A closer look at our self-published books on Amazon

In yesterday’s post I included a screen shot of our Outskirts Press books on Amazon.com, showcasing the 7,302 total title count (as of July 1). Let’s take a closer look at that screen shot and what it tells us about the breadth and quality of books being published by Outskirts Press:

The circled title count of 7,302 shows the number of books, in all formats, published by Outskirts Press.

The “New Releases” just to the left of the circled total title count shows 46 new Outskirts Press books were added to Amazon in June, while 298 were added over the months of April, May, and June, for an average of roughly 100 titles a month in that time period. The number of books we’ve put onto Amazon is actually much higher than that.  With our Private Label publishing option, many authors and publishers use our high-quality, full-service packages “behind the scenes” and publish their books under their own publishing imprint name. Therefore, those titles don’t appear on a search for “Outskirts Press” nor contribute to any of the stats seen here.

In the “Department” column under the “New Releases” you can see Amazon’s categorical break-down of the types of books Outskirts Press has published onto Amazon.  These categories are based upon the BISAC codes we and our authors assign to their books during the pre-production stage.   Our two most popular categories are “Literature & Fiction (2,945)” followed by “Religion & Spirituality (1,456).” In other words, Literature & Fiction represents roughly 40% of our total output, while Religion & Spirituality represents 20%.    With 60% of our business focused on these two categories, it’s no wonder we excel at both.

We’ll examine more stats next time…

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.)

Is Amazon the Wal-Mart of Books?

Here’s another excerpt from the interesting article I read recently in the Nov/Dec 2010 issue of Boston Review titled “Books After Amazon: Publishing’s Race to the Bottom” by Onnesha Roychoudhuri — which is available to read in its entirety by clicking here

Many in the publishing community mock Amazon as the “Wal-Mart of books,” but it’s important to remember that Wal-Mart is also the Wal-Mart of books. Last year, Target, Amazon, and Wal-Mart fought a price war over a handful of new hardcover bestsellers. Books with $25 and $35 retail prices were being offered for nine dollars or less.

In response to the price war, the ABA wrote a letter to the Department of Justice (DOJ), requesting that it investigate possible “illegal predatory pricing.” David Gernert, a literary agent who represents the novelist John Grisham and was quoted in the ABA letter, told The New York Times: “If readers come to believe that the value of a new book is $10, publishing as we know it is over. If you can buy Stephen King’s new novel or John Grisham’s Ford County, for $10, why would you buy a brilliant first novel for $25?” People who tend to read Grisham and King aren’t necessarily reaching for a brilliant first novel, but Gernert’s point still has some force: devaluing the books produced by an industry already squeezed to the brink is not likely to benefit the reader in the end.

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.

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.