Author Topic: Amazon as your competitor  (Read 2537 times)  

Offline Bards and Sages (Julie)

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Amazon as your competitor
« on: June 11, 2018, 07:37:33 AM »
As I've mentioned in the past, my day job is in contract packaging. This gives me access to a lot of industry publications that color my perspective on business in general. Most of them are behind paywalls, so I can't link to them for discussion. One of the few available without a paywall is Shopper Marketing Magazine. You can subscribe to see if you qualify to get a free copy. I qualified as I run an actual publishing company. I don't know how readily they will approve indie authors. But it is a monthly magazine actually sent to you (I know, real paper! What are they thinking!)

https://shoppermarketingmag.com/subscribe

It is predominately focused on the display industry, but it often contains a lot of insights and research into consumer behaviors as well as what is happening with the major players. This months issue had a focus on Amazon. It was specifically talking about Amazons future with brick-and-mortar, such as the Whole Foods acquisition and some other potential acquisitions/plans. But it also discussed how manufacturers of products are starting to respond to Amazon. Not OTHER retailers, but manufacturers. Some of this might be relevant to publishers, as we are, technically, manufacturers. Just throwing out some of the key discussion points with my commentary.

Thinking of Amazon as a COMPETITOR, not just a Retailer
The big takeaway from the article is that manufacturers are thinking of Amazon not as a retail partner, but as a competitor. Amazons algorithms favor their own brands, and the number of Amazon brands is growing exponentially.

Store brands have been a growing trend over the last five years. Quite often, store brands were made in cooperation with brand name products (sometimes even in the same facility!). Originally just seen as cheap knock-offs of brand names, many store brands have become strong brands in their own right. But the difference between other retailers that have store brands and Amazon is that Amazon gives preference to their brands. While other chains continue to simply offer their store brands alongside other brands as a matter of giving consumers choices, Amazon gives preferential treatment to their brands.

This obviously makes manufacturer's nervous. In particular, this means Amazon uses its own algorithms to promote its own brands while minimizing other brands. And any action taken by a manufacturer to DIRECTLY impact Amazon algorithms provides Amazon with data on both your marketing strategy and your consumers. Data it can use later for itself.

For example. Amazon knows which websites you are using to promote your books, because it knows where all of its traffic is coming from. It can track patterns and decide to diminish the value of certain traffic for purposes of algorithms. So downloads created by a specific site might be weighted less if Amazon feels it is in the best interest of their system. We have seen conversations in this forum about the effectiveness of some promo sites waning recently. We should assume this is not a failure of the sites, but a change in Amazons algorithms when processing that traffic.

Manufacturers are beginning to take steps to limit the amount of data Amazon can access just as they would with any other competitor. Manufacturers are caught in the balancing act of making sure their products can be found on Amazon while not depending on Amazon search for people to find them.

Nimbleness is required
One benefit most indies have over traditional manufacturers is that you can make decisions quickly. You aren't bogged down with having to go through a corporate bureaucracy to make major changes to your business plan. You have much more freedom to adapt to changes in the marketplace than most larger companies. This is essential when dealing with Amazon, because their arbitrary, often bizarre changes aren't limited to just indies. Amazons willingness to change programs with little notice is of concern to large companies as much as it is us. Amazon has been making a series of demands of manufacturers on a variety of issues.

 I know personally Amazon has been making radical demands of a lot of consumer commodity companies regarding changes to their packaging, specifically to make it easier for Amazon to ship. Much like WalMarts demands a decade ago led to innovations in concentrated products and reduced packaging, Amazons demands today are changing the way manufacturers design both products and product packaging. The companies capable of meeting Amazons demands get warehouse space and the coveted Prime eligible label. Lots of companies are falling behind here.

In this regard, Amazon has actually be more helpful to indies than other manufacturers, as the KDP system guarantees compliance with Amazons goals.

Willingness to Fail
The companies that will survive dealing with Amazon over the next five years are the companies that are willing to fail.  By that, they talked about companies reexamining the demands of ROI to give themselves the flexibility to experiment with new marketing and advertising opportunities that are not Amazon-dependent. This is where companies have an advantage over indies, who are often dependent on their Amazon income to pay their bills. Large companies have the flexibility to occasionally fail and lose money in the short term in order to cushion themselves against long-term losses.

The one "bright side" to the entire thing is that it seems like corporate America is just as abused by Amazon as we are lol
« Last Edit: June 11, 2018, 09:31:42 AM by Bards and Sages (Julie) »

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Offline Cassie Leigh

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Re: Amazon as your competitor
« Reply #1 on: June 11, 2018, 08:25:15 AM »
Interesting. Thanks for sharing!


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Offline Mark Gardner

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Re: Amazon as your competitor
« Reply #2 on: June 11, 2018, 08:50:37 AM »
I haven't gotten the issue you refer to, but when it shows up, I'll definitely check it out.

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Re: Amazon as your competitor
« Reply #3 on: June 11, 2018, 08:55:31 AM »
That's fascinating. I guess with Amazon's publishing branch, they kind of are our competitors. I hate to think of it that way, though, because I don't want to compete with other authors.
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Re: Amazon as your competitor
« Reply #4 on: June 11, 2018, 09:04:53 AM »
I think one interesting dynamic is Amazon is treating authors as both customers and merchants. They're moving Also Boughts and Also Viewed to the bottom of the page and moved rows of ads to the top. They obviously believe they can make good money off of AMS. This will reward authors who spend thousands on AMS ads every month over those who can't afford to do so. Then Amazon of course makes 30% off of any sales and/or Kindle Unlimited subscriptions on top of the author "subscriptions" (what authors pay into the AMS system). So we are essentially customers, competitors, and "employees". It reminds me of how in the past workers were put in company housing and forced to use company tokens to buy their necessities at company stores (which usually had massive markups). Their rent was also deducted out of their paycheck before they received it.
« Last Edit: June 11, 2018, 09:08:07 AM by Saboth »

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Re: Amazon as your competitor
« Reply #5 on: June 11, 2018, 09:16:20 AM »
I think one interesting dynamic is Amazon is treating authors as both customers and merchants. They're moving Also Boughts and Also Viewed to the bottom of the page and moved rows of ads to the top. They obviously believe they can make good money off of AMS. This will reward authors who spend thousands on AMS ads every month over those who can't afford to do so. Then Amazon of course makes 30% off of any sales and/or Kindle Unlimited subscriptions on top of the author "subscriptions" (what authors pay into the AMS system). So we are essentially customers, competitors, and "employees". It reminds me of how in the past workers were put in company housing and forced to use company tokens to buy their necessities at company stores (which usually had massive markups). Their rent was also deducted out of their paycheck before they received it.

Amazon ought to scrap AMS. I've never used it and can't fathom how authors willingly slit their wrists for it. It's difficult to understand / use, promises nothing, and ultimately increases Amazon's cut of your sales for F-All. AKA what you used to get for free.

To be honest though I don't consider Amazon treating us as Customer OR Merchants. If they treated us with any centimeter of respect it wouldn't be a hop-skip-and-a-jump to getting human correspondence with matters regarding account / product statues. I honestly get better customer service when I order a pizza online.

Offline Bards and Sages (Julie)

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Re: Amazon as your competitor
« Reply #6 on: June 11, 2018, 09:36:12 AM »
That's fascinating. I guess with Amazon's publishing branch, they kind of are our competitors. I hate to think of it that way, though, because I don't want to compete with other authors.

Amazon depends on keeping indies thinking of themselves as "authors" and not "publishers." You AREN'T competing with other authors. That is like saying the designers I work with are "competing" with the designers at another contract packaging company. The competition is at the upper business levels between YOU and AMAZON, not YOU and Amazon's authors.

It is important to change indies to change their perspective from "author" to "publisher." From "employee/contractor" to "business owner." Authors write books. Publishers market and sell them.

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Offline Nic

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Re: Amazon as your competitor
« Reply #7 on: June 11, 2018, 10:02:29 AM »
I hate to think of it that way, though, because I don't want to compete with other authors.

I never understood this kind of sentiment. Of course authors (and publishers, too) compete with each other.

There is only a set amount of people regularly reading, usually specific genres, and if you believe population statistics this amount is dwindling. The amount of leisure time and the willingness to react to advertising, as well as the amount of money available for spending on books, are finite for the majority of people.

For a long time now it has been noticeable that the market has become saturated. This was less obvious in the larger genres with voracious audiences, such as romance, but it has been much more conspicuous in smaller genres and sub-genres. In such genres you notice when e.g. a traditional publisher with a lot of marketing clout pushes a few of their authors, because one's own sales stagnate or lessen. And you also notice when several authors become "big names" and attract a lot of readers to their books. I could name these top dogs for some of the small niches I work with, and even without looking at the various market resources I often am able to see that some of them have ad campaigns. Just by looking at my own sales curves.

I don't understand what is so horrifying about this fact.

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Re: Amazon as your competitor
« Reply #8 on: June 11, 2018, 10:25:39 AM »
Yes, we compete...but so do retail stores in a mall.  By working together, authors can bring in more readers and increase all of their sales. :)

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Offline kw3000

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Re: Amazon as your competitor
« Reply #9 on: June 11, 2018, 11:32:01 AM »
Would this explain why APub titles remain on the bestseller lists for so long, if not in perpetuity? Those are the titles we're really competing with, correct?

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Re: Amazon as your competitor
« Reply #10 on: June 11, 2018, 11:41:48 AM »
Would this explain why APub titles remain on the bestseller lists for so long, if not in perpetuity? Those are the titles we're really competing with, correct?

Well, look at Bookbub. This is a marketing resource which came into its own and achieved its current status via advertising indies. Without indie authors buying Bookbub ads and talking about it, I doubt that firm ever would have achieved any notoriety. Already half into its prime it selected authors. Authors who competed with each other for the ads. No amount of being supportive or chummy with each other gave an author having one and the author not having one the same amount of clout and sales. And now, when Bookbub achieved a size and renown which allows it to be really selective, they sell half their ads to trad publishers, and practically no paid sale ads to indies anymore.

So now, indie authors aren't just competing with each other for this resource, they also compete with trad published authors for ad slots, and even if they secure an ad, it is for a free book, not for a sale. That's not even remotely even odds. Elsewhere it's called predatory capitalism what is happening there.

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Re: Amazon as your competitor
« Reply #11 on: June 11, 2018, 12:44:39 PM »
I never understood this kind of sentiment. Of course authors (and publishers, too) compete with each other.


True, but without nuance, this idea can cause huge train wrecks (such as the Cockygate mess).

At everything but the very top, authors are competing with each other in a race, by analogy. They are not in a fight, but a race to get ahead of each other, and it's a never-ending marathon, not a sprint. Just like the back of a marathon, it's fairly easy to jump ahead of others by application of various techniques. It's also more helpful to cooperate the nearer you are to the bottom. Imagine a cooperative of 10 runners drafting behind each other to to all get ahead of the masses and into the middle of the pack.

The race is also up a mountain. Near the bottom, it's fairly flat. Near the top, it gets very steep, but rewarding.

Only at the very top does it turn into a king-of-the-hill fight instead of a race. Those in, say, the top 10 of their genre, are sometimes competing directly with each other. Even then, it's not necessary, if the niches don't overlap too strongly. A clean sweet romance author can coexist at the top with a steamy romance author--but get two "cocky" authors at the top and look out.

I think this is where Ms. Cocky made her mistake. She wasn't fighting for the top 10 with another Cocky author. She didn't need to start a fight. She was still in a race, but decided to quit running and start attacking other runners. This violated a lot of unwritten rules of the race, along with some actual written rules and legalities.

So whenever authors think about competing with other authors, it's important to realize that there's a sliding scale between collaboration/cooperation and direct competition. Direct competition is only asvisable at the very top, for very specific purposes, IMO. In all other cases, the competition is indirect, like a race.


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Offline Anarchist

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Re: Amazon as your competitor
« Reply #12 on: June 11, 2018, 01:03:01 PM »
True, but without nuance, this idea can cause huge train wrecks (such as the Cockygate mess).

At everything but the very top, authors are competing with each other in a race, by analogy. They are not in a fight, but a race to get ahead of each other, and it's a never-ending marathon, not a sprint. Just like the back of a marathon, it's fairly easy to jump ahead of others by application of various techniques. It's also more helpful to cooperate the nearer you are to the bottom. Imagine a cooperative of 10 runners drafting behind each other to to all get ahead of the masses and into the middle of the pack.

This reminds me of the "reality" show Survivor.

Early-game strategy involves forming alliances with select competitors. That gets you past the mid-game merge. It's in the endgame, when few players remain, that you start cutting your allies' throats.

And that's only because there's no other option.



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Re: Amazon as your competitor
« Reply #13 on: June 11, 2018, 01:12:25 PM »
I can accept that we are competing. Sort of. The problem I have is with the argument that this is a zero-sum game, that if I don't get the sale, YOU will get the sale. This market is just too large for that to make anything I do to 'beat' you worth doing.

For the rest, I have been dismissive of all arguments that Amazon is a 'monopoly' or whatever variant one wants to use to underline the point that 'zon is doing something that should be regulated/stopped/barred/whatever. However, I do think as long as Amazon is acting both as a distributor of books by other publishers and also as a publisher distributing its own books, a conflict exists that strikes me as deeply problematic.

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Re: Amazon as your competitor
« Reply #14 on: June 11, 2018, 02:27:33 PM »
True, but without nuance, this idea can cause huge train wrecks (such as the Cockygate mess).

At everything but the very top, authors are competing with each other in a race, by analogy. They are not in a fight, but a race to get ahead of each other, and it's a never-ending marathon, not a sprint. Just like the back of a marathon, it's fairly easy to jump ahead of others by application of various techniques. It's also more helpful to cooperate the nearer you are to the bottom. Imagine a cooperative of 10 runners drafting behind each other to to all get ahead of the masses and into the middle of the pack.

The race is also up a mountain. Near the bottom, it's fairly flat. Near the top, it gets very steep, but rewarding.

Only at the very top does it turn into a king-of-the-hill fight instead of a race. Those in, say, the top 10 of their genre, are sometimes competing directly with each other. Even then, it's not necessary, if the niches don't overlap too strongly. A clean sweet romance author can coexist at the top with a steamy romance author--but get two "cocky" authors at the top and look out.

I think this is where Ms. Cocky made her mistake. She wasn't fighting for the top 10 with another Cocky author. She didn't need to start a fight. She was still in a race, but decided to quit running and start attacking other runners. This violated a lot of unwritten rules of the race, along with some actual written rules and legalities.

So whenever authors think about competing with other authors, it's important to realize that there's a sliding scale between collaboration/cooperation and direct competition. Direct competition is only asvisable at the very top, for very specific purposes, IMO. In all other cases, the competition is indirect, like a race.

I think this is a brilliant comparison. Makes a lot of sense.

This reminds me of the "reality" show Survivor.

Early-game strategy involves forming alliances with select competitors. That gets you past the mid-game merge. It's in the endgame, when few players remain, that you start cutting your allies' throats.

And that's only because there's no other option.


Yep, agree completely.

However, I do think as long as Amazon is acting both as a distributor of books by other publishers and also as a publisher distributing its own books, a conflict exists that strikes me as deeply problematic.

Yes, I agree with this as well. I could see issues pertaining to this that involve their APub titles in relation to their bestseller lists, etc. Which is not to say I absolutely believe they game the lists to artificially boost the ranks of their own titles, more that the potential is there for such an arrangement to exist. I prefer thinking that the APub books are where they are on 'x' lists based on their own merits. I'm hoping that's the case anyway.

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Re: Amazon as your competitor
« Reply #15 on: June 11, 2018, 02:49:40 PM »
Nice analysis, Julie. Makes me start thinking, which is always a dangerous thing.

To me, selling books isn't like other products. It's not like a person is only going to buy one book, ever, so the author/publisher is in a cut throat race. If I buy Gene's book, there's nothing to stop me from buying David's, for example. (Except I'm broke, so I may only be able to buy one this month, but I could buy the other next month.) If I'm in the market for a diamond necklace, then the jewelry stores are going to be competing like dogs after a t-bone, because it's likely that's the only diamond necklace I'm ever going to buy, and once it's done, it's done.
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Re: Amazon as your competitor
« Reply #16 on: June 11, 2018, 04:03:25 PM »
I read an interesting book a while back about capitalism (which I forget the title of, perhaps The Corporation by Joel Bakan but don't quote me) and there was the story of a pickle producer entering a deal with Walmart. Walmart wants massive jars of pickles at rock-bottom prices. So the producer enters the deal and then Walmart starts to squeeze once it is running.

Jeff saying "your profit margin is my opportunity" is common across large businesses.

In the end the poor pickle manufacturer can't keep up, can't do the deal, has become sorta addicted or needs the cash flow, has neglected other outlets that provide a better ROI and then they close down.

To Amazon, we are juicy little oranges to be squeezed. Our profit margin is Jeff's opportunity. I have a novel published way back in the day that cleared $50K in short order. Nowadays the same novel would struggle to hit $20K. It's not because it's a worse novel or the market has changed or reader tastes have changed... it's literally the algorithm giveth and the algorithm taketh.

So where did that other $30K go? It went into a lower page read rate where Amazon keeps all the subscription money and gives me a percentage of a fixed pool. It went into a system that appears to not record or track page reads accurately. It went into a page rate that isn't adjusted for inflation so the $0.0046 today is worth less in real dollars than the $0.0046 from two years ago (this fact alone means all of us are poorer on a per page rate over time and unless rates are adjusted in line with inflation, Jeff can just wait fifteen years and eat our profit wholesale through inflation).

We need to not be the pickle maker. The heroin of KU isn't good in the long run, not for us and not for the ecosystem.

The term, ecosystem, really is a relevant one. Doing what is personally good for us in the short term can harm the ecosystem and harm us significantly in the long term. I've been in KU and seen that sugar hit of high page reads. I've also seen the rapid drop when you don't treadmill out another release.

Amazon is a predator in many ways. They want our profit margin and they've been very successful at taking it. Audiobook royalties cut because there are no significant competitors. New subscription programs that coincidentally reduce profit again. The proposed variable pricing model Amazon are testing... does anyone seriously believe it will result in higher profits for authors?

As authors I think we very much need to be aware of the ecosystem. We need to behave with a view on the long term.

And we need to hope that Apple and GooglePlay get decent subscription and audiobook programs up and running. Apple, if you're reading we need 70% royalties on Audio! GooglePlay, you just need to beat Amazon's crappy per page rate and provide better reporting!

It's very important to remember that Amazon is not our friend. They are out directly to take money from your pocket.

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Re: Amazon as your competitor
« Reply #17 on: June 11, 2018, 05:48:49 PM »

Thinking of Amazon as a COMPETITOR, not just a Retailer
The big takeaway from the article is that manufacturers are thinking of Amazon not as a retail partner, but as a competitor. Amazons algorithms favor their own brands, and the number of Amazon brands is growing exponentially.

...Amazon gives preference to their brands. While other chains continue to simply offer their store brands alongside other brands as a matter of giving consumers choices, Amazon gives preferential treatment to their brands.

This obviously makes manufacturer's nervous. In particular, this means Amazon uses its own algorithms to promote its own brands while minimizing other brands.

For example. Amazon knows which websites you are using to promote your books, because it knows where all of its traffic is coming from. It can track patterns and decide to diminish the value of certain traffic for purposes of algorithms. So downloads created by a specific site might be weighted less if Amazon feels it is in the best interest of their system. We have seen conversations in this forum about the effectiveness of some promo sites waning recently. We should assume this is not a failure of the sites, but a change in Amazons algorithms when processing that traffic.


I don't think Amazon was ever a retail partner of indies. We signed a contract with them on their terms, not ours. There was no negotiation involved. They have total control over the product we supply to their website--books--in terms of visibility and availability. Our only choice is whether or not to put our books in KU. This cannot change unless all authors remove their books from KU, which is a key marketing tool Amazon uses for Prime. This will not happen.

Amazon uses its algorithms to make the books from their imprints--Lake Union, Thomas & Mercer, Montlake Romances--bestsellers. They give their books maximum visibility and tremendous marketing effort over an extended period of time. There is no promo site, including BookBub, that can do this for an indie.

Your point about Amazon's impact on the waning effectiveness of some promo sites is interesting.
« Last Edit: June 11, 2018, 05:57:53 PM by Marian »

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Re: Amazon as your competitor
« Reply #18 on: June 11, 2018, 06:16:47 PM »
To me, selling books isn't like other products. It's not like a person is only going to buy one book, ever, so the author/publisher is in a cut throat race. If I buy Gene's book, there's nothing to stop me from buying David's, for example.

This!  I do not write particularly fast and I don't do this full time, so I encourage people to read other authors all the time.  I really think it's more of a journey than a race up the mountain.  All good fantasy/fairytales show a group of allies working together to complete their quest.  The ones going out on their own often fail.  It's nice to know a "Sam" will be there for you, should you fall on your way up the mountain.  8)

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Re: Amazon as your competitor
« Reply #19 on: June 11, 2018, 06:38:34 PM »
Competition is predicated on there being only a few slots at the top. Gold, Silver and Copper for an analogy. This is how you achieve excellence by beating those that are less skilled than you are and reaching the top of your field. The very word competition means rivalry for supremacy. For many things this may work but for the arts it's an unworkable paradigm.

I can buy book A from one author and book B from another. Who won? They both got the same amount of money. Authors are never in competition with each other because we aren't selling a commodity that spoils. We sell to everyone and if a buyer wants to buy your book before mine it doesn't matter because we both got paid. There is no loss. In fact the success of your book in my genre helps me by bringing more readers to it. I don't care if a reader has read a thousand books before he gets to mine ... as long as he does get to mine. And that he read mine last doesn't mean he enjoyed it any less than the first book he read.

The lists on Amazon and other places create the illusion that we are competing by rating us from 1 to 100 but that doesn't make it the truth. They have a vested interest in these lists which they market to readers as being more worthy than word of mouth. Even the lists don't work in the competition paradigm because a person who reads 1 will probably get to a 100 eventually if they like the genre. Again, the commodity we sell doesn't get outdated or spoil, it lasts for as long as we want to put it out there and cost's nothing for us to keep it out there. For a competition to exist we'd have to be losing something and we just aren't.

No author, or artist for that matter is competing with any other artist except by choice in select environments. And even those places are set up by people who have an interest in pitting us against each other. This view of looking for the edge to get ahead is destructive to both the work we do and pointless, I love that people are buying your books. It creates new readers, more kindle accounts, allows me to mine you for information, and provides the hope to keep going. Because the readers you create won't just read your book ... they will go on to read other books.

If my book is good, and I promote well, it will sell. You selling your books doesn't change that one bit. You can't steal even one buy from someone else, all you can do is delay it.
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Offline Nic

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Re: Amazon as your competitor
« Reply #20 on: June 11, 2018, 07:03:27 PM »
True, but without nuance, this idea can cause huge train wrecks (such as the Cockygate mess).

The world, the real world, comes in all shades. I thought we were talking among adults, and not people inherently stuck in their teen age. So this is a non-argument to me. As an adult, I am of course aware of the various ways and manners to deal with competition. As an educated person I can make an educated decision and act accordingly. None of this perforce means that, as a competitor, I have to behave like an a*sehole. That seems to be the general assumption, however. Which probably explains the refusal to be aware of the fact that we all are competing.

I can accept that we are competing. Sort of. The problem I have is with the argument that this is a zero-sum game, that if I don't get the sale, YOU will get the sale. This market is just too large for that to make anything I do to 'beat' you worth doing.

I think that depends on where in the pond you are swimming. Where I paddle, in particular genres and sub-genres, I know every other producing indie author by name and have read them. I also know every trad author in those little puddles. The readership for these books is finite and the amount of those coming into it and those who drop the habit are roughly equal. That means direct competition, which - as I happen to think in these instances - isn't even a bad thing. It makes for better writing.

So no, I do not agree with you. If you apply what you say to generic "writing" and "writers" who are able to freely switch genres without losing quality of writing and appeal to readers, I'd agree up to a limit. But I doubt there are a lot of generic authors out there, maybe because I find myself incapable of writing satisfying stories in other fields but those I already am in.

By the way, I absolutely agree with the notion that Amazon is a competitor, and at the very least an extremely wily business partner not to be completely trusted.

Offline sela

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Re: Amazon as your competitor
« Reply #21 on: June 11, 2018, 07:18:07 PM »
Well, look at Bookbub. This is a marketing resource which came into its own and achieved its current status via advertising indies. Without indie authors buying Bookbub ads and talking about it, I doubt that firm ever would have achieved any notoriety. Already half into its prime it selected authors. Authors who competed with each other for the ads. No amount of being supportive or chummy with each other gave an author having one and the author not having one the same amount of clout and sales. And now, when Bookbub achieved a size and renown which allows it to be really selective, they sell half their ads to trad publishers, and practically no paid sale ads to indies anymore.

So now, indie authors aren't just competing with each other for this resource, they also compete with trad published authors for ad slots, and even if they secure an ad, it is for a free book, not for a sale. That's not even remotely even odds. Elsewhere it's called predatory capitalism what is happening there.

Hmmm. I have more paid promos on Bookbub than free. 9 of the last 12 Bookbub promos were 99c promos of standalone books or collections. In fact, I would prefer free promos because I write in series, but they seem to want my 99c book promos.

*shrug*

But I agree we do compete with other authors but luckily, readers read faster than most of us (outside of Amanda!) can write and publish.

Offline Nic

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Re: Amazon as your competitor
« Reply #22 on: June 11, 2018, 07:41:53 PM »
Competition is predicated on there being only a few slots at the top. Gold, Silver and Copper for an analogy. This is how you achieve excellence by beating those that are less skilled than you are and reaching the top of your field. The very word competition means rivalry for supremacy. For many things this may work but for the arts it's an unworkable paradigm.

That is definitely not the kind of competition existing in such fields as ours. We aren't talking about some athletics championship with exactly three placed winners.

Instead we are talking about the competition between Burger King, MacDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken and other fast food chains for example. Or the competition existing between the pizza restaurants in any given town. Or between the dry cleaners of a quarter. Or the hotels in a county.

Even though obviously some do not notice that the markets of these competitors are finite, because the numbers of the potential customers are large or even huge, the markets still are finite. Competition in these cases doesn't mean coming in as the first in a sprint race or the third in a chess championship. It means securing and holding a market share.

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I can buy book A from one author and book B from another. Who won? They both got the same amount of money. Authors are never in competition with each other because we aren't selling a commodity that spoils.

This is faulty thinking on two counts. Firstly, can you afford to buy book C and D? Or X, Y and Z? Is your income - with which you buy these books - endless? Few people are so rich that they can buy the entire shop, and then can move on and buy the content of all other shops out there. However, this is what you are suggesting is the case. Secondly, the average human being has but a very limited amount of free time in their lives. I for example can measure it in half hours per day. At most. I am a slow reader these days, so that means that I manage to read maybe 5 or 6 books a month. Not more. In my case I can afford to buy all these 5-6 books, but there are lots of people who like to read but can't afford to buy more than one per month.

Quote
Authors are never in competition with each other because we aren't selling a commodity that spoils. We sell to everyone and if a buyer wants to buy your book before mine it doesn't matter because we both got paid. There is no loss. In fact the success of your book in my genre helps me by bringing more readers to it. I don't care if a reader has read a thousand books before he gets to mine ... as long as he does get to mine. And that he read mine last doesn't mean he enjoyed it any less than the first book he read.

Of course genre books spoil. That is the very nature of the game or rather of formula fiction. Few people will these days read the quite dated romances and erotica of the 1950s or 1980s. Even the market for those all over "Fifty Shades" now has dwindled considerably. There aren't just trends either, there also is basic taste and acceptance which changes faster than any back catalogue can adapt.

And a reader with finite time and finite money on their bank account will only read a finite amount of books. It is not a logical given that they will plow through a thousand books (if they buy one book per month, that means 83 years) before - at the end of their lives and long after the content of your book ceased to make sense - they will get to yours. Agreed, that is as hypocritical as it is hypothetical, but that's how finite markets work.

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Again, the commodity we sell doesn't get outdated or spoil, it lasts for as long as we want to put it out there and cost's nothing for us to keep it out there. For a competition to exist we'd have to be losing something and we just aren't.

I don't know the genre you write in, but nothing gets outdated as fast as romance or erotica for instance. We are mostly talking about pulp fiction here, and even classics become outdated within a few decades.

Quote
No author, or artist for that matter is competing with any other artist except by choice in select environments. And even those places are set up by people who have an interest in pitting us against each other.

As long as one doesn't have to earn money with one's art, I agree with this statement. The moment we talk about artists financing their lives? Not anymore.

Quote
If my book is good, and I promote well, it will sell. You selling your books doesn't change that one bit. You can't steal even one buy from someone else, all you can do is delay it.

All the recent threads about authors losing their levels of income say differently. This is a direct effect of competition and the numbers of competitors having poured into indie publishing.

Offline PhoenixS

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Re: Amazon as your competitor
« Reply #23 on: June 11, 2018, 07:46:38 PM »
The lists on Amazon and other places create the illusion that we are competing by rating us from 1 to 100 but that doesn't make it the truth. They have a vested interest in these lists which they market to readers as being more worthy than word of mouth. Even the lists don't work in the competition paradigm because a person who reads 1 will probably get to a 100 eventually if they like the genre. Again, the commodity we sell doesn't get outdated or spoil, it lasts for as long as we want to put it out there and cost's nothing for us to keep it out there. For a competition to exist we'd have to be losing something and we just aren't.

I would say that the author with a book in the #101 slot might have a different take on that.

Of course we're in competition -- for visibility and discoverability.

No, book selling isn't a zero sum game, but every customer out there has finite funds and/or time. If someone buys 99 books in your genre and passes over yours because it's sitting at #100, you've still lost that customer, whether because of packaging, quality, price, visibility or Jupiter aligning with Mars. But maybe, if you'd been sitting at #50, and the customer ran across your book before someone else's, they would have bought your book instead.

Still, competing doesn't mean you have to be cut-throat. Collaboration can lift all the collaborators in that 2+2=5 kind of way, with shared costs equaling greater returns.

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So downloads created by a specific site might be weighted less if Amazon feels it is in the best interest of their system.

Yep. And Amazon has been excluding BookBub featured books -- both sales and downloads -- from the poplist algos for the past 4+ years.

I prefer thinking that the APub books are where they are on 'x' lists based on their own merits. I'm hoping that's the case anyway.

Awww, that's such a sweet thought...

Offline Nic

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Re: Amazon as your competitor
« Reply #24 on: June 11, 2018, 07:48:48 PM »
Hmmm. I have more paid promos on Bookbub than free. 9 of the last 12 Bookbub promos were 99c promos of standalone books or collections. In fact, I would prefer free promos because I write in series, but they seem to want my 99c book promos.

In which case you are quite lucky. Not everyone is, and going by who and what I see in their emails, and by who moans about availability here, it is an exception rather than a rule.

Quote
But I agree we do compete with other authors but luckily, readers read faster than most of us (outside of Amanda!) can write and publish.

As I said directly above, that doesn't change the finite quality of the market we are talking about. Replace books read with hamburgers eaten and it becomes instantly clear. Both aren't that different regarding the basic economic market behaviour.

Offline Nic

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Re: Amazon as your competitor
« Reply #25 on: June 11, 2018, 07:51:45 PM »
Still, competing doesn't mean you have to be cut-throat. Collaboration can lift all the collaborators in that 2+2=5 kind of way, with shared costs equaling greater returns.

Yes, that automatic assumption keeps stumping me. It must be some cultural difference.

Offline sela

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Re: Amazon as your competitor
« Reply #26 on: June 11, 2018, 08:07:24 PM »
In which case you are quite lucky. Not everyone is, and going by who and what I see in their emails, and by who moans about availability here, it is an exception rather than a rule.

As I said directly above, that doesn't change the finite quality of the market we are talking about. Replace books read with hamburgers eaten and it becomes instantly clear. Both aren't that different regarding the basic economic market behaviour.

I completely agree. We are now competing with A Pubs and for those of us who are in wide distribution, we are competing with the added visibility of KU books. None of us know precisely how much of an extra push A Pub books get, or exactly how KU works, or how Amazon does anything, pretty much.

So yeah. We are competing. We compete in narrow niches though. I don't compete with authors in other genres. In fact, I often cooperate with authors in my own genre in terms of cross-promo. I always push my fellow authors who write books that are similar to mine, both because I know my readers are voracious and I can't keep them fed and because I like my books to be associated with those of other authors who are writing books like mine. It's good for the also-boughts. I try to avoid releasing books on days when the really big name authors release because I know they suck up all the oxygen.

I don't have to be ruthless or nasty. In fact, I see those who are doing better than me as motivational. I strive to do better. I look at how they do business and how they approach things and see what I can learn from them.

Competition isn't a bad thing per se. It's a fact of life in business. And this is a business!
« Last Edit: June 11, 2018, 08:09:01 PM by sela »

Offline jb1111

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Re: Amazon as your competitor
« Reply #27 on: June 11, 2018, 08:31:07 PM »
Interesting article, however I think that whatever Amazon is doing in book publishing may be a bit different than what the company is doing with other products.

They don't have their own book 'brand' or imprint -- at least none that I've seen.  They may have done some things that make it more difficult for some writers, like what is happening with KU and AMS or whatever, but still, it's a good deal for indie publishers. You write a book and come up with a cover -- they provide the worldwide venue, along with bookkeeping (tracking your sales data for you) and allowing for some flexibility in your marketing.

Without Amazon, there would be no indie publishing to speak of. The other companies followed suit after Amazon blazed the trail.

As for other authors, I see them as competitors to a certain extent -- if they are in my genre. But the biggest competitor really is one's self.

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Re: Amazon as your competitor
« Reply #28 on: June 11, 2018, 08:34:11 PM »
Interesting article, however I think that whatever Amazon is doing in book publishing may be a bit different than what the company is doing with other products.

They don't have their own book 'brand' or imprint -- at least none that I've seen.

Say what?

They have quite a few of their own imprints. Lake Union, for one.

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Offline Betsy the Quilter

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Re: Amazon as your competitor
« Reply #29 on: June 11, 2018, 08:43:22 PM »
And Montlake... 

A number of KB members are published by Amazon's imprints.

For the list of  imprints:

https://amazonpublishing.amazon.com
« Last Edit: June 11, 2018, 08:45:29 PM by Betsy the Quilter »
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Offline jb1111

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Re: Amazon as your competitor
« Reply #30 on: June 12, 2018, 12:45:52 AM »
Say what?

They have quite a few of their own imprints. Lake Union, for one.

OK, so I stand corrected. Point taken.

Does that make the company your competition, though?

Edit to Add:
Technically, I suppose they are, and their authors are probably competition for some here. But not for every author in every genre, unless a huge percentage of readers cross genres. From a personal perspective, I see more positive right now in being on Amazon than negative from their imprints, or their tactics (especially as I'm not on KU).
« Last Edit: June 12, 2018, 12:56:58 AM by jb1111 »

Offline TwistedTales

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Re: Amazon as your competitor
« Reply #31 on: June 12, 2018, 01:28:58 AM »
It's true Amazon favor their brands over others, which means having them gain so much power over the consumer market will have a negative knock-on effect to suppliers inside and outside of their ecosystem.

I suspect they're finding the book markets a bit harder to take control of because there is a degree of artistic endeavor. It's only a degree though, a lot of books are commodity in that the reader is wanting a familiar experience, so they actively look for the same story. That reader is a high consumer, which means they generally don't want to (or can't afford to) pay much for their reading habit. In theory, if Amazon swept enough of those readers into a subscription pool, then by volume alone they could be profitable, but that assumes the payouts to authors are legit, which is how we end up with their current process of randomly cutting page reads. The subscription logic only works if the fee and payment calculations are valid, otherwise I'm sure it's not profitable.

However, that type of reader is only one type and, although they probably consume the highest number of books, they pay the least for them, which makes them a low margin business. There is another market where the reader chooses their books based on a different set of criteria. They're not necessarily looking for a copycat storyline and may well pay more to get what they're looking for. Overall, those readers might read less books, but the margin on every book sold is a lot higher than what the subscription book earns. This is why declaring Amazon own 80% of the book market makes no sense -- for example: owning 80% of a 1% profit margin business isn't worth as much as owning 20% of a 80% profit margin business.

When you start assessing whether Amazon are a competitor, you need to work out what market you're talking about. In the subscription model, I'd say Amazon aren't much of a competitor for anyone in KU for a variety of reasons, but most obviously the sheer volume of churn means there is plenty of room for everyone inside it. The content mills publishing 20, 50, 100, 1,000 books a month are probably the greatest threat to that model and Amazon come second, but that's only because they keep screwing with author payments.

Take a look at the higher margin market and you have so many competitors it's hard to see Amazon imprints as the worst of it. By making a borrow = a sale, Amazon pitch the higher margin market against the subscription market, effectively burying our books on their site. I think that does more damage than Amazon imprints ever could. In that one action, they pitch us up against the content mills as well. Analyze that fight and we don't win, which makes Amazon a secondary site not worth marketing. The other competitors in the high margin market are the TPs and other sale only indies. On the other platforms (not Amazon), its a fair fight that comes down to visibility, pricing, packaging, quality, loyalty, in other words, nothing outside of typical good product design, packaging, management and marketing.

The noise in this business is mostly around the subscription model and how Amazon abuse it to dominate their own site, but they've done such a thorough job of screwing anyone not in KU that they have become irrelevant to authors not in KU. I believe they are now tearing apart authors in KU desperately trying to make their subscription model profitable, because that's what the page cuts will be about.

My interpretation of Amazon's page cuts is they have tantamount confessed that KU doesn't work (which means it does not make profit because that's all they care about) and they don't know how to fix it. Now they've unleashed some mad logic that will result in a solid reduction in page reads to get their escalating costs under apparent control. It's a sloppy solution to say the least, but what I've come to expect from Amazon. They're not the best run outfit by a long distance.

Offline Mercia McMahon

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Re: Amazon as your competitor
« Reply #32 on: June 12, 2018, 04:13:18 AM »
A few years back I got very negative feedback when a website not written in the active voice choose to promote a website article I wrote on how Amazon used its free before its published book promotion to let its own books dominate the bestseller lists. Since then non-Prime can buy the books for 99p. I have also contended that Kindle Unlimited will never disappear as its primary purpose is the rank per borrow boost to legitimate the high ranking of Amazon's own books.

This does not stop me reading the Kindle First free books (although they often sit unread for months or years). I have had a couple of gems in  600 Days of Edward and Never Stop Walking: A Memoir of Finding Home Across the World. I just wish the Amazon Crossing translators were not so poor, although Never Stop Walking was very well translated so maybe things are on the up in that department.


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Re: Amazon as your competitor
« Reply #33 on: June 12, 2018, 04:21:47 AM »
It's worth pointing out that as indies, we're really only looking at--and getting feedback from--a part of the marketplace. It's a larger part of the marketplace than most of the official numbers would suggest, but it's certainly not the majority. Traditional publishing is still a real thing, and it's still bigger than the indies. We're not looking at the whole picture.

Offline Bards and Sages (Julie)

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Re: Amazon as your competitor
« Reply #34 on: June 12, 2018, 06:35:45 AM »
It's worth pointing out that as indies, we're really only looking at--and getting feedback from--a part of the marketplace. It's a larger part of the marketplace than most of the official numbers would suggest, but it's certainly not the majority. Traditional publishing is still a real thing, and it's still bigger than the indies. We're not looking at the whole picture.

One of the things large houses are doing is going out and creating new markets. One of the big things right now are the drug store chains. They are working with the large chains to provide regionalized book selections for their demographics. While indies are "thinking bigger" insofar as high volume/low margin, many large publishers are thinking "smaller:" lower volume but higher margins. Drug stores have incredible small "shelf space" for books, but they are stocking books specific to their demographics. CVS is looking at publishers and saying "What do you have in inspirational women's lit" or "what is in your catalog for Hispanic readers?" or "What are you offering in men's adventure?"

That type of thinking is part what the article was talking about. Taking changes. Being nimble. Creating new opportunities that may have a smaller initial ROI but offer long-term stability.

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Offline notjohn

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Re: Amazon as your competitor
« Reply #35 on: June 12, 2018, 07:49:19 AM »
I think one interesting dynamic is Amazon is treating authors as both customers and merchants. They're moving Also Boughts and Also Viewed to the bottom of the page and moved rows of ads to the top. They obviously believe they can make good money off of AMS. This will reward authors who spend thousands on AMS ads every month over those who can't afford to do so.

I think it's much more likely to reward Amazon!

For an example of Amazon's putting its thumb on the scales, think of how it ranks those freebies it offers Prime subscribers every month -- our choice of five books, all published by an Amazon imprint. There are a hundred million of us. If one-tenth of us take the bait (I sometimes do), that's ten million freebies a month, or an average of two million per book. But guess what? These are reckoned as sales!

Guess which five Kindle editions are most likely to show up on Amazon's best-seller list each month?
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Offline ZanaHart

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Re: Amazon as your competitor
« Reply #36 on: June 12, 2018, 07:51:00 AM »
...A number of KB members are published by Amazon's imprints.

For the list of  imprints:

https://amazonpublishing.amazon.com

Holy COW! That page opened my eyes.

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Offline RedFoxUF

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Re: Amazon as your competitor
« Reply #37 on: June 12, 2018, 08:17:54 AM »
Great thread. I reached this conclusion sometime last year. Amazon is not forever. For a while they were a benevolent dictator while they gathered up market share. Now that they own the market...all bets are off.

There are anti-trust rumblings from several places (the media, congress reps) about Amazon, so seeing even more businesses struggle with the manipulation of product discovery just means those rumblings will get louder. Eventually they will reach a tipping point. I'm not sure how long it will take, and certainly the political climate affects the timing, but I fully expect some kind of government legal action in the next 5 years or so.

The wise author will be well diversified before that point imo.

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Re: Amazon as your competitor
« Reply #38 on: June 12, 2018, 11:19:07 AM »
I think it's much more likely to reward Amazon!

For an example of Amazon's putting its thumb on the scales, think of how it ranks those freebies it offers Prime subscribers every month -- our choice of five books, all published by an Amazon imprint. There are a hundred million of us. If one-tenth of us take the bait (I sometimes do), that's ten million freebies a month, or an average of two million per book. But guess what? These are reckoned as sales!

Guess which five Kindle editions are most likely to show up on Amazon's best-seller list each month?

Exactly!

Offline MissingAlaska

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Re: Amazon as your competitor
« Reply #39 on: June 12, 2018, 12:13:40 PM »
But I agree we do compete with other authors but luckily, readers read faster than most of us (outside of Amanda!) can write and publish.

I have to agree. Rather than competing with each other, I see the situation as conscientious, professional authors (who don't write enough books to satisfy demand) competing poorly against 1) an ecosystem that squeezes every nickel and dime, and, 2) scammers.

I hear from readers all the time that they can't find GOOD books in their preferred genres. They go to Amazon and get lost amidst page-stuffed dreck, books in the wrong categories, poorly edited vanity books, and other get-rich-quick-schemes. Too often, readers get burned by slick covers and inflated reviews only to find crap within the pages.  As a result, many limit their searches to only books by trade publishers. Others stick to paperback copies from their local bookstore (hence the resurgence of small local retailers making personal recommendations).

As Indies, maybe we fight this by recommending GOOD books to our readers. Maybe each of us needs to post carefully-curated personal-favorites lists of indie novels on our websites (or, if allowed, at the back of our books)? This could be our own personal also-boughts (If you like my book, why don't you try this one...).  If an author loves another indie's book, why not share that love? Such recommendations would help visibility for everyone.

Admittedly, our lists have to be honest. They have to be based on the love of a good book versus the love of the almighty dollar (e.g. no review trading, no posting books you've never read just to trade links).

Maybe that is the way for all of us to finally break the shackles of KU/Bookbub/Facebook/AMS and go wide -- enabling a healthier ecosystem for readers and writers alike?


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Offline kw3000

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Re: Amazon as your competitor
« Reply #40 on: June 12, 2018, 12:23:56 PM »
Great thread. I reached this conclusion sometime last year. Amazon is not forever. For a while they were a benevolent dictator while they gathered up market share. Now that they own the market...all bets are off.

There are anti-trust rumblings from several places (the media, congress reps) about Amazon, so seeing even more businesses struggle with the manipulation of product discovery just means those rumblings will get louder. Eventually they will reach a tipping point. I'm not sure how long it will take, and certainly the political climate affects the timing, but I fully expect some kind of government legal action in the next 5 years or so.

The wise author will be well diversified before that point imo.

This would play against the revolving door between corporations and those tasked with regulating them. Government comprises mainly of lawyers. How likely are any of them to threaten a company keeping a seat warm for them in their legal department once their term in the public service is up, a position that includes a high six or seven figure salary and stock options to boot?

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Re: Amazon as your competitor
« Reply #41 on: June 12, 2018, 12:32:39 PM »
As Indies, maybe we fight this by recommending GOOD books to our readers. Maybe each of us needs to post carefully-curated personal-favorites lists of indie novels on our websites (or, if allowed, at the back of our books)? This could be our own personal also-boughts (If you like my book, why don't you try this one...).  If an author loves another indie's book, why not share that love?

This is what I'm planning to do, with a mention but not a link in the back of each of my books to go to the easy-to-type homepage of my author site. There I've started two sections of other books, one each in my two genres. This comes naturally to me, with a background as a librarian in public libraries. Nothing up yet, waiting till I have more substance. And I will use Amazon affiliate links.
« Last Edit: June 12, 2018, 12:35:08 PM by ZanaHart »

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Re: Amazon as your competitor
« Reply #42 on: June 13, 2018, 01:58:54 AM »
I think it's much more likely to reward Amazon!

For an example of Amazon's putting its thumb on the scales, think of how it ranks those freebies it offers Prime subscribers every month -- our choice of five books, all published by an Amazon imprint. There are a hundred million of us. If one-tenth of us take the bait (I sometimes do), that's ten million freebies a month, or an average of two million per book. But guess what? These are reckoned as sales!

Guess which five Kindle editions are most likely to show up on Amazon's best-seller list each month?

When you leave KU you see just how badly Amazon is willing to hurt you. Ranks plummet. I have a series that has made me a lot of money, has five-star reviews across the board and when it was in KU was flying high. I took it out recently and now the books are down in the mud.

Waaaaay down. The sales haven't changed at all (actually they increased because KU isn't available).

I'm sure one day someone inside Amazon will leak that there was an algorithmic punishment for leaving KU.

Going wide is taking a deep breath and understanding you'll have months of lower earnings because you've stepped out of Amazon's false sun.

Online GeneDoucette

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Re: Amazon as your competitor
« Reply #43 on: June 13, 2018, 04:43:53 AM »
When you leave KU you see just how badly Amazon is willing to hurt you. Ranks plummet. I have a series that has made me a lot of money, has five-star reviews across the board and when it was in KU was flying high. I took it out recently and now the books are down in the mud.

Waaaaay down. The sales haven't changed at all (actually they increased because KU isn't available).

I'm sure one day someone inside Amazon will leak that there was an algorithmic punishment for leaving KU.

Going wide is taking a deep breath and understanding you'll have months of lower earnings because you've stepped out of Amazon's false sun.

KU is basically the ultimate YMMV scenario. If you do well in KU, will you do better out of KU or worse? If you're not doing well in KU, will you do better out of KU or worse? We can dig up examples of all four outcomes from users on KBoards.

KU wasn't doing much for me. Admittedly, I was only trying it out with novellas, but it still wasn't doing a lot. When it came time to release my first full length self-published novel, I went wide straight off, and in a month Apple had put it on their top new releases list. KU was never a serious consideration after that.

Online C Winters

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Re: Amazon as your competitor
« Reply #44 on: June 13, 2018, 06:09:56 AM »
I took a look at ebooks on Amazon and noticed that the "What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?" had changed page positions with Also Boughts. The result was a page with 5 tiny books under the "after viewing this item" and then two big heavy features of Sponsored Products before the Also Boughts all the way down at the very bottom of the page after the reviews.

Seems like Amazon want to phase out Also Boughts and just replace them with Sponsored Products AKA cash from the authors pocket into Amazon's for a service we used to get for free. How disgusting. Authors shouldn't have to pay Amazon more money for a borrow or sale - they already got their cut!!! Authors buying AMS ads stupidly are killing us. When will they wake up??