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Penny C. Sansevieri

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Cutting Out Amazon.com: Does It Still Make Sense to Sell There?

Posted: 05/14/2012 12:05 pm

Over the years, I've had numerous conversations with authors who totally dislike the Amazon model of selling books. Mostly this refers to the percentage that Amazon takes in order to list and sell a book. With all the scuttlebutt around Amazon these days, this conversation has gotten even stronger. A lot of marketing and publicity experts have been encouraging an Amazon boycott, but does this really make sense for you?

In 1999, when the self-publishing wave was starting to build (thanks to print-on-demand technology) a then fairly unknown company began to emerge as an online resource to sell books. Back then, there were limited ways to sell online, and Barnes & Noble wasn't stocking these books in their stores, so Amazon became a salvation for many authors. As the online site grew in both demand and popularity Amazon did some things that were questionable at best. Who can forget the #amazonfail campaign? (If you aren't familiar with this, Google the hashtag and you'll see some old conversation around Amazon pulling certain books out of its system).

As an author, you are also a business person -- and if you're not thinking that way you should be. Your decisions should be based on fact, though arguably if you don't like Amazon or what it stands for by all means follow your heart on this one. Consider this though: it's hard enough to sell a book in this market. Not just because money is tight (because entertainment items never seem to suffer the same fate as other dispensable things), but because there's so much competition out there. If you take away a trusted sales source you could lose a customer; are you really willing to risk that?

That said, there's nothing wrong with offering your book on your website or ramping up ways to sell it direct to consumer. Doing this has much bigger benefits than just making more money: you can also build a mailing list of buyers. The process of doing this might take time, but here are some ideas that could help you move a sale from Amazon to your website.


  • Give options: First, you don't want to exclude Amazon altogether, so I suggest having buying options on your site. Though not too many because a confused mind won't make a choice. Offer Amazon and Barnes & Noble alongside your own e-commerce system.

  • Incentivize your consumer: When authors tell me that they want to pull more business away from Amazon, I often encourage them to give away a bonus, or some other freebie to incentivize consumers to buy from them, instead of from Amazon. You could also give them a deadline to get the freebie because adding a sense of urgency helps to capture "the buy," but I would suggest starting with an incentive item and see how it goes. On our site we offer two books for $20, which is hugely popular. One book is printed and needs to be shipped, the other is electronic and sends automatically.

  • Discounts and shipping: Here is where it gets tough to compete with Amazon, which gets very low pricing on books and discounts them heavily. Then there's the case of free shipping for Amazon Prime members or if you are willing to wait for your order. While I don't recommend discounting to the point of digging into your profit, you could offer free shipping. Consider doing this as a way to bring more people to your site. Studies show that consumers hate paying for shipping which is why the Amazon Prime service does so well.

  • Building your mailing list: If you aren't seeing a lot of sales on your site but still want to build your mailing list, I would suggest adding a page to the back of your book that would invite consumers to contact you when they've bought your book. The idea is that if they bought the book anywhere else, they can still come to you to get a freebie. They get the freebie, you get their contact info. It works every time.

  • e-Commerce system: If you're going to sell from your site, make sure that you have a good e-commerce system. Many sites, like Wordpress, offer e-commerce systems for free and candidly, we see more buyers from PayPal than from anything else. So you don't need an elaborate credit card system, just get an account at PayPal and have it linked to your store.

While it might seem like everyone in publishing is jumping on the "I hate Amazon" bandwagon, keep in mind that there are a lot of changes happening that may or may not affect your book. Educate yourself on the industry, but don't cut out a potentially strong sales tool because you never know what big opportunity you might miss. Several years ago we had an author who sent his book to O Magazine, not thinking they'd feature it -- it was just, well you know, wishful thinking. As it happened O Magazine did run a blurb on the book which was great, yes? The problem was the author chose to not have his book on Amazon and his e-commerce system on his site wasn't set up. Consequently he didn't sell a single book from the O Magazine mention. Lesson learned.

 
 
 

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