by Bruce Fottler
There’s a proverbial sea of books for sale that usually leaves the average indie author drowning in obscurity. Gaining meaningful visibility has always been a daunting challenge, and it’s getting harder with each passing year.
Many indie authors have several published titles under their belts, having spent a lot of effort refining blurbs, covers, and developing marketing and distribution strategies. But despite these efforts, I often hear a familiar lament: Achieving visibility is difficult, maintaining it is even harder. And scaling it up? Ouch. Let’s not go there.
While there’s a multitude of marketing strategies and advertising options that various blogs have explored over the years, I’d like to focus on retail channel performance. Are retailers offering promotional opportunities, and have they helped to increase visibility for the average indie author?
Let’s touch on the retailers that I currently sell through:
Amazon: They’re the undisputed king and a constant source of personal frustration. While they should be commended for opening up the book market to Indies, their ongoing behavior has been endlessly debated. Are they currently helping or hurting us? I suppose the quick answer is yes to both.
Until recently, Amazon has been my leading sales channel, particularly after they opened AMS (Amazon Marketing Services) to everyone outside of KDP Select. But in addition to dealing with irritating reporting lags, my recent AMS ROI has taken a miserable turn. Lately I feel like I’m just handing Amazon money. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?
The bottom line: Amazon is the 800-ton gorilla that offers unprecedented opportunities to Indies, but I feel it’s often skewed too far to their advantage. I suppose it’s good to be king (Kong).
Apple (iBook): I sell on Apple through Smashwords because I’m a non-Apple user with no means of direct access. There are no apparent promotional opportunities and my sales have been predictably scarce.
The bottom line: I’d obviously like to do better, and am always left wondering if going direct opens promotional opportunities that aren’t available to non-Apple authors. Maybe an Apple user can enlighten us on this?
Barnes & Noble Press: This is a retail channel that I feel should perform far better than it actually does. My presence there is stronger than on most non-Amazon channels, but there are no promotional opportunities. I find this quite perplexing in light of their recent web interface upgrades.
The bottom line: They’ve always been a frustrating enigma to me.
Kobo: They’re my new champ, and sales there have soared past Amazon this year. They offer a variety of promotional opportunities, several of which don’t cost anything out-of-pocket. Their web interface is smooth, and reporting is informative and timely.
The bottom line: I think Kobo is everything that Amazon should be. They’re clearly putting in an effort for Indies, and that’s a rare quality these days.
Google Play Store: They’re my newest retail channel. Access is currently by invitation only. I signed up on a waiting list and received an invitation to be a “partner” a few weeks ago. After clearing the entry hurdles, I didn’t find their web interface particularly user-friendly. This was a surprise coming from a leader in internet software technology. Also, care is needed when setting prices because they automatically discount. This could cause price matching issues with other retailers.
While they offer a promotion option, it’s mainly a way to temporarily lower the price of your books. They claim that your book “may be featured on the Google Play Store or in marketing emails.” However, I chatted with a Google rep and learned that an algorithm actually determines what promotions will get featured. So far their algorithm hasn’t shown any love for my promotions.
The bottom line: Their clunky web interface, vague promotion system, and a multi-day reporting lag leaves me wondering if Google is really a serious book retailer.
Smashwords: As both distributor and retailer they’ve been a double-edged sword. While their online store offers mass-promotion opportunities (Read an eBook week, etc.), it’s not possible to enroll in promotional opportunities that exist in their channels. For instance, I need to sell direct through Kobo to access Kobo promotion offerings (which is why I always wonder about going direct with Apple).
While I haven’t used other distributors like Draft2Digital, I believe the same promotion limitations apply with their channels. Please correct me if I’m wrong.
The bottom line: Smashwords has championed the Indie cause over the years, but it’s time for them to step up their game. Besides upgrading their outdated website, I think they should explore making promotion opportunities available through their channels.
In conclusion, everyone’s experiences likely differ and can quickly change in this market. What works well today could shift in a matter of weeks or months. I’d be curious to hear about your experiences in the comments below.
Bruce Fottler is just another average indie author who has written and published five novels, and has also dabbled with producing and directing film shorts. For more information, check out his Amazon Author Page or his Goodreads Author Page.