Self-publishing: about selling on non-Amazon platforms

This morning I was listening to the Creative Penn podcast in which Joanna talks to Mark Levefre, the director of Kobo Writing Life.

Kobo has a special place for me, because it was the first platform where I started selling more than coffee money. That was pure luck, but lately I have been selling quite well on all non-Amazon platforms, and in the interview, Mark confirmed a few points that I had also noticed about selling on non-Amazon platforms.

Anyone who knows me will also know that I am a big proponent of being “wide”, meaning: selling on all retailer platforms where possible. This is the opposite of being in Amazon’s Select program, which requires you to be exclusive.

That’s not to say that I don’t play with Amazon’s toys every now and then. I like poking things to see what happens.

But it means that the bulk of my work will be available everywhere I can make it available.

A good many people complain about not selling much outside Amazon, so here are some of my thoughts about selling on non-Amazon platforms.

Other platforms are about the global reader. In many countries in the world, you can’t even access Amazon. Those people can only buy at Kobo or Google Play. Last months sales from Google Play featured countries as varied as Poland, Ireland, the Philippines, Switzerland, Finland, New Zealand and Argentina. There are many more people reading in English outside the US than there are inside it.

Other platforms are about commitment. I’m a Kobo reader. When I go to someone’s page on Kobo and I see a half-arsed selection of just a couple of their minor titles there, I know that that author is not committed to selling to me. I go and find another author.

Other platforms are about slow building and few spikes. It takes a long time to build up a sales history on some platforms. If you flip-flop in and out of Select, you start from scratch each time. Once your books have built up this sales history, they will sell themselves pretty much without your involvement.

Other platforms are about tailoring. I can’t comprehend why writers do their best to optimise their listings on Amazon, and then just plunk their books on other retailers (with the same blurb and same keywords as on Amazon), and expect the books to sell, without making ANY effort whatsoever to tailor their books to the site, and often without having looked at the site and what makes it tick.

If you have no real commitment and spend no effort advertising your books on other sites, you can’t expect to sell.

But, some people say, if I take my books out of the Select program, I make so much less money!

That may be true for some (it certainly wasn’t for me), but selling everywhere is not primarily about money. It’s about security, because if you’re exclusive with Amazon and don’t show consistent commitment to other sites, then when Amazon sneezes, you’ll be in bed with glandular fever for six months.

Selling on other platforms is also about taking control of your audience. It’s about learning to create your own sales rather than relying on retailer algorithms to do it for you (or, all of a sudden, to stop doing that for you overnight).

To try to go wide out of panic after a sudden downturn is the absolute worst time to do it. You can’t be in a hurry when you go wide. You need a lead time before you see the significant benefits.