If it weren’t for Amazon.com, I would sell only a few books. I’ve put a lot of effort into maximizing my sales with them, since I don’t yet have many other useful sales channels. (I just signed up with Baker & Taylor but haven’t started working with them; I sell some books by mail order but haven’t figured out a low cost way to accept charge cards, and I tried using PayPal awhile back but never worked out the bugs.) Because many good articles in the PMA Newsletter and online articles have helped me, I thought I should take the time to write up what I’ve learned about Amazon’s three programs. I hope it will make life easier for other small publishers.
In the Advantage program, you sell on consignment with a 55 percent discount and pay a yearly membership fee of $29.95. As Amazon sells the books, it pays you. Why would a consignment arrangement benefit you? Because it means Amazon orders plenty of books and usually has sufficient stock. In our experience, online retailers that do not buy a book on consignment don’t stock it or don’t do a good job of stocking it. If your book isn’t in stock, the chances of making a sale are greatly decreased.
Returns in the Advantage program are negligible. In the year and a half that Pete Publishing has participated, we’ve had only two copies of There Is Eternal Life For Animals returned, and they came back because of damage during shipping.
To optimize your listing as an Advantage participant:
- Ask satisfied customers to write a review. Good reviews sell books.
- Review Amazon’s “Look Inside” program to see if it’s right for you. This allows a customer to search for a subject not only by title, but also within a book’s pages.
- Provide a good description and table of contents.
- Take advantage of the 20-word editorial quotes Amazon allows you to include.
- Pay attention to ranking. Customers may not watch the ranking system, but Amazon does, and so will bookstores, libraries, wholesalers, and distributors. The lower the number, the better. When you get some PR, you’ll usually see your numbers improve for a day or two.
- Look at the bottom of your book listing and you’ll see “Favorites.” Create some favorites and add your book along with a couple of other complementary books.
- Use the “Make a Recommendation” tool to help drive your sales up. Review the top 100 bestselling books on Amazon to see if any of them link logically to your book. Then suggest that your customers recommend your book on the related books’ pages, and on pages for other related books. All they have to do is copy your book’s ISBN, paste it in the “Make a Recommendation” box, and hit Submit. Lots of people don’t know about your book, so take advantage of this free advertising!
- Use the “Rate This Item” function on left-hand side of the screen. Ask your customers to give your book a five-star rating!
Amazon has one of the best book databases in existence, so even if people don’t buy your book there, you’re likely to benefit by having it listed. Bookstores, libraries, and customers all go to Amazon to look up books. I had an acquisitions librarian from the University of Utah contact me for a review copy of my book. The review that ran in their magazine recommended it for both public and academic libraries.
This is a referral fee program that you can participate in using your Web site. You’d probably provide a link to Amazon from your Web site for the convenience of your customers anyway, so you may as well make a referral fee, and recoup some of that 55 percent discount by becoming an Amazon Associate. Although rates change from time to time and from product to product, 5 percent is a fairly usual commission. Once you set up the links, there’s nothing to do but make money while people click through from your site. Granted, this may not be a very big moneymaker, but the more traffic you have on your site, the better the referral fees are likely to be. You can even make money on the competition’s books. Some people like to buy several books on the same subject, and if they’re going to buy your competition’s books anyway, you might as well make some money too. Amazon’s reports will show you an itemized list of fees, so you can see what sells best.
Since Amazon doesn’t want you to make your own personal purchases through your site, try to set up a buddy system with another Amazon Associate. Make your personal purchases on each other’s sites so that the referral fees aren’t lost.
Using Amazon Marketplace, any person or business with an item to sell can offer that item directly to Amazon customers alongside the same item offered by Amazon. You can sell your own books, as well as other books and products, new or used.
Why sell your own books on Amazon Marketplace?
- It’s an ideal place to sell copies that are slightly defective. Sell them for a couple of dollars less and autograph them to sweeten the deal.
- Through those sales you can build your customer database, since you will obtain customers’ names and contact information.
- The Marketplace gives you an opportunity to make contact with a customer. Once you ship the book, you are required to e-mail the customer to say it’s on the way. Include an order form and business card with each shipment, noting that you’d love to hear from them after they’ve read the book. Invite them to visit your Web site. You can ask your satisfied customers to write an Amazon review, and then you can add the reviews to your Web site.
- You make a little more money on each book than in the Amazon Advantage program. Amazon takes a 99-cent fee and 15 percent of sales, and credits your account with shipping money!
- You can keep the sales going when Amazon drops the ball, and encourage it to stock enough books so that the screen will display “Usually ships in 24 hours” rather than “Usually ships in 2—3 weeks,” which makes us cringe!
- Marketplace customers can give you valuable insight on what marketing techniques work best by asking them how they heard about your book.
- Amazon handles the credit card acceptance and approval process.
It’s fast and easy to list and ship books. Just follow the instructions on your book’s page, over to the right under “Sell Yours Here.” When your book is sold, Amazon will send you an e-mail with a section containing the customer’s packing slip, which you can print out and enclose with the order.
In our first experience selling There Is Eternal Life For Animals on Amazon Marketplace, we sold six slightly defective books within two weeks. Since then, they have been selling faster. These books yield more money than the “perfect” books because you eliminate the 55 percent discount. We like to sell perfect books autographed for $1 less than the retail price, because the lower price is an incentive for the buyer to click the link that states “Buy X copies used and new from $$” under the photo of your book cover. On your Web site you can tell customers to look for your special Amazon Marketplace offers, and of course, provide the link and make your Amazon Associate referral fee too.
Here’s an example of how a Marketplace transaction can play out.
Buyer’s special price: $10.98
Amazon’s fee: $ 2.64 (99 cents plus 15 percent of sale)
Shipping credit: $ 2.26
Your earnings: $10.60
Media Mail: $ 1.97
Net: $ 8.63
By contrast, if you sold the same book at regular retail price through the Advantage program, Amazon would get $7.14; you’d get $5.84, plus pay to ship the books to Amazon.
My Overall Evaluation
In summary, there’s almost no paperwork involved and no invoicing. Amazon will e-mail your Advantage and Marketplace orders (unlike Barnes & Noble’s snail-mail approach), and you can have all your payments directly deposited into your bank account.
Of course, every sales channel has its downside. One weak area with Amazon is that there is no telephone number for contacting a human being.Another is that Amazon occasionally runs out of stock, although the Marketplace is an excellent remedy for that.
I haven’t been able to find out exactly what the circumstances are for some publishers giving Amazon the 60 to 65 percent discount that Jan Nathan mentioned in a previous newsletter. However, Karen Oberst, who formerly worked in the Amazon Advantage Department, asked her contact at Amazon about this and reports that, as far as she can tell, the standard discount is 55 percent. Karen now has a company called Author’s Aide, which will handle Amazon business for publishers and authors; see www.authorsaide.com.
For details on Amazon’s programs, go to www.amazon.com, scroll down toward the bottom of the page to “Directory of All Stores,” and click on “Sell Items.”
Overall, I find that Amazon is easy to work with. Yes, Amazon wants to make money, and it knows how to do it. And when it makes money, you make money!
Niki Behrikis Shanahan, a member of PMA and the Cat Writer’s Association, is the author of There Is Eternal Life for Animals, published by Pete Publishing in June 2002. For more information, visit www.eternalanimals.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.