Sell to the World

Author Shaun McLaughlin

Guest post
by Shaun McLaughlin

A few months ago, I suggested here on Indies Unlimited that self-published authors make their work available in epub format, not just Kindle. Diversity can lead to greater sales. Here’s a further tip: diversify your epub vendors to make sure your ebooks reach an international audience.

Recently when IU held a like-fest for Barnes & Noble (B&N), I tried to buy a copy of the first Starship installment by Kevin O. McLaughlin (because I like his last name). B&N uses the epub format, which is compatible with my Kobo ereader.

I followed his like-fest link to BN, I clicked Buy Now, and filled out my credit card info in the purchase form. At the end of all that, the site flashed this message:

“You must have a credit card billing address within the US or its territories, including US Military sites, to receive this item. We currently do not support non-US billing addresses.”

It could have been a lost sale! Fortunately, Kevin’s book is available on Kobo, which doesn’t care where you live as long as you have a valid credit card; so, I bought it there.

Do not discount the value of publishing in the epub format. While Kindle has over 60% of the American e-book market, it does not dominate beyond the 50 states. For example, in Canada where I live, Kobo’s epub format has twice the market share of Kindle: 46% versus 24%, according to a 2012 study by Ipsos Reid. Also, Sony, which has a Canadian book portal, had 18% of the Canadian epub market in 2012.

Like Kevin, make sure your epub book is available through vendors other than B&N because of that vendor’s purchase restrictions.

Kobo is my first choice. The company claims it has users in 170 countries already, and it seems intent on aggressive sales expansion. In January of this year, Kobo lured away Apple’s sales director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Jean-Marc Dupuis, as its new managing director for the same territory. Dupuis apparently doubled sales for Apple in the four years he held his former position. Any author on Kobo should welcome that news.

Here is a bonus tip: if you are like me and have some books distributed through a traditional US publisher, make sure they know about B&N’s limitations. The History Press, based in South Carolina, recently released my first history book, The Patriot War Along the New York-Canada Border, as an ebook. The only epub outlet is via B&N. At my urging, they have promised to make a Kobo version available. Remember, as an indie, you may know more about ebook distribution than a traditional publisher, who is new to the electronic book market.

As I have said before, the best way to diversify is to use Kindle Direct Publishing for sales on Amazon and Smashwords for epub creation. Smashwords makes your ebook available to Apple, B&N, Sony, Kobo, and others. That way, your buyers never hit a purchase wall.

Sell to the world, not just your home country.

Shaun J. McLaughlin writes and publishes history books and historical fiction novels, both self-published and traditionally published. Find his thoughts on indie publishing and information on his books at his imprint blog Raiders and Rebels Press.

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21 thoughts on “Sell to the World”

  1. Whew! I saw my name here, and thought I’d done something wrong. 😉

    Glad to see I did something right, instead!

    Yes, i agree – spread your work as BROADLY as possible. It’s not just about global distribution. Let’s face it – folks with a Kobo device want to buy from Kobo. Those with a Nook want to buy from B&N. Even people reading on a tablet or phone most likely have a favorite bookseller they use to purchase new stories. Readers tend to stick with one ebook retailer.

    If your book is not there, then you lose that reader.

    I made a landing page for all the episodes of the Starship serial Shaun mentions – and I’m careful to put links there not just for Amazon US, but to use a link from, so that whoever clicks it is delivered directly to their local Amazon store. I also include links to Kobo, B&N, and Apple (although not all of them have Apple links yet, because Apple is slow about uploading books!).

    Check it out here – I will happily help other people set up something similar, but it’s not too hard:

    Even THAT is not as broad as it could be – it’s an ongoing work! I could get the works up on XinXii, on Smashwords, and on other ebook retail sites. The wider the base, the better you will be able to reach more readers.

  2. Thanks Shaun, great post. As a newbie author I haven’t dared step outside the Amazon box yet but your comments about the market share of other ereaders has given me a lot to think about.

  3. The US book market is valued at something like $20 Billion which accounts for the lion’s share of the total market for books. Sometimes giving readers too much choice confuses the customer and dilutes the value of the product.

    1. But right now, the US ebook market is something like:
      Amazon 60%
      B&N 20%
      Apple 10%
      Kobo 5% (and growing fast)
      Everybody else 5%

      Give or take – those are really rough numbers.

      Point is, people buy from their retailer of choice. Even discounting international sales – if someone has been buying books for their Nook or Nook apps for the last two years, and your book isn’t available on Nook, it might as well not exist for that user. You have lost that reader, and that sale.

      You’re not offering a confusing range of choices. Most buyers are happy with the ebook retailer they like best, and they are unlikely to buy books elsewhere. Offering your ebook on Kobo is not going to confuse an Amazon customer. They’ll buy from Amazon. Failing to offer the ebook on Kobo does mean you’ve lost all Kobo customers, however.

    2. The non-US English-speaking market represents hundreds of millions of potential readers–UK, Canada, Australia, India, etc. Why would you not go there?

  4. Kevin & Shaun:
    My novel, Lime, is available through print and Amazon’s KDP; however, they are very strict about not allowing you to sell digital forms of your book with any other retailer or ebook reader. It is a violation of their policy and agreement. They have exclusive digital distribution rights as long as you are with them. So, how is it possible to sell with a service like KDP, Kobo, Smashwords, etc. all at the same time?


    1. You don’t need to sign up with KDP Select in order to use KDP.

      KDP Select is a special program Amazon offers. What you get is inclusion in their Kindle Lending Library (where you get paid $1.50-2.00 per loan if anyone borrows your book), and up to five days per 90 days where you can set your ebook to free on Amazon.

      When Select first started, being free and giving away even a few thousand copies resulted in a serious boost in visibility when the free period was done – which often resulted in a big sales boost! They’ve since reduced the impact of “free” on improving visibility, so the Select program is not as strong as it once was. Some people still swear by Select – but the down side is, you lose the ability to sell on all other venues.

      As an example, right now my Starship series is selling 66% on Amazon, 26% on B&N, 6% on Kobo, and about 2% on Apple. So if I’d gone with Select, I would have missed 34% of my sales.

      To get back out of Select, go to your KDP dashboard, click the book title, and UNCHECK the box up at the top that talks about enrolling in Select. You still have to wait out the rest of the 90 days, but if you don’t manually uncheck the box, it will auto-renew forever.

      To avoid Select, if you want to sell elsewhere, simply don’t click the box when you upload your book to KDP.

      Hope this helps!

      1. Your numbers are impressive, Kevin. Thanks for sharing. When I did my free promo, 17,000 copies of my book were downloaded though I never did make it in the top 100 paid. On Amazon my book is in the 10,000s (rank) now (#1 in my category). Which is fine, BUT – I’ve not sold a single book elsewhere. On any other vendor. And I have no clue how to promote beyond Amazon. That’s my todo over the summer. To figure this out.

        1. I’m totally the wrong person to ask. I didn’t do any special promotion on B&N. People are just finding it. Maybe a lot of people who have Nooks like serial science fiction? No idea. Not complaining though! 🙂

  5. Thanks for the comments. I’m debating whether to use Select, but this has given me something to think about. I’m not getting the same excited feeling that I used to have about KDP Select. I’ve published successfully with CreateSpace and am very happy with the product, and the great sales figures I’m achieving. I happen to be a public speaker, so I always have a market for printed books.
    I will have to have my book converted from InDesign (I don’t do it myself) by BookBaby, or some other company, to get it into the digital offerings.

  6. You are so right, Shaun, and I was switched on to that right from my initial research, before I launching into ePublishing, and you’re quite right about the traditional publishers not all being switched on to it. I sell deal directly with three distributors: Amazon, Smash words and Lulu, which gives me distribution through eleven different distributors, that’s almost all the eBook distributors available. I have a direct button to each of them on my web/blogsite, so that every reader can purchase through the distributor of their choice. I really didn’t realise that I knew anything that everyone wasn’t aware of.

    1. I too have a direct link to all sources of my book, but I recently added the most popular links to the top for people who do not like too many choices. That is how to avoid multiple-choice paralysis.

  7. I publish Smashwords (which covers quite a few), BN, and Amazon. I also do paperback through CreateSpace, which my understanding is, is going more international now. I do my best to cover all the bases with the time I have.

    Excellent post, food for thought.

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