One of my goals for 2013 is to fully distribute all of my self-published e-books.
As it stands, Backpacked is handcuffed to KDP Select, Mousetrapped is on Smashwords but I never re-submitted it to their Premium Catalogue (read: third party retailers) after my last update and although you can purchase a gorgeous ePub or Mobi edition of Self-Printed directly from me (thanks to the lovely people at eBookPartnership.com), the only other place you can get it from is the Amazon Kindle store, although we did have a brief flirtation with Kobo Writing Life a while back.
Why is this? Well, there’s a few reasons:
- It’s easy to make a good-looking Kindle book. I still format my e-books the way I’ve done it from the beginning, three years ago: by re-formatting the text in a MS Word document until it adheres to a strict set of rules. I’m really good at it now, and sometimes I almost find the process relaxing. (Sometimes…) Ever since I discovered, via a tip in the Smashwords Style Guide, that Kindle conversion automatically indents all your paragraphs and the only way to make it stop is to set the indent to 0.01 inches on the lines you don’t want to appear indented, I’ve found prepping your book for Kindle conversion practically easy. And I like easy.
- It’s simple to keep track of sales and profits. KDP must have the best-looking user interface of any self-publishing platform. It’s so easy to use: two pages and your book is published. Log in at any time and see at a glance what you’ve sold so far this month, what you sold in total last month and how the past six weeks were for you and your books. Prior months royalties can be scrutinized in a downloadable Excel spreadsheet, and cheques arrive promptly every single month. (In three years, only one KDP cheque has failed to arrive, and it was a lost-in-the-mail situation. They quickly cancelled it and sent another.) My euro sales even go straight into my bank account now. Trying to figure out how many copies I’ve sold via Smashwords on other retailers is like trying to do my taxes with an abacus, and everytime you add another site—be it Kobo, or iTunes Connect, or whoever—you complicate things further.
- The majority of my sales come from Kindle anyway, so the rest of them don’t seem worth the trouble. Now, I know what you’re going to say: if my books are only available on Kindle, this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Yes, it is now. But all throughout 2010 and for a good half of 2011, I was on Kindle and everyone Smashwords could hook me up with, and my Kindle sales were something like 95% of all e-book sales. And this wasn’t because I did such a good job of marketing my Kindle book, because I was never active on dedicated Kindle forums, nor did I advertise with Kindle Nation or anything like that. Kindle just sold my books more, for whatever reason. When KDP Select came along—and the first time I used it, it gave me something like a 150% boost on sales the month after my free promotion—I drained my glass of Kool-Aid. I was all in.
And so, over time, I became less and less enthusiastic about non-Kindle e-book sites. When I updated Mousetrapped, I didn’t bother putting myself through the horror that would be formatting it for Smashwords’ Premium Catalogue. I couldn’t upload the shiny ePub of Self-Printed 2.0 there, so I didn’t bother uploading anything. And I pulled Backpacked—waiting over a month for Kobo to let go—so I could chuck it in KDP Select and promote it as free.
Eggs, one basket, all in.
Up until recently, I wasn’t at all bothered. My Smashwords sales had never lit the world on fire, and who had the time to be checking what people were saying about you—I mean, about your book—on more than the three main English-speaking Amazon sites? But then the tectonic plates beneath the self-publishing world began to move and shift, and so did my thinking.
I’m iniating Operation Full Distribution, and here’s why.
Sales of dedicated e-readers are in decline. This means that nowadays, someone is more likely to buy an iPad than a Kindle, i.e. a device on which they can read e-books but on which they can do loads of other stuff as well. Kindle may be the dominant player now, but will they always be? Yes, you can download the Kindle app for iPad, but iBooks/iTunes’ slice of the e-book pie grows ever bigger. Isn’t it better to hedge your bets and be ready for the day when Kindle books might not dominate?
If one was to be cynical and say that Amazon being nice to us—KDP Select, huge KOLL compensation funds, letting us self-publish on there in the first place—was all just a ploy to get us to fill the Kindle store with titles, many of them exclusive, and to teach their customers that e-books should be cheap so that traditional publishing would, eventually, start to lower their e-book prices too, then one could also say that that job is done. There’s well over a million titles in the Amazon.com Kindle store, and the Top 10 e-book charts on Amazon.co.uk boasted seven traditionally published books for sale at 20p when I checked it on New Year’s Day. They’ve even got agents skipping publishers altogether to publish directly to the Kindle store, and have started publishing books themselves. It’s becoming harder and harder for self-published e-book authors to achieve success, and the odds are decreasing all the time. (Charging sofa change for your e-book so readers will take a chance of you no longer works, for example, because readers can get a book that has been vetted by an agent, editors and maybe even The Sunday Times book reviewer now for less than the cost of your 99c book.) How much longer are Amazon going to need us? And when they don’t need us anymore, what will happen? I feel the tugs on the rug Amazon has laid beneath our self-published feet; it might only be a matter of time before they pull it. Since we don’t know what that world could look like, it might be better to start spreading the risk now.
As Smashwords founder Mark Coker is forever reiterating on the Smashwords blog, sales ranks are very important for discoverability. The higher or better your sales rank, the higher chance there is of you being discovered by a new reader, generally and simplistically-speaking. I’ve been on Amazon now for almost three years with Mousetrapped, and my other books have been on there since they were published. I’ve never “interruppted” their Amazon ranking, and as sales rank history is partly responsible for where the sales rank is at today, that’s a good thing. But how many times have I published/unpublished on Smashwords? Well, um, a few. And each time I republished, I was basically starting from scratch on, say, Barnes and Noble’s Nook store, or iBooks, or wherever. So I wasn’t giving my Smashwords retailers a chance to do as well as my Kindle books. As has been pointed out in many blog posts on the subject of Kindle dominance, self-published authors also have a tendancy to direct potential readers to their Kindle listings more than anything else, and I was as guilty of that as anyone. So now, let’s see what happens when I give it a proper chance.
There’s a but coming though, and it’s in the shape of a dollar sign. I ran Backpacked through KDP Select back in November, and it was downloaded for free something like 20,000 times in the five days. Since then its sales have really picked up, especially on Amazon.com, and borrows are way up too. And when you consider the “bonus” KDP Select fund, it means than whenever a copy of Backpacked is borrowed, I stand a good chance of making as much or even more than I would were it purchased — and my new reader pays nothing outside of their Prime membership fee. This improved sales effect has lasted about six weeks, at this stage, so I’m going to ride it out. That means no Smashwords for Backpacked, for now. Not yet. I make a large part of my income from my e-book sales, and so I can’t be completely experimental with my approach to it. So we’ll see. I’ll keep you updated.
My new book, Travelled, will be released in three e-book only parts this year before the full book is released in e-book and paperback just in time for Christmas, and I think KDP Select could benefit that, if it’s still going by the time it comes out. With three parts making up a whole book, I think it’d be a good idea to run the first part through a free promotion the week the second part comes out, to help snare new readers. So I don’t plan on abandoning KDP Select completely; I’ll still use sparingly as long as it works for me.
But my ultimate goal is, by this time next year, to have every book of mine available everywhere e-books can feasibly be sold. Let’s just give the other guys a chance—a proper chance—and see what happens.
What do you think? Do you have your e-books only on Kindle, or elsewhere as well? Any good reports from the land of full distribution? Or is KDP Select results keeping you sweet? Let me know in the comments…