I’m Throwing My Eggs Into One Big Amazon Basket

amazon affiliate basket eggs-791463_960_720I’ve seen all of you authors struggling with the basketing of eggs question. Go exclusive with Amazon, join Kindle Unlimited, and maybe, possibly, at least that one guy is convinced, it will give you more visibility in the Amazon store. At least a few of your peers have said it worked for them, plus they picked up a few dollars they’d have never seen from borrows. Others report they’re doing great elsewhere, a few even selling more eBooks through Apple, Kobo, or Barnes & Noble.

I have a situation that is different. And yet maybe not. In any case I think explaining it will provide some insight into the indie book world that could be valuable for indie authors, especially when they’re wearing their marketing hat.

I’ll start with some history. When I first started thinking about starting my review site, the intent was to specialize in indie authors and books available for the Kindle. The tag line at the top of the page says, “Reviews and more from the world of the Kindle” and has said about the same thing since day one. (I’m not sure when this post will be running, but think it will be very close to the site’s five year anniversary which we’ll hit on January 23rd.) Going in I had no expectations of making money doing this, but had done enough legwork to realize there were ways to generate a little revenue, hopefully enough to defray any expenses with enough left over to take the grandkids out to dinner every month or two.

In a previous post, I explained some of the revenue opportunities for a blog such as mine. The main one was to generate income as an affiliate of Amazon. So before I started, I signed up to be an Amazon affiliate. I did the same with Barnes & Noble. From the start, each review I posted had a link to buy an eBook for the Kindle, the Nook, or what I identified as a DTB. (That’s a dead tree book although it turns out only eBook readers understood that. Those paper sniffers are so stuck in 2010.) Within a couple of months I decided to add buy links for Amazon’s UK site as well as Smashwords.

After almost five years operating like this, I made the decision to drop all buy links except those for the Kindle versions on Amazon’s flagship site and Amazon UK. If you’re wondering why there’s the short answer and then a longer one.

The short answer is: hardly anyone was using those other links. That’s not strictly true. Looking back over the last month, people have clicked on them, but the numbers aren’t very big and the percentage who actually end up buying is abysmal. Just after making the decision to do this, but before implementing the change, someone bought a book on Smashwords after clicking on one of my links. The previous Smashwords sell was in Februrary. Make that February of 2014. Barnes & Noble is a little better, but they have other issues.

The short answer seems like reason enough not to bother with the other links. While gathering the special affiliate links for each store doesn’t take much time, it is a hassle and the time adds up. If the pennies were adding up at a pace slightly faster than glacial, I might feel differently.

The long answer includes all of the above and throws in a few other considerations.

Where Smashwords is concerned, there are a lot of things to like about them. The ability to get eBooks that as a matter of policy are not protected by DRM, and the availability of those books in a variety of different formats, are two of the reasons I’ve wanted to support them. However, they see their core business as being an eBook distributor rather than a retailer. Consequently the majority of their resources go to making them a better distributor with the results that their storefront sucks.

Then we have the KU effect. Authors are enrolling and unenrolling their books from Kindle Unlimited, which means the link to Barnes & Noble or Smashwords that works today is a dead link tomorrow. Or the book I review today isn’t available on either, but as soon as their 90 days is up, they’re “going wide.” Attempting to keep up with that is one task I’d never consider attempting. The effect is that blog visitors who own a Nook and are interested in a book that was available when it was reviewed are often going to come up empty, while at the same time they’ll not realize this other book that wasn’t available for them before, now is.

Last we have Barnes & Noble, a company that seems determined to do everything wrong. I’m sure most of you are familiar with the challenges their website can present when trying to find what you want. It may be prettier than Smashwords, but it sucks just as much. To their credit, their search function seems to have improved recently. I’m much less likely to require three or four tries to find the book I want than I was last year. But Barnes & Noble also has a habit of changing who administers their affiliate program. When that happens, your buy links become non-functional at worst. At best, they’ll still get your reader where they want to go, but if they buy something, the you won’t get credit. The affiliate is expected to go back through all the links on his or her site and get new links that will function with the new administrator. The first time they did this was not long after I signed up. It was a pain, but not a big one, to update the links. Then a few years ago they changed their program to not give affiliate credit for purchases of eBooks. I considered dropping them then, but figured “they can’t be that stupid, can they?” and thought it would change back. Turns out that they are that stupid, but I continued linking to them. Now they’ve changed their affiliate administrator again which I expect to render all my Barnes & Noble links useless. Am I going to replace almost a thousand links? Nope. Not going to happen. Bye bye, B&N.

And there you have it. After keeping track of that tiny basket of eggs from Smashwords and the bigger basket that was half full of eggs that upon investigation are actually only hollow eggs shells, I’ve decided to toss those baskets on the trash heap and concentrate on the big basket. I hope my readers who keep buying boots (that’s not a typo, boots, not books) from Amazon will continue their December buying spree into January. If they do, I might even be able to take the grandkids out to dinner two months in a row.

Author: Big Al

Big Al (who insists he only has one name, like Cher, Sting, and Madonna) spends his days writing computer programs that are full of typos, homonym errors, and incorrect verb usage. During his evenings, he writes reviews of indie books for BigAl’s Books and Pals and has recently taken over The IndieView, a website founded by indie author Simon Royle as a resource for indie authors, indie reviewers, and those who read either.

39 thoughts on “I’m Throwing My Eggs Into One Big Amazon Basket”

  1. Very interesting post, Al.

    Nature (and business) abhors a vacuum, and all things are cyclical, so I strongly believe a day will come when Amazon is not the king of all it surveys. That day is not this day, however, and tomorrow’s not looking so good either, as far as their competitors go.

    I’ve been “All in,” on Select from the beginning, so all my eggs are also in the mighty ‘Zon’s basket. I’m not an acolyte – I would just rather have good visibility on the largest retailer than be semi-invisible on all of them.

    1. It makes me nervous on behalf of authors, Shawn, but can’t fault those who made the same choice for just that reason.

  2. Great post, BigAl,
    I understand your reason for concentrating on Amazon–the other sites simply don’t hold a candle to the Big One.
    As a result, I’ve signed up all my books to Amazon KDP as B&N et al were worse than useless. The eggs in one basket thing is a worry, but ATM Az is the only game in town.
    And I agree with your shout out for Mike Markel the other day, his books are great.
    Love your review site, BTW–keep up the great work. 🙂

  3. Wow. This is a tough one. I just finished reading Mark Coker’s predictions for 2016, and he spent a lot of words talking about KU and its downsides. Hmm…I guess the super cool thing is that as indie authors, we decide what works for each of us. Thanks for your post, Big Al.

    1. Thanks, Annette. I’m a fan of Mark and Smashwords for a lot of reasons, but find myself disagreeing with him more and more. That should probably make me second guess myself. 🙂

    1. Thanks for the comment, Maria. One thing to keep in mind, my decision is based on two sets of reasons. One of those is in reaction to what a large number of authors are doing. If so many of them weren’t going exclusive (or in and out and back again), it might change the calculation for me.

  4. Good post, Al. And I completely understand your reasoning. It makes sense for a popular book review site like yours. Nook, Apple, and KOBO customers can search for a title on those sites to see if they’re available, and they often do.

    However, as an author I will continue to be available on as many sites as I can. My books do well on different vendors at different times–and there’s no predicting that (and for the record, I do like Amazon–a lot). As I see it, I’m investing in my future as an author. For me, that’s being available across all channels. I wouldn’t invest in only one stock in a financial portfolio, so why wouldn’t I diversify with vendors? Although I have no problem with experimenting with a book or two, I just don’t like the idea of going all in with anyone. It takes time to build a following on the other sites. Some I’ve managed, some not so much–yet. But you can bet I’m going to keep working on it.

    1. Thanks, DV. I think those authors who have developed a decent following on other vendors face a much tougher decision. Pulling a book off of those other places to go exclusive with Amazon, even just one book for only 90 days, could cause them to lose momentum in the other places. If you have that, it would be silly to risk it. (A new release for the first 90 days as an experiment, maybe. Or maybe not.)

  5. My reasons for staying away from Kindle Select for my main books are personal, stemming from my Scot’s temper. I do not like the Amazon near-monopoly and hope that one day the justice department sees the real culprit in the sales world.

    That doesn’t mean I’m not sleeping with the enemy on alternate weeks. Yes, my books are there and a few of them are even in the restraint-of-trade KU.

    Meanwhile, I’ve never had trouble with the other outlets: Smashwords, B&N, Powell’s, etc., and want to keep my books in them for the simple reason those places aren’t Amazon and their customers expect to find everything they want there. If you’re a member of B&N, you get better prices than Amazon’s on many things, including shipping.

    Your reasons are sound, but when it comes to those I oppose, I have to follow the Campbell motto “Forget Not.” So it goes.


    1. Can’t argue with you, Malcolm. Although I doubt we’ll be seeing the justice department going after Amazon unless they get careless and start crossing lines they haven’t in the past. Other places, like the EU, is another story.

  6. Kindle Select didn’t deliver any improvement in sales for me so I left after the contracted 90 days and loaded my latest novel to join my others already at Smashwords. It’s their role as distributor that I see as important. So long as B&N, Apple, et al are in the business then getting your books out there via Smashwords makes a lot of sense. What you describe is, to me, another downside to the whole Kiindle Select exclusivity scam.

  7. I’ve never really understood B&N’s strategy, your post proves that I’m not alone and perhaps I should stop trying. For something seemingly so simple the retailers have made it rather complex, but I guess other than B&N at least the complexity matches their strategies. Thanks for the additional perspective.

  8. Your reasoning makes perfect sense. For me as a person, I dislike the idea of one venue having such a large share of the pie. For me as a writer, being all in with Amazon is a no-brainer–they pretty much are the ebook marketplace.

  9. I go back and forth, Al. Right now, I have nearly everything in Select, after a couple of years of spreading them around. My Amazon earnings have always been a multiple of my earnings at any other retailer, so it ought to be a no-brainer — and yet I occasionally fall for the “don’t put your eggs in one basket” argument. Then again, I suppose if Amazon stopped being a viable sales platform, it wouldn’t be that hard to stop doing business with them and switch everything over to somebody else.

    I do have to thank you, though, for confirming my long-ago decision to sign up as an Amazon affiliate and not bother with anybody else. Those other guys sure don’t make it easy for you to make money for them, do they?

    1. I waffled on that in the beginning, Lynne. (Amazon only or not.) In the early days I saw enough from B&N to be worthwhile, but for many reasons that’s changed over time. Thanks for throwing your two cents in.

  10. I have always been in the spread-your-eggs-around camp, but I decided to put my latest book, “Storm over Savournon,” up as a Kindle Select. It’s easier to see what’s working and what’s not in the promotions department that way. So far, I haven’t been sorry.
    Knock wood.

    1. The situation of a new book for the first 90 days is one that I think can make sense for some authors, even if throwing everything into select long term doesn’t make sense. Thanks for your thoughts, Gordon.

  11. I’ve come to pretty much the same conclusion. I haven’t sold a book at Smashwords in years, so my last few books have gone directly into KU. The only time I’ve taken one out is when I’ve had the chance to get it in the running for an award or a library program. Like it or not, that 500-pound gorilla generates a lot of gravity pull, and it’s usually the first stop for shopping.

    1. Yeah, If not 5,000 pounds. Do you distribute to other places through Smashwords and also come up empty there, Melissa?

  12. I have more than 15 titles, Al – and all but three are with Select and KU on a permanent basis. I just let them roll over and over at Amazon, with no regrets at all. I just stay in the place that sends the cheques. My presence on Smashwords with three story collections is turgid, but it does serve a purpose … it sends people looking for me at the ‘real’ traffic cop for books: Amazon. It’s where one goes to see if a book exists, to check stuff, and to see how many books an author one just found has, and to see if one’s favourite author has anything new. If it’s worth anything, it’ll be on Amazon. Mark Coker is a great pioneer – I’ve met him in person here in Australia way back in 2009 – but his machine doesn’t do much for me and my books, I’m afraid, and I ran to where the buyers are. The sales I used to get at the other retailers were negligible, and I’m not an author who works on principle – I work on sales, real sales. Besides, being permanently on KU with lots of books makes plenty of sense in that Amazon does throw around the odd promo.

  13. Great post, Al. Of course it’s perfectly understandable that books going in and out of the other retailers cause a headache for reviewers. I personally took all my books (16 novels+some boxsets) out of KU a year ago. They’re selling okay in the stores other than Amazon but not in any significant numbers. My Amazon sales are my main income.But I like the idea that my e-books are available in all kinds of stores too. Don’t like monopolies, even if Amazon is king in the e-book market. But for reviewers, it must be a huge pain when authors take their books out of the other stores and the links no longer work.

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