graphic isn’t white – see how book #1 and #6 get completely lost?
  •  the cover graphic is significantly bigger than all the other covers on the page

Let’s discuss the duplication effect, seeing two covers of the same book.  Relatively easily, my book is garnering twice the exposure and therefore, hopefully, receiving twice the attention from Amazon shoppers browsing this list.  In other words, my book has twice as much potential to be “clicked on” because the cover is appearing twice.   Getting two cover images of your book to appear on an applicable search term phrase on Amazon is as easy as adding an Amazon Kindle edition of your book (the money you make from sales of your Kindle Edition may even be more icing on the cake — in fact, it may even start to be the cake itself. Three of our top 5 selling books in any given month are often the Kindle editions, and they’re all fiction.) Any fiction author looking for a way to level the book marketing playing field shouldn’t do anything before adding a Kindle edition to his book.

We’ll talk about the other two points from this screen shot next…