Book publishing on Amazon

Over the past several posts we have been examining a screen shot showing the 7,300 books published by Outskirts Press for our authors that currently appear on, and we’ve been looking closer at the breadth of subject matter and quality.  Well, so far we covered the breadth of subject matter, including the statistic that approximately 40% of the books we publish are fiction and approximately 20% are religious or spiritual in nature.

So now let’s cover the quality.  Here’s the screen shot again, so we can look at the Average Customer Reviews of Outskirts Press books:

Of the 7,302 books appearing on Amazon, 4,052 have at least a one-star rating. Notice that this doesn’t mean 4,052 books ONLY have a one-star rating, since the number of books with 4 or 5 stars is included in this 4,052 number.  Instead, it means that of the 7,302 Outskirts Press books appearing on Amazon, 55% of them have received a rating of some kind.  Compare that with our 5 largest competitors, where that percentage is 42%, 30%, 25%, 21%, and 15% respectively.  Ouch.  By the way, I’ve mentioned in the past I don’t mention our competitors by name, even when I want to — like now.

Of course, simply receiving a rating doesn’t necessarily equate to “quality,” particularly as it involves the one-star ratings. But receiving a rating does relate to is ENGAGEMENT by the author in marketing effort.   Let’s look at those figures above again.  Only FIFTEEN PERCENT of one of the major online publisher’s authors have managed (or bothered) to even get 1 review of the book they worked so hard to write and then threw into a machine to publish.  That’s kind of … sad. Perhaps that is because once their book is published, their publisher forgets about them.  They probably don’t receive years of ongoing marketing support via email like our authors do with the exclusive Outskirts Press Marketing COACH.

So now let’s look at the quality of books, which relates to the number of reviews that are 4 stars or higher.  For Outskirts Press, that number is 3,791, which is 52% of all the books we have published.  That IS a demonstration of quality.

So, let’s compare the quality of Outskirts Press with the quality of those 5 other publishers, at least as determined by Amazon readers:

Publishing Firm Percentage of 4 or 5 star ratings
Outskirts Press 52%
Company A 24%
Company U 37%
Company X 19%
Company C 27%
Company L 13%

Hmm, I guess on second thought, if I published with Company L, I wouldn’t go out of my way to get any reviews either – since I’d have the highest possibility among these 6 publishers of getting a lousy review.  Better yet, I think I’d consider publishing with Outskirts Press, where our books are reviewed more often and receive statistically more 4 & 5 star reviews among all the major self-publishing companies.  If you’re looking for a way to compare self publishing companies, this is one way. There are other ways, too, and I’ve blogged about one way here.

Amazon publishing

To continue the post from yesterday, we’re looking at this Amazon screen shot of the 7,302 books Outskirts Press currently has published and listed available for sale on Amazon for our authors:

We discussed the New Releases and Department sections yesterday. That brings us to Format, where you can see Paperback books are far and away the favorite, although Kindle Editions are catching up fast, considering the Paperback count starts in the year 2002 and the Kindle editions began in 2010 with the release of our Amazon Kindle Edition.

Since we also provide the Kindle Edition service for authors with books from other publishers, our Kindle numbers are actually much higher, but we often perform that service for authors “behind the scenes.”

We do a lot of these because authors from many of our competitors would rather pay us a small one-time fee to perform this service independently so they keep 100% of their profits as opposed to letting their current publisher do it and take up to 50% of their Kindle profits.  Hmm, you’d think that same reasoning would translate to moving their books to Outskirts Press where we pay 100% profits on paperbacks and hardbacks, too.  And you know what? It often does.

But I digress.  “Binding” comes next and seems to be fairly redundant.  Then comes mentions of specific authors and then Series, followed by “Shipping Option” and “Promotion.”

The “Average Customer Review” is interesting though, and I’ll cover that next time…

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.

Self Publishing Amazon

In my last post about self publishing on Amazon I provided two screen shots from – one for an ISBN published by Amazon’s publishing company and one for an ISBN published by Outskirts Press. According to Bookfinder, the Amazon publisher provides a total of 8 unique sales channels while Outskirts Press provides a total of over 50 unique sales channels.  I identified this as one major difference — benefit — to self publishing with Outskirts Press instead of self publishing Amazon ‘s way.

I also alluded to other benefits, specifically royalties, and I will discuss that now.

There’s no doubt that Amazon pays fairly good royalties on its own books that it sells from its own site at  It is subsidizing itself.  And, as I covered last time, books published by Amazon are rarely available anywhere else BUT Amazon.  So you may arrive upon the conclusion that there’s no downside.  Well, the downside is receiving only 8 unique sales channels instead of 50.  And if your self publishing Amazon book DOES happen to sell through a sales channel other than Amazon, your royalty is significantly lower — 10% of the retail price instead of the 35% of the retail price you may be expecting.   Why are you expecting 35% and only receiving 10% on “expanded distribution” sales?   Because Amazon does what all self publishing firms do, and in fact what all businesses do the world over: they market the “good news.”

So, let’s create a little chart comparing the “good news” (i.e., royalties) earned by the same two titles I used last time: The self publishing Amazon book:  Pocket Guide to the HCG Protocol (ISBN: 978-1442152663)  with a retail price of  $12.77 compared with the Outskirts Press book, Sell Your Book on Amazon (ISBN: 978-1432701963) with a retail price of $14.95.

HCG Protocol has a random retail price of $12.77, which is already kind of weird, but so as not to give unfair advantage to my book, which has a higher retail price of $14.95 (and therefore I would earn higher royalties), let’s say the retail price of the Amazon book is also $14.95.  In other words, we’re already granting the competition an extra two bucks to the retail price, just so you can see an apples to apples comparison of Amazon royalty payouts compared with Outskirts Press royalties.  Keep that in mind as you look as this side by side comparison of author royalty earnings in dollars and cents.

Sales Channels Royalties for HCG Protocol, published by Amazon Royalties for Sell Your Book on Amazon, published by Outskirts Press $5.23 $6.58
Abe Books $1.45 $6.58
Book Webpages $1.45 $6.58 $1.45 $6.58
Alibris $1.45 $6.58   $6.58
Super book deals   $6.58
Textbooks R Us   $6.58
Valore Books   $6.58   $6.58
Textbook X   $6.58
Blackwell   $6.58   $6.58   $6.58
DEA Story Italy   $6.58   $6.58
Buchide Germany   $6.58   $6.58   $6.58   $6.58
Books a Million   $6.58   $6.58

The first thing you may  notice is that the Amazon-published book, HCG Protocol, is not available at very many places.  You will also notice that the Amazon book makes two different amounts, depending upon whether the book sells from Amazon (the author earns 35% of the retail price) or elsewhere (the author earns 10% of the retail price).   So if a single copy of HCG Protocol, published by Amazon’s self publishing company, sells from all the unique locations in this chart that are available for its Amazon distribution, the author earns: $11.03.

By comparison, the book published by Outskirts Press earns the same royalty regardless of what channel the book sells through. Since this is my book, I know precisely how much I make on it: $6.58. That’s 100% of the profit of the book, and translates into a retail royalty of 44%. So if a copy sells from all the unique locations in this chart that are available for Amazon distribution, I would earn: $144.76.

I’ve often said that “book math” is tricky.  It’s a complicated subject that I’ve composed several articles about, and it is always the topic of “Q & A sessions” after my personal appearances at workshops, seminars, and conferences.   This is often the most important part of an author’s decision making process (or should be) and it is also the part they understand the least.  Self publishing firms know this – and they use semantics in their marketing to leverage that lack of knowledge.

So in my next posting, I will discuss exactly how my book at Outskirts Press can make MORE money on Amazon than one of Amazon’s own books. I will also explain how a “100% profit” translates into a “44% retail royalty.”  By understanding “book math” authors who are exploring all their publishing options will be able to make better financial decisions when it comes to choosing the self publishing partner that is best for them.