Indie Authors And Amazon In 2013

indie author handbook

Indie Author Handbook

As we near the end of the year, I thought it would be relevant to discuss indie authors and Amazon in 2013.  I wish I had a crystal ball and could tell exactly what will happen (ah, then I would dominate sales lol), but I don’t.  I do, however, have some thoughts on what Amazon will mean to us indie authors…

Indie Authors And Authors Reviewing Authors

At this point, I think an author would have to be pretty out of touch to not be aware that Amazon is removing reviews left and right.  But what is more concerning is that Amazon doesn’t allow authors to review other authors anymore (see this LA Times post).  Amazon’s statement:

We do not allow reviews on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product. This includes authors, artists, publishers, manufacturers, or third-party merchants selling the product.

So if Stephen King wants to review another author’s book, they’ll tell him no?  Apparently they don’t realize that they are potentially hurting their sales with this.  Obviously this is a backlash to the whole review scandal, which also means…

Indie Authors And Reviews In General

Amazon reviews will become less relevant as word gets out to the average Joe and Jane about what has happened with sock puppet reviews, John Locke buying reviews and all the mess it’s caused.  I read more and more of readers who don’t trust reviews and who also are not trusting indie authors because they worry the authors have faked reviews.  Places like Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads and other reader sites may become the place to go for truly honest reviews.

Indie Authors And Book Rankings

It would appear that since at least April that Amazon began changing its algorithms in ways that do not favor indie authors.  I think this will continue.  Why?

Amazon got what it wanted – a bunch of ebooks for all the Kindle buyers to load onto their ereaders.  Remember, this happened when they were in a price war with the Big Six publishers.  But now many publishers are dropping their prices and the ever-changing algorithms appears to have a favorability ranking:

Nephilim Genesis of Evil - horror book

Nephilim on Amazon’s horror bestseller list

  • traditionally published book
  • Amazon’s own published books
  • higher priced books (those selling for more than $2.99)
  • books enrolled in KDP Select

Amazon is smart.  They know traditionally published books, especially by all the bestselling authors, will continue to sell, and generally much better than independently published books (yes, there are exceptions).  Amazon needs those traditionally published books showing up on the bestseller and popularity lists.  And so the algorithms do not favor free or 99 cent books anymore, which means a lot of indie authors are adversely affected.  Unfortunately, I think this continues in 2013.

Indie Authors And Free Books

This one is concerning for anyone who is using Amazon as the primary strategy for their book marketing (i.e. KDP Select).  As I stated above, the algorithms do not favor free books.  You will find it much harder to climb the book rankings and the benefits of being there will be less and less.  Why?  Amazon is already threatening places that list free books, telling them to cut back on the free book listings.  E-Reader News Today reports (as reported on Anne R. Allen’s blog:

While Amazon cannot make us do anything with our website, they can tell us they will not pay us anymore if we don’t do what they want us to do.  And what they’ve told us to do is cut down A LOT on the free books or they will not pay us at all.  I can’t go into detail on what they’ve told us but this is something that will be affecting all sites similar to ours within the next month.

Free seems to have lost its luster for Amazon…

Indie Authors And Gifting Books

Gifting books is an issue, too.   There was a time when you could gift someone a book and you could get a review. and it would show Amazon verified purchase.  Not anymore.  Now gifting a book is called unethical because it’s considered compensation for the reviewer…how giving out ARCs fits in and is okay, I don’t know.  Now you must have someone say in the review that they received the book for free (and the review might still be removed).

The only form of compensation that Amazon allows is a free copy of the product (provided up-front) in exchange for an unbiased review.  Refunding of a product or providing funds to purchase the product are considered compensation and not allowed.

Indie Authors And Amazon’s Publishing Houses

amazonAmazon will continue buying publishers and creating their own publishing houses. Why?  They want into brick and mortar stores and they need the credibility of being a legit publishing house to do this.  It’s no secret that Jeff Bezos wanted into publishing and it’s also no secret that he and Amazon has resorted to bullying tactics to get what they want.  Dennis Loy Johnson, talked about Amazon’s bullying:

I was at the Book Expo in New York and two guys from Amazon came to see me. They said that the company was watching what we were doing and that they strongly advised us to get in line.  I was shocked at how blatant the pressure was.

Amazon wants this market…the question is, will they get it?  And if so, what does this mean to the average indie author who only sells a few books a month?

Indie Authors And Amazon’s Quest For The World

Amazon will continue to publish around the world – and this leaves out many indie authors, who can’t afford the exorbitant prices to translate their books (and please don’t cite that indie authors can use the free Google translators – these do such a poor job of accurate translation, I would be embarrassed to have my name on a book translated by those sites).

Amazon sells in the U.S., Canada, Spain, Italy, France, Germany, the U.K., Japan, India and how Brazil.  Expect them to roll out in more countries as 2013 rolls on…but most indie authors won’t be able to take advantage of this because of translation costs.

Indie Authors – What Next?

Nephilim Genesis of EvilI really wonder what Amazon has up its sleeve.  It’s no secret that Amazon loses money on its Kindle sales.  Where will they make money?  Certainly on book sales, but not much from us little ole indie authors.  I hope I’m wrong, but I do worry about the future of indie authors with Amazon.

But what are some positives?  I’m glad you asked :).

Other markets are growing, especially Kobo, which means more market for your books worldwide.  More indie authors are reporting better sales on Smashwords than Amazon, and Barnes & Noble’s Nook is another market to exploit.  I’ve never been completely comfortable with Amazon’s exclusivity with KDP Select.  And I wonder if indie authors who don’t sell well in other markets don’t know how to market there (myself included).  It seems to me that the best bet is to build your author platform so you can hopefully sell across all markets…but what do I know?

What do you think will happen with Amazon in 2013?  Let me know.

About Renée Pawlish

Award-winning author Renée Pawlish writes the bestselling horror book, Nephilim Genesis of Evil, the Reed Ferguson mystery series, short stories and non-fiction ghost stories.
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26 Responses to Indie Authors And Amazon In 2013

  1. Renee, great content. There is a lot to consider on all fronts for Indies. Hugh Howey just inked a big deal with Simon and Schuster, joining the ranks of cross-over Indies. But he also retained control of his digital content. 2013 will see a lot of new developments and Indies will to be able to evolve or be left behind. It’s not doom and gloom. It’s knowing where the market is headed and trying to carve out a place for your brand in the midst of it. Regards, SW

    • Renée Pawlish says:

      Thanks for your comment. You are so right that we have to keep evolving and staying on top of things. I wonder how many indie authors will ink traditional, yet modified (from the norm) deals because of the changes.
      Where I once thought indie publishing is pretty much the best alternative, with tanking sales, I’m not so sure that a traditional deal is so bad…food for thought anyway.

  2. Excellent post, Renée, well thought-out! I tend to agree with you and also with Stephen: there’s no doubt you need to “carve out a place for your brand”…not easy. I’m pushing Baby Boomer novels these days…because I wrote one, :) ! And by the same token, I hope and I think I did hit on something new: boomer literature or BB novels, a pendant to YA novels, they’re on the other side of “maturity”, dealing with “coming-of-old-age”…Hollywood’s been pushing out many boomer movies lately (like the King’s Speech, Taken 2, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) and maybe publishing and Amazon is not far behind…We’ll know when Amazon creates a BB category!

    All this to say that you never know with publishing, and that’s what makes it fun. Who would ever have guessed that 50 Shades of Grey was going to sell 35 million copies in less than a year?! An all-time record!

    • Renée Pawlish says:

      Thank you for your compliment and comment. I look forward to your book’s success and I think you definitely may have hit on something. Best of luck to you.

  3. Thank you for the information in this post–certainly many points to consider for the coming year!

  4. This isn’t the first article I’ve read that talks about possible approaching trouble for indies on Amazon. It’s made me more wary about Amazon. That’s part of why I never tried out KDP Select. I didn’t want my books in one basket. From the sounds of it, next year I should focus on selling more through other sites like Kobo and B&N.

    • Renée Pawlish says:

      Yes, I’ve read plenty elsewhere myself. I reference Dean Wesley Smith in an upcoming post. He’s been in the biz for 35 years and he thinks Amazon’s program and embracing it is very short-sighted. I tend to agree.
      Thanks for your comment.

  5. Nice looking forward post. Thanks for sharing.

    You hit on a lot of points I’ve wondered about myself. I was in KDP for a while, mined some of the gold it offered, but then got out when Amazon messed around with the algorithms which diminished the “free effect”. The whole exclusivity thing never sat well with me, so it was with a great sense of relief when my books got back out onto the other retailers. Amazon is out for world-domination. They’ll use indie writers as much as they need to, but the second they don’t…

    If traditionally priced books come down enough to the point where they’re competing with the indies, it’s game over for the indies (myself included).

    • Renée Pawlish says:

      Thank you. I worry too about what will happen to indie authors. I do think those that truly are in it for the long haul, and also commit to the marketing side, are the only ones that have a hope of succeeding. Others will tire from it feeling like a job and they’ll bow out with little fanfare…

    • Some traditional publishers are coming down in price to match indies. But I don’t think that means game over. It just means indies have to up their game. Write better books, re-write, polish, edit, produce a professional product. There’s a ton of book bloggers out there who focus on indies, and that’s only expanding.

      • Renée Pawlish says:

        I agree with your comments, except I have not found many book bloggers who accepts indies (certainly not a “ton”), but I also haven’t looked in a few months…if that is changing, that is great news.
        Thanks for your comment.

      • “It just means indies have to up their game. Write better books, re-write, polish, edit, produce a professional product.”

        I think that’s where the real differentiation is going to come into play in 2013 as indie writers start dropping out of the game. A shake-out is inevitable–every boom cycle has a bust at some point. Those who are left standing when the dust settles will be the ones producing products as good if not better than what the traditional pub houses produce.

  6. Toby Neal says:

    Hey Triberrmate, great thoughtful blog. I knew this day was coming; though I use Kindle Select I’ve been focusing on building a loyal fan base with an email list and my reputation as a Hawaii “regional” writer, to withstand the coming storms of competition.
    I am also still working with my agent to get the right pub deal.
    We all have to operate like businesspeople, not just write from our ivory towers, give away books and hope for the best.
    I’m most bummed about not being able to have other indies authors review–I didn’t know that. I have lots of reader reviews, but counted on a few early reviews from other writers to get new titles off the ground, and I love reviewing good books for others (I only review if they’re going to be 4 star or more, or I won’t post one at all, but they are always honest.)
    Aloha
    Toby Neal

    • Renée Pawlish says:

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment in return :).
      I’m sure you could try reviews from other authors and see if Amazon notices, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they get removed.
      Things they are a’changing and we’ll just have to see what the future holds. Best of luck to you and aloha (my folks have a condo in Maui, it’s beautiful there…)

  7. Judith Price says:

    As an author, I best stop reading and writing reviews on the books I read? That rule is truly silly on Amazon’s part. Love your blog!

  8. J.D. Currie says:

    Excellent post…I Used KDP as the cornerstone of my marketing strategy last year with good results. Time for a new plan…

    Jeff C

    • Renée Pawlish says:

      I had decent results, nothing spectacular. It’s certainly tempting to stay in the program but I just don’t see it as a long-term advertizing plan, and those that branch out now will be ahead of the game when KDP changes or goes away – my opinion lol.
      Thanks for your comment.

  9. Renée, thank for you for this excellent post. It was reasoned and well thought out. I must admit that, like many others, I’ve been relying a lot on the KDP Select program. I am planning to publish a novel next summer, and I will be seriously considering other channels.

  10. JLOakley says:

    Thoughtful post. Have read some of the comments elsewhere, so this is trending. My novel is in KDP Select. 3 cycles, though I did only one free day this last time. Getting borrows and don’t plan to do free again. I may pull it out this next time or raise the price a dollar. It has won awards so looking at that. Book form is very important and I’m happy to have mine in libraries and the hands of book clubs as a result. Word of mouth is growing it. I hope to have the prequel out by March at the latest.

    • Renée Pawlish says:

      I’m not convinced free works anymore – there’s just too many authors doing it and I think Kindle owners just grab books and may never get to actually reading them. And Amazon isn’t dominating like some people think (more in a future post).
      Good luck to you and thanks for your comment.

      • I think free stopped working a while ago, actually.

        Personally, I got tired of giving away my books for nothing. And I mean nothing–thousands of books given away and hardly even any reviews in return. I think people were/are hoarding free eBooks and either never read them or stop reading very quickly if it doesn’t grab them. They’ve got nothing vested, so why not? Free isn’t attractive to me anymore as a reader or as an author. Just my opinion, of course.

        • Renée Pawlish says:

          I wonder the same thing…maybe offering the first in a series for free, but even with that, I’m just not sure it really has much benefit anymore.
          Thanks for your comment.

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