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Part of the reason I wanted to self-publish my first mystery novel was to learn what modern self-publishing could accomplish on a shoestring budget. And I was particularly interested in Amazon‘s role in the world of booksellers.

Over the past six weeks, I’ve learned a college course’s worth about Amazon — and mostly, things work well, but some are not as quick or clear as you might expect.

Some sources say Amazon is responsible for 20% of book sales in the US — about half of what is handled by all the retail bookstores put together.

Amazon is a big player.

The First Day. When my book was published, its listing appeared on Amazon. There was no cover image, even though the publisher had provided one. There was no sales rank, because I hadn’t sold any books yet. But the page looked like a normal Amazon page, albeit bereft of activity or glitz. I felt legitimate!

I was able to do a few things fairly rapidly to improve things:

  • I made a Kindle version of my book, and submitted it to Amazon
  • I uploaded a picture of the cover myself to dress up the book’s entry
  • I claimed authorship to my book, which was quickly verified by my publisher (a step Amazon requires for many modifications)
  • I tied the book’s blog into the paperback version’s listing using the Amazon Connect service for authors and publishers
  • I submitted my Search Inside the Book files, which took a week to make their way to the title’s display

The Kindle Version. The files my publisher provided me with were all I needed to make e-book versions. The Kindle version took a long time to appear after I submitted it on Day One. Amazon promises 24-72 hours in its messaging, but it took more like 120-144 hours. Still, once it appeared, it worked very well. I had to replace the file I’d initially provided (I’d uploaded a penultimate version — stupid mistake), and I was able to do that very easily. When orders started coming in, the reporting tool showed the orders and the total royalty I’d receive.

When it was first introduced, the Kindle promised to sell e-books to readers for far less than printed books while publishers made as much or more. From my vantage point, it certainly seems plausible. In fact, I make slightly more per Kindle sale than I do per paperback sale (it’s what I’d call a “vending machine amount,” but it’s real).

Reviews and Book Information. Reviews provided another interesting set of lessons. First, Amazon’s policy is that reviews are posted within 24 hours of being submitted. However, in at least two cases, reviewers told me it took days for their reviews to appear. Given the importance of these to Amazon’s value proposition, I found this surprising.

I’ve been amazed at the positive reviews. Each time one appears, it makes my day. But that’s all they may be doing. Even reviews in major mass-media outlets are losing their punch as other options distract readers from reading.

Sales Data. Then there’s the Amazon sales rank. This has been perhaps the most talked about aspect of Amazon’s business. People debate what it means and how it’s arrived at, with Foner Books providing perhaps the best interpretation of it. But it varies based on overall sales volume and velocity on Amazon in aggregate, so it’s hard to know what it means on any given day.

There’s a separate sales rank for the printed book and the Kindle book. They move independently.

To accomplish the math in either case, Amazon has to know how many books have sold. For Kindle books, I can see how many have sold. For the printed books, I can’t. This inequity should be removed, and the sales rank demystified for authors and publishers.

Overall, Amazon from the inside looks pretty good. For an excitable author, it moves much more slowly than I thought an electronic storefront would, and there are verification steps I hadn’t imagined.

It has some warts. It’s a sprawling, imperfect business. It does some impressive things amazingly well.

And it’s a growing force in book publishing.

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Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson is the CEO of RedLink and RedLink Network, a past-President of SSP, and the founder of the Scholarly Kitchen. He has worked as Publisher at AAAS/Science, CEO/Publisher of JBJS, Inc., a publishing executive at the Massachusetts Medical Society, Publishing Director of the New England Journal of Medicine, and Director of Medical Journals at the American Academy of Pediatrics. Opinions on social media or blogs are his own.


1 Thought on "A View from Inside Amazon"

dude. i’m totally going to buy the kindle ed. of your book — because it sounds good! thanks for the summary of your experience as an author.

i bet the slow parts have some human component. amazon’s fully-automated processes — like uploading of personal docs & pushing out to kindle — are quite rapid indeed, although how rapid still varies.

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