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Why Most of My E-books Won’t be Sold on Amazon

Read Time: 4 min

Despite the Amazon craze (and Smashwords and all the other shiny new e-book selling tools and platforms), the majority of the e-books I release will never be sold through such marketplaces. That's because for years I've focused on writing "information product" e-books -- which are highly profitable, are what I usually refer to here as "traditional e-books," and are often ignored by today's e-book newcomers and those hyping e-books in the publishing industry.

Why I Say "No Thanks" to Amazon

Amazon isn't an ideal place to sell these types of e-books for a few reasons:

  • The overall market there is too generic.
  • Buyers in large marketplaces mistakenly compare niche markets based on price (if a novel sells for $.99 a $29 e-book won't even be considered by many there).
  • Information product e-books should be thought of as almost mini-courses  rather than e-books in a broader sense. Lumping them in with other types of e-books risks hurting sales as much as potentially helping them.
  • The best way to sell this type of e-book is by targeting a very specific niche audience and building your own reach or platform. I already have a significant audience in the niches where I publish most e-books, and you need more trust to sell these higher priced products. You do that better through your own site than through marketplaces like Amazon. That said, if an e-book author didn't build a platform first and they don't have significant reach in their niche yet, then Amazon might be a fine option for their early information product e-books.
  • There are already better marketplaces and distribution tools for information product e-books (E-junkie.com is my preference although ClickBank.com is another longstanding leader in e-book sales). This is especially true if you want to promote your e-book through an affiliate program as Amazon's affiliate program generally can't compare to those through these other types of services (you set the affiliate rates, attracting more prominent affiliates who sometimes only promote products for a larger cut than the minuscule one Amazon offers).
  • While some people dismiss these other e-book marketplaces because they don't like some of the hyped up marketing-oriented (read: "spammy") e-books sold there, I find there are far more crap titles released on Amazon and similar sites. That's less of a reason to go out and try these other options, and more a dismissal of a typical excuse for not doing so. If you're worried about who you associate with based on how you sell your e-books, stop. They each have their fair share of bad apples.

Where Amazon Has a Place

I don't try to hide the fact that I'm not a fan of Amazon's recent hijacking of the e-publishing industry. But that doesn't mean I dismiss them as a bad option all-around. There are certainly exceptions. For example:

  • When I release my first novel and my nonfiction book (not an "information product" type of book), Amazon will give me a little more reach in those relevant markets. That's because these books will appeal to a somewhat broader audience than the super-targeted information product varieties do.
  • I think these newer e-book marketplaces are a good option for those just getting their feet wet who don't yet have a strong reach in their target market.
  • If you plan to price competitively with the style of e-books sold there, the marketplaces make sense as a part of your marketing plan.
  • I'd say any book released in both print and e-book formats should probably be included there for sale -- letting buyers choose the versions they want rather than forcing them to visit two or three different sites to buy a copy of your book.
  • If you already have strong e-book sales independently, there's no harm in trying to increase those numbers even more by making the e-books available more widely. For higher priced information product e-books in extremely narrow niches, this isn't likely to skyrocket your numbers and may not be worth the time. But if you have a lower to mid-range information product e-book and it might appeal to new verticals you hadn't considered before, it might help you reach those folks without changing your general Web presence (like a freelance e-book targeting writers that might also sell well with freelance designers and other similar professionals).
  • Some information product e-books are given away for free as marketing tools. Personally I use these as a form of link bait -- offering something that attracts natural links. So it doesn't make sense to put them on Amazon. That would also be the case if you use the free e-books to solicit email list subscriptions. But if you give it away solely to get your name out there in your niche in an effort to attract business of another kind, it might make perfect sense to release your e-books for free on Amazon and other services. [Edit: You generally cannot release an e-book for free on Amazon without their permission. You can price only as low as 99 cents. See the link in the comments below for more info, or check out other options like the Apple store or Smashwords.]

Amazon has its place, but it's not the be all and end all in e-book sales. That's especially true when we talk about traditional e-books or "information product" e-books. Have you written e-books of this kind? How do you prefer to release them? If you haven't, have you considered it? What would be your goal out of that kind of e-book -- more promoting your business or yourself, or to make money directly since they're often priced higher due to the high value action-oriented information they generally contain? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

11 thoughts on “Why Most of My E-books Won’t be Sold on Amazon”

  1. You always have such well-thought-out, well-researched posts packed with things for me to think about! Love all the info here—thanks for writing this.

    Reply
    • Looks like you can’t, so sorry about that. I’ve seen them repeatedly mention they’re not including free e-books in stats they release (which are usually still a bit shady). So I knew they offered free ones. But apparently you’re not allowed to simply offer your e-book for free. 99 cents in the minimum you can choose, except for limited promotions that they apparently have to approve (and they don’t always).

      Here’s a link that’s worth a read. It’s an interesting story about struggling to get a free e-book released on the newer big marketplaces.

      http://www.juliesjournalonline.com/?p=1280

      Looks like Smashwords and Apple’s store would be better bets for that.

      Reply
      • Oh, interesting! I looked at the Kindle shop yesterday and found ones listed that were free, so they must have changed the policy at some point. Still, $0.99 isn’t going to stop most people. Thanks for the new link…I’m going to check it out now.

        Reply
          • Yeah, that sounded like a nightmare of a story. But sometimes you do have to keep on pushing to make things happen. When you run your own business like you do when you publish and sell your own books, if you take no for an answer every time someone says it, you’ll never get anywhere. Julie’s assertiveness about the issue was an admirable and inspirational story.

  2. Is there any reason you can’t do both?

    There are plenty of authors (and publishers) offering ebooks at higher prices there.

    The thing to remember about Amazon is that they are not really a retail company, they’re a search company which happens to make it’s money via retail. (Something like Google is a search company which makes its money via advertising.)

    Why shut off an additional revenue stream?

    Reply
    • A “be everywhere” approach is not usually the best marketing angle. Everywhere you choose to sell takes time and energy. Amazon is no exception. Every outlet can also influence your reputation, and it can impact other (potentially more effective) revenue streams. You should be doing a cost-benefit analysis for pretty much anything you do in business, and whether or not you market through Amazon is no exception.

      1. It does’t matter that other authors are selling at higher prices there. What matters is whether or not other authors in similar niches are selling at higher prices there, and more importantly whether or not they’re selling well there.

      2. Amazon buyers can be fickle. If you price higher (keep in mind that information product e-books usually sell for much higher prices than most sold on Amazon), you can get negative reviews from non-buyers just because they don’t like the price. They aren’t technically allowed to leave reviews if they haven’t read the book, but that doesn’t stop them. There have been all-out campaigns against books people dislike for one reason or another without actually reading them. You risk a hit to your reputation or a lot of wasted time getting Amazon to remove the reviews that aren’t allowed. Not usually worth it.

      3. With the information product e-books I’m talking about in this post, a lot of authors run affiliate programs. I don’t personally because I found that my reach in my niche was large enough that most still bought directly through me and not affiliates (and the affiliate companies charged me a fee for each of my own sales as well). But many others do because affiliate programs are one of the best ways to drastically increase sales of digital products — you get an all-out marketing team by cutting them in for a commission. If you have an affiliate program, selling on Amazon as well is a bad idea because it tells affiliates you plan to undercut them in a large marketplace — they don’t get sales credit if people buy there unless they promote it as an Amazon affiliate (and those commissions are drastically lower than your typical e-book affiliate program). If you can guarantee you’ll make more selling on Amazon than with your affiliates, it might make sense to switch. But if you have successful affiliate sales and a loyal affiliate network, not so much. You have to remember that for every big seller on Amazon there are plenty who don’t sell many e-books. Affiliate programs are a longer proven method, and they can work pretty well right from the start.

      Additional revenue streams are often a good thing. But that’s only the case if one revenue stream doesn’t negatively impact you in another way. Competing in the wrong marketplaces for attention can lead to a waste of time and money that could be put to better use pursuing other marketing avenues. That’s not to say Amazon is bad for all e-book authors. I think it’s a great option for fiction authors. But for nonfiction information product type e-books, better options have existed for a long time, and they continue to deliver. If you write for a very wide audience, Amazon can make sense. If you don’t have a large audience already in your niche, that kind of general marketplace can also make sense. But people don’t generally write information product e-books without having a solid platform and decent reach first, and they can keep a larger percentage of each sale or employ an affiliate team by going with other options. Combining will work for some. And it will hurt others. You have to evaluate the options for your own individual e-books to come up with the best strategy.

      Reply
  3. Great timing on this, Jenn. I was just about to research this for one of my e-offerings.

    I’d hesitated originally because it’s even a marketplace for reprinted articles, and I wasn’t sure how to compete with that. I think I’ll stick with what I’m doing. Seems to be working okay. 🙂

    Reply
    • Is this an e-offering I haven’t heard about yet? Oooh. Tell me! Tell me! Tell me! 😉

      Whatever you choose re: marketplaces, I’m sure you’ll find the right options for your product. I know you’re no stranger to understanding market research and figuring out the business side of things.

      Reply

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