It’s Not Just Amazon

Edit: Monday 21st May

The announcement by Waterstones – full details not yet clear – that it will sell Amazon’s Kindle has certainly taken the publishing industry by surprise. Given my findings below,I would have preferred they linked up with B&N’s Nook platform (they had been rumoured to be in discussions) as that would have brought some real choice into the UK e-reader market.

It will be interesting to see whether Waterstones will actually be able to brand the Kindle: for example, Waterstones Kindle (Powered by Amazon)

* * *

Original post continues…

 

Those of you who follow me on Twitter might have seen me waffling on about Amazon vs The Rest the other day.

In a nutshell: I’d been looking at my sales figures (or, more accurately, my download figures) and had noticed that I was shifting considerably more books through The Rest than I was via Amazon.

This, shall I say, surprised me a little. For many months, I’d looked at my Smashwords figures and seen numbers so tiny that they weren’t even worth thinking about. Then I realised I was looking at the wrong numbers. The amount of downloads directly via Smashwords are, indeed, tiny, but that’s not really what Smashwords is about. Smashwords is about getting your book on the other platforms: Nook, Kobo, Sony etc. And this is where is gets interesting…

Unlike Amazon, I can’t get near-real-time figures via Smashwords as the retailers only report back periodically, but I have reasonably accurate figures up to the end of April. The figures were so interesting I decided to make a chart – Amazon is in red, the others (Nook, Sony etc) are grouped together in blue. I’ve removed the actual numbers as it’s the overall trend which is interesting:

Interesting, right? Downloads for all other platforms have been (usually massively) higher than Amazon for all months since August (and I’m reasonably certain that’s because I didn’t publish to Smashwords until then) except January.

What happened in January? That was when The Long Second was available on Amazon free for 5 days (using their KDP Select programme).

So, how do we explain this?

Sadly it’s not all good news.

Some time ago ( don’t remember when, but it was somewhere between August and September last year) I read a blog post about how to sell more books by using Amazon’s Price-Match strategy. In a nutshell, it seems that if you sell your books on another platform cheaper than Amazon, then Amazon will price-match (if it becomes aware of it). If you give away your books, then Amazon will reduce their price to zero too. (This was before Select went live, and was the only was for Self-Publishers to get Amazon to set a zero price). The theory then was that if you give away enough free books, then people will start talking about your book and their friends will come along and pay for them (as recommendations). Of course, you earn no money on free sales, but you supposedly more than recoup that in other sales.

So, I tried it. To my knowledge, at no point did Amazon reduce the price of my books. Perhaps my sales with them are below a certain threshold whereby they don’t bother checking. After a while, I simply forgot about it – as far as I was concerned, it had failed. No matter, I hadn’t lost anything, or so I thought.

When Select came along, I decided to give it a go. One of the conditions is that Amazon has exclusivity on the Select titles, so I “unpublished” The Long Second and Broken from Smashwords. The exclusivity deal runs for 3 months (in my case mid-Jan to mid-April).

This is where we return to something I’d mentioned earlier – as far as I was concerned, Smashwords had been a waste of time, shipping virtually no copies of my books. Thus, unpublishing was no big deal. Of course, I can only tell Smashwords to do that, and they pass it on to the channel, who don’t always respond very quickly – having subsequently discovered the real download figures I realised that Smashwords had actually been quite valuable. I also discovered that most of the retailers were continuing to ship the books despite them being supposedly unavailable.

I did OK out of the Select promotion (as mentioned in other posts) and the knock-on effect of sales was reasonably positive (though it has completely tailed off now). When the 3 month exclusivity expired, I withdrew from Select and republished at Smashwords – this time setting an actual sale price.

And so here’s the nub: I may have shipped many more copies via Smashwords (Nook is far and away the biggest player here) but the vast majority have been free downloads. In fact, if you put those on a chart, this is what you get:

As you can see, I might have shipped twice as many copies via Smashwords/Nook/Sony, but I’ve actually sold nearly four times as many via Amazon than Smashwords et al.

It’s all terribly confusing. Figures for May to date – all actual paid-for sales – have Smashwords et al outselling Amazon by about 3:1 (these are still very small numbers, though – it would take many, many months of these figures before Smashwords catches up).

One other thing to remember – while Nook is the biggest of the Smashwords channels, it is very much a US only platform. If Nook were as well-established in the UK, how would that affect my sales? To compare: I sell roughly 3 books on Kindle UK to every one on Kindle US. If Nook were sold in the UK, would my sales be the same? If so, that would effectively put Amazon and Nook neck-and-neck.

A few more points of interest: Broken (book 2) has many more downloads on Nook than The Long Second (book 1). This might have been because they weren’t clearly labelled as part of a series (I’ve corrected that now). As a result, there are many more reviews/ratings of Broken than The Long Second on Nook. (A little annoyingly, B&N allows you to leave a star-rating without a review. I’ve just seen a 1-star rating on Broken, but without any explanation. I don’t object to the 1-star rating – you can’t please everybody – but it would have been nice to have known why).

There are, overall, more reviews on Nook than Amazon, too. Again, that’s probably in proportion to the higher number of downloads.

Finally, Adam’s  Game is still available on Nook etc. but not on Kindle. I’m still wondering whether to republish it on Kindle, albeit at a very low price. The difficulty is that it will probably appear at the top of any lists (if listed alphabetically) and I’d rather people came to it last…

In summary, then: I’m sticking with Smashwords and its many channels – and as a result I won’t be rejoining Kindle Select as I’d definitely be cutting of a potential revenue stream. And that would be very silly indeed. If you’re not publishing via Smashwords, you really should reconsider that decision.

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