Fact is, Amazon may not be selling your 99c ebook for 99c. It may well be selling your 99c ebook for $3.50, and pocketing most of the difference.
For those of you lucky enough to have strong sales from the US market it’s perhaps not something you’ve ever given a thought to. And when you look at the six million Kindlefires expected to be sold over the Holidays, plus all the nooks, it’s really not something you need worry about.
Sellers with a strong US base can expect a bonanza this Christmas season for sure.
But spare a thought for the rest of the world. Because the vast majority of your potential readers don’t live in the USA. And if you’re thinking, So what? Amazon is the world’s biggest book store and my book is available for 99c anywhere in the world, then think again.
Consider: The new Kindlefire is not, and for the foreseeable future will not be sold in the UK or Germany or France, despite those countries having Kindle sites. And a reminder here that the B&N nook is utterly useless outside the US as B&N do not download outside the US borders.
But actually even that’s not true. Britain, France and Germany are stuck with the old b&w Kindle. The Kindle isn’t available anywhere else except by having it shipped over from the USA.
Sure they can download the Amazon app in the rest of the world so what’s the problem?
Well, three problems, actually.
First, if you haven’t got a Kindle then there’s no reason why you should shop at Amazon rather than another store. As above, B&N isn’t a option. And while you probably have your books on iTunes and Kobo through Smashwords, there are plenty of other ebook stores that Smashwords doesn’t get you out too.
Ah, but buyers will still come to Amazon because it’s famously the cheapest, right?
This brings us to problem two. If you happen to live in, say, Belgium or Italy, just across the border from Kindle France and Kindle Germany, then that 99c ebook from Amazon is going to set you back nearly $3.50.
No, that’s not a misprint.
Amazon is obliged to add 15% VAT (European tax) on ebooks (even though the same book in print is exempt!). In fairness Amazon have no control over this, but that means the 99c ebook is now $1.15.
The thing is, for buyers in Belgium and Italy Amazon then thoughtfully add a $2 surcharge (none of which goes to the author ) so your 99c ebook now costs the poor reader $2.99. And then Amazon are forced to add that 15% VAT, so the 99c ebook clocks up $3.45 on the buyer’s account. And this is per book, so buying three 99c books in your series will cost them ten bucks!
At which stage, if they’ve got any sense, the buyer thinks twice and goes and looks at another ebook store where the company doesn’t penalize them for where they live.
And in case you’re wondering, your “free” book isn’t free either. Your free book will cost you $2 in Italy. Or Hungary. Or Egypt, China, Argentina… You get the picture. Most of the world’s population do not live in the USA (or the surcharge exempt countries like Canada and Australia). But many still speak, write and read English and are your potential customers.
If you are relying on Amazon for your future career then, unless you have a really strong position in the US market, it would be wise not to put all your eggs in one basket.
What about problem three? I’m coming to that.
You see, Amazon may be the biggest book store in the world, but it rips off buyers in almost half the world with a $2 surcharge which can only act as a brake on sales.
Yes, you read right. Amazon blocks sales to potential buyers.
I live in West Africa. I can’t buy my own book on Amazon, let alone yours. There are two hundred million English-speakers in West Africa. But Amazon does not allow you to download ebooks here.
Across Africa there are 350 million English-speaking people. But part from some limited access in South Africa, Amazon blocks downloads to the rest. Add in all the English as a Second Language readers on the continent and the number of people who can’t buy your books is humungous! And that’s just in Africa. The same block applies in English-speaking countries in Asia like Singapore, as but one example.
And for those countries that Amazon does think are worth letting your books download, they add the aforementioned $2 surcharge with the seeming intent of making sure no-one bothers.
Once again, unless you have a very strong position in the US market, over-reliance on Amazon could be a negative move.
Ad even if you are really strong in the US, can Amazon be relied upon as part of your business plan?
Our experience suggests not, and should be a salutary warning for any authors who think that because Amazon is bringing in the cash things can only get better.
Back in the summer Amazon arbitrarily removed the subtitle on our UK best-seller Sugar & Spice, without notice or explanation. To make matters worse, the book went into “publishing” phase (which drastically reduces visibility) for three entire days. Sales plummeted. We dropped from number two on Kindle UK to out of the top twenty.
By some miracle we climbed back to number two, only to have the same problem happen a week or so later. From selling nearly a thousand a day to just a few hundred is a huge drop. The second time the book never fully recovered.
We can’t be sure that Amazon’s balls-up cost us the number one spot, but we can say unequivocally their mistakes costs us thousands of sales.
Except when it does.
Last month Amazon managed to lose the reviews of countless ebook sellers. Among them our very own Sugar & Spice went from 240+ reviews to “Be the first to review this item.”
Needless to say sales plummeted. Our 130+ five stars are a big selling point. Making Sugar & Spice look like a new book no-one has ever heard of was unhelpful, to say the least. By the time Amazon had fixed the problem we had lost crucial chart and category position. How many sales Amazon’s errors cost us is hard to say, but it must have been substantial.
Thankfully it couldn’t happen a third time, surely.
Two weeks ago the Kindle UK best-seller Sugar & Spice literally vanished from Kindle UK. It still shows live in KDP, but there has not been a single sale for over two weeks. A search on Kindle UK reveals nothing. The book does not exist and has never existed. Trying to use the existing links we use for promo gets you nowhere. An error message comes up.
Then they said it would be five working days before they could look at it.
Then they said they were looking at it and it would be another three days.
Then they apologized for the delay, confirming the problem was their end and saying they would prioritize the fix.
We’re now in our third week without our best-seller on Amazon UK through absolutely no fault of our own. KDP further kindly advised us they would not reimburse for lost sales.
Luckily we hadn’t any paid-for promo with POI, etc. If we had it would have been utterly wasted because the links that sold 100,000 copies suddenly don’t work. The book doesn’t come up in searches, or alongside our other titles under the author, or in the buyers also bought. Needless to say if we had spent money on promo Amazon would not reimburse us for our losses their error caused.
By coincidence the latest KDP newsletter announced that only thirty indie sellers had managed 100,000 sales.
We’re one of them. In fact we achieved that figure with just one title.
That same title is now unavailable not only in half the world where Amazon blocks downloads, but also is unavailable in the UK. Bizarrely it’s fine on am.com, but UK buyers cannot buy from am.com. As we enter the busiest sales period for ebooks, one of Amazon’s biggest selling indie books cannot be bought on Kindle UK.
Just how long does it take for a huge corporation like Amazon to fix a broken link to a product that is one of their best-sellers?
Over two weeks and counting.
If Amazon treat their best-selling authors like this, what chance them making an effort for you if you’re just starting out…
No question Amazon is huge and no question we owe our success to them. But can they be relied on to do the only thing they can do for us – make our books available?
It seems not.