Sunday, August 18, 2013

Amazon's Struggle With Collecting Taxes - Amazon Affiliates and Self-Publishing

Regardless of your political views or how you feel about Amazon, Wal-Mart, etc, you need to take the time to read this post.

Not sure if I agree with everything and will fact check a few things, but given the fact I sell things through Amazon and direct off my website, this is a topic that concerns me.

If things are not hard enough financially for too many small businesses, government officials seem to think we can do with less and government needs more and by golly, those entrepreneurs who sell things via the internet are going to be the next target for privately financed collecting of taxes for government regardless of the level.

Here is the link:

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Self-Publishing Blog Roundup

Some of the recent blog posting on self-publishing I have found helpful and interesting.

Tips for Editing Your Own Book

Amazon's New Book Description Format

For Fiction Writers - Reasons Why Social Media is Not Working to Build Your Audience and What to Do About It

Writing Thrillers, Being a Prolific Author and Podcasting

Understanding Book Layouts and Page Margins

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Lightning Source versus CreateSpace for POD (Print-on-Demand) Service Reviewed Yet Again

I have spent the last two days studying my print-on-demand sales figures for the last four years. While the numbers are not terrible, the last year has seen a decrease in total paperback copies of my books sold. 

The good news is the same titles total sales have increased dramatically due to Kindle sales with some sales from the BN Nook thrown in.

The problem, or challenge, is the net profit PER sale for a Kindle book is lower than the net profit PER sale for the same book in POD paperback. How can I address this financial issue?

I am hardly about to stop releasing new titles in paperback but every new title will now come out in Kindle no matter what. I also released a total of nine short non-fiction books, samples really of longer established books, in Kindle format only.

It makes financial sense to consider ways to improve, or at least halt the decline, of my POD paperback sales. After some thought about the matter I came up with several possible solutions:
  • Change covers - costs money and for some of the books the POD sales are just not worth it - yet the same book with the same cover sells OK as a Kindle book.
  • Figure out how to improve my marketing efforts -always an ongoing struggle.
  • Revisit using Lightning Source (LSI) for more of my titles and not rely almost completely on CreateSpace (CS) for my POD printing.
For those of you who have been using POD for several years, I am fairly certain you followed, and felt financially, the issue two years ago when Amazon changed how it listed POD paperbacks available only from LSI. The sudden plummet in sales was disheartening and it took nearly a year for my best selling paperback to recover.

POD expert Aaron Shepard advocated what he came to call Plan B, a solution and for many authors who self-publish via POD, a workable plan to recover lost sales.

For many authors, it made the decision to use CreateSpace instead of LSI easier, despite the lack of control over the wholesale discount required. LSI allows the author to set the discount within a given range, a high of 55% and a low of 20%. CS requires 40% discount for books sold on Amazon and even higher, approximately 65% for books sold via its expanded distribution program to competitors such as BN. In fact, Plan B required the use of both POD companies.

It would appear the industry, or perhaps Amazon, has changed again. Briefly, the Plan B approach required using CS for books sold on Amazon and LSI for all other sales. The author had to set a list price at CS that would be lowered to the actual desired price when Amazon matched the discount of the same book on BN. The book listed on BN was printed by LSI. The entire approach would require some experimentation to get the discounts by the two online retailers matched and the prices down the target list price after discount.

Confused yet?

Today I made a quick visit to Mr. Shepard's site and discovered there is now a Plan C! It would appear trouble has once again reared its ugly head in paradise and Plan B is no longer really viable. Mr. Shepard tracks carefully a wide range of information about Amazon's discount matching and pricing. I will take his word for it, I have enough trouble keeping up with my own books.

Amazon it would appear no longer matches exactly the discount given by BN, who has stopped discounting as deeply for many books as it once did.

Also, the real issue for many POD paperback titles is not Amazon's dealings with LSI, but rather the ever increasing popularity of ebooks, particularly Kindle books. 

Still, the possibility of releasing new books in both POD and ebook formats using LSI instead of CS, an approach that would allow me to once again use the short discount model of 20% made me sit down with paper and pencil and once again compare and contrast the two companies.

With my copy of Shepard's essential book, POD for Profit, in hand to help me work my way through the maze that is signing up a new book with LSI, I once again came to the same conclusion I had before.

The advantage of controlling the setting of the discount is just not worth what I will have to go through to use LSI instead of CS.  While every author can have areas that are problematic using LSI (please note, I do have titles with LSI and have nothing but positives to say about their customer service, print quality, etc.) mine are all centered around two issues:
  • The difficulty of setting up the book files. LSI is so much more difficult to use in this regard than CS.
  • The other issue is making changes of any kind to the book or the book's metadata. Sales of the book have to come to a halt in order to make the changes.
And so it is that I will once again re-examine my marketing efforts and continue to try to learn more about marketing my books more effectively and all future books will also be released in Kindle and POD paperback.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Do It Yourself Kindle Conversions - Word to Kindle Books

With more and more content becoming published in digital format, if you want to self-publish you need to make your books and content available in ebook form. The King of the eBook Market right now is clearly Amazon's Kindle.

For many of us who self-publish, cost is a major consideration. Learning to create our own Kindle books that look as good and function properly like Kindle books designed and produced by professionals is a valuable skill to acquire.

Aaron Shepard, one of the industry leaders in the field of self-publishing, has released the third book in his series on Kindle Publishing using Word to create Kindle books. 

The third, and probably final, book in the series is HTML Fixes for Kindle. Here is the book description in Aaron's own words:

According to Amazon, the simplest way to publish your Kindle book is to upload an HTML file you've saved from Microsoft Word or another word processor. By itself, that method can bring you maybe 80% of the way to a well-formatted ebook. But what about the other 20%?

In this follow-up to his bestselling From Word to Kindle, Aaron Shepard takes your exported HTML as a starting point and tells how to quickly tweak and tune it to avoid common problems. Assuming no knowledge of HTML, he introduces the basics of the language, then reveals how to use find-and-replace and macros to touch up an entire book in seconds!

If you’re serious about Kindle publishing and you’re technically inclined—but not a full-fledged geek—Aaron provides the tips you need to bring your Kindle book to the next level, making it something truly to be proud of. 

The second book in the series is Pictures on Kindle. 

eBook Pricing and Self-Publishing of Non-Fiction and Fiction

Trying to determine the optimal price for a book in order to generate maximum net revenue is not an exact science as far as I can tell. Perhaps for authors who have a well established following and consistent sales history can predict with accuracy the optimal price for their self-published books.

For me it has been a lot of trial and error and detailed record keeping. The prices of my paperback books have remained unchanged for the past year. Since my sales are tipping towards ebooks in both volume of sales and total net revenue, I have focused on trying to sort out the optimal pricing for my ebooks, particularly Kindle books.

What is involved in developing a pricing strategy for a Kindle book? I consider the following factors:
  • Amazon's guidelines to receive a 70% royalty (2.99-9.99 earns 70% - above or below that range = 35% royalty)
  • Pricing promotions to build sales rank/search results rank
  • Balance between maximum profit per sale and maximum number of sales
  • What the customer is willing to pay
The first consideration is easy to adhere to. Simply set the price of your Kindle book somewhere in the price range Amazon is willing to pay a 70% royalty for.

When I introduce a new Kindle book I often use KDP Select to provide several days of free purchase to generate some interest combined with a set period of time the book is priced for .99 cents. This might not be the best strategy to launch a book, but I want to build rankings for my new books before the time of the year where my books sell the most (my non-fiction books have a 3-4 month peek selling period that is seasonal and I want the new books to be positioned to take advantage of the peek sales period).

Balancing between maximum profit and maximum number of sales requires time, detailed record keeping and experimentation. I would love to sell every Kindle book I have for $9.99. But how many sales would I generate at that price? Maximum potential net profit is nice, but if you never sell any books you have no profit at all.

If I price the book for $2.99 I may have lots of total sales but I am earning the least amount of net profit per sale. The goal is to fine the highest possible price that generates the highest number of sales. It takes some time to determine the price point that will produce the desired result.

Which leaves me with the last consideration and the one I have no control over, what the customer is willing to pay.  I have two books that are loaded with valuable information, are well illustrated with both diagrams and photographs, have professional covers that look great and the books have generated numerous 5-star reviews. Yet these two books just won't sell in large numbers.

I dropped the price to $1.99 and both books sales picked up. I even received a couple of e-mails from readers who purchased these cheap editions mentioning among other things they would have paid much more for the book they found the information so valuable.

The problem is, how do I get potential customers to realize the value of the information contained in these two books to pay a higher price for the content?

I revisited the book descriptions. Detailed and contained benefits, not features, for the potential reader who is considering buying the book.

In talking to some other authors via e-mail it seems that while the advent of ebooks has created huge opportunities for authors who self-publish, there has also been some market pressure to lower prices for ebooks.

I know I won't pay more than $4.99 for a work of fiction and I won't pay that much unless it is an author I like. My wife won't pay more than $2.99 for a work of fiction.

Are these buying habits impacting the sale of non-fiction as well?

It pains me, as a matter of professional pride, to not list these two books for $9.99! They are worth the purchase price! The paperback versions are 174 pages and 204 pages long in 8.5 x 11 trim size. These books are loaded with information that took me over 20 years to learn, master and organize for maximum use.

Yet, the best price point for maximum sales is a miserable $2.99. I net slightly less than $2 per book due to the delivery fee charged by Amazon (the files for these two books are huge due to the large amount of graphics - I don't begrudge Amazon the delivery fee at all).

Is the Kindle ebook market causing a race to the bottom of pricing for all authors, regardless of whether the book is one of fiction or non-fiction? Will it impact the price of paperback editions of the same book?

I don't know. I hope as time passes people realize they have to pay for information. The more valuable the information, the more it will, and should, cost.

In the meantime, I am going bit the bullet, raise the price to where I think it should be and determine a way to market and sell these two books more effectively.
I would appreciate, as I am sure other readers of this blog would, if you would share you experiences with pricing your Kindle books and share what has worked and what hasn't by commenting.