This post is the continuation of last week's post, so we'll simply pick up where we left off!
The Established Alternatives to Amazon Exclusivity
Now for the big dog alternatives to Amazon. The main players for ebook retail distribution are Kobo, iBooks, and Barnes Noble (...knock on wood...). Of these three, Kobo has the richest promotional environment built-in, thus making it the most direct rival with Amazon and Amazon ads. "Killing it on Kobo" by Mark Lefebvre is still a great resource for making the most of Kobo.
For more promotional muscle, any or all of these big three alternatives to Amazon can be teamed up with Bookbub. Bookbub is a massive email list for readers that allows authors to pay for promotional spots in emails targeted to specific genre groupings of readers. Bookbub has also started selling more traditional ad spots, mostly due to all the money they were leaving on the table from authors who can't buy their way into the promotional emails due to the demand. As far as paid ads go, these are among those that generate the least amount of friction, since everyone seeing the ads is intentionally looking for books to either download for free or buy.
There are several other large curated email lists like BookBub. There's no way I can list them all here. But Written Word Media, Book Gorilla, Kindle Nation Daily, Discount Books Daily, Book Perk, and the Fussy Librarian are all ones I've used.
Lastly, what if you are looking to maximize audio content outside of Audible? This market is evolving too quickly to keep up with. The Major new player is Findaway Voices. Findaway can help you produce and distribute your audiobook without pressuring you to go exclusive on Audible.
Plus, Findaway has teamed up with BookBub's new Chirp to make a solid play in the audiobook market. Chirp combines the email list power of BookBub with a retail store for audiobooks AND a mobile app for listening to audiobooks purchased on the platform. You guessed it, the best way to get distributed via Chirp is through Findaway Voices.
When it comes to audio, stay tuned (see what I did there?) because heavyweights such as Spotify and iTunes are making moves that could result in reshaping the seascape sooner than later. For my two cents, I still prefer streaming audio over audiobooks. Streaming an audio drama or audio story (just like a podcast) via a platform such as SoundCloud seems more in-tune (I'm killing it here) with consumer trends. Audiobooks are large, clunky files that live in non-SEO skins. But perhaps I'm reaching a bit too far into the radical future for our current purposes.
Aggregators and distributors help simplify the process of going wide.
Spreading your focus on several, even dozens, of retail outlets can be a major drag on the limited time and energy of any Pirate Author. When deploying a broad strategy, most Pirate Authors find it necessary to use an aggregation/distribution service to help.
These services allow you to enter your content, story description, pricing, meta-data, etc. and then distribute to potentially hundreds of small to large retailers. These services will collect royalties, pool them, and help you manage the sales data from a single dashboard.
While Smashwords is the grandaddy service for ebook aggregation, they are...well, old and creaky. The new players for ebooks are Draft2Digital (D2D) and PublishDrive (PD). They have very different pricing structures due to the fact that PD has shifted to a SaaS (software as a service) model and thus charges a monthly subscription rather than taking a percentage of royalties like D2D.
For Print on Demand services (POD), IngramSpark and Lulu are the main two players. IngramSpark is the independent author portal for Ingram, the largest book distributor in the game. I've used IngramSpark to publish nearly thirty titles, and their portal is getting a little cleaner every year. I wound not recommend using them for ebooks, but they do a fine job with print. Although avoid putting in orders around the holidays if you can. Their presses are overworked and more likely to produce defects during November and December.
Lulu has been around since the very beginning, and while I lost track of them for several years, I've recently been reunited with their services and have found them more than capable. And customer service is a huge plus for Lulu. Don't expect to get ahold of a human at Ingram. The last time I tried their customer service email it actually bounced. Lulu has also launched recent improvements in their website and user experience.
KDP Vs. Kindle Select
Even if you decide to go wide with your distribution, there is no reason to shun Amazon altogether. Tons of readers still rely on Amazon for access to content. The key distinction for using Amazon as a part of a broad distribution plan is to stick with Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) while refraining from Kindle Select.
Kindle Select is the title for the author program that includes access to Kindle Unlimited, Amazon's reader subscription service, along with other promotional benefits within the different Amazon hydra heads. Amazon ads are still available to authors who remain outside of Kindle Select, but the full functionality of Amazon ads is restricted to Kindle Select authors only. Due to the intense competitiveness inside the Amazon ads battle-dome, it is typically recommended to enter Kindle Select (exclusivity) if you plan to incorporate Amazon ads into your marketing strategy.
Thus we've come full circle with our need to battle the twin hydra heads of Kindle Unlimited and Amazon ads. But...we're not ready quite yet. In preparation for this battle, we must consider the third level of covering your assets. We must consider access to your readers as a brand asset to be valued and protected.
Pirate Authors own access to their audience as directly as possible.
This is different from owning access to eyeballs. Level two of covering your assets, asset control, is more about the means of finding your audience and them finding you. Level three is about brand loyalty. This is so frickin' critical and yet is being rapidly undermined in the current publishing seascape.
If we remain dependent on platforms such as Amazon to reach our audience, we will continue to suffer the loss of brand loyalty as readers shift their loyalty from our author brand to Amazon's brand. Increasingly, when readers find our stories through services like Kindle Unlimited, their loyalty is to Kindle Unlimited, not to our story nor to our author brand.
Don't believe me? One way to gauge reader loyalty is to evaluate who they are more directly connected to. Who has more direct access, and who are they more willing to click a link for? Amazon customers who buy your book are required to give Amazon their name, email, and financial information. They provide Amazon their consumer habits and opinions. They receive direct emails from Amazon about potential next books to buy.
Amazon shares none of that information with you. You have no means of contacting these readers. You have no means of providing them with additional value. These readers belong to Amazon, not to you.
But wait! Some of those consumers were sent to Amazon from my email updates! I hear you screaming. Okay, so they were willing to click a link for you. You did the hard work to build brand loyalty with those readers...and then you sent them to Amazon to buy your book. Most of us writers are willing to lend our brand loyalty to Amazon, but there is no reason for them to return the favor. We are actively working for them. They are much too smart to work for us.
Pirate Authors are going to have to help with the solution.
This is a problem. The ultimate solution doesn't exist...yet. Someone needs to build a new platform that helps readers discover the content they want to read without stooping to paid advertising, and sales-driven rankings. The technology to do this one-hundred percent exists. But the insight, fortitude, and resources will need to unite in a corporate trifecta for this new platform to emerge. It is my hope that enough Pirate Authors will raise their flags to either incentivize such a company to emerge or to pool enough resources to create the company ourselves.
In the meantime, there are things Pirate Authors can do to ease the pain. Most of them are tried and true methods of developing reader loyalty. Things like email marketing, content marketing, social media connectivity. Do these together with your pirate crew to magnify the impact.
The key is to remember that reader loyalty is more readily built for an author brand, not a book or even a series. Don't divide your efforts among each book. Even if you have to create stories in multiple genres, consider creating multiple author brands. Or find a way to connect the genres into a single brand.
This is where the right pirate crew is essential. Unite your efforts under a single pirate flag and create awesome stories that force reader loyalty to remain with your brand, rather than with the platform that spoon-feeds them at the buffet.
Now it's time to battle the twin hydra heads!
Next week's post will dive even deeper into finding or joining the right pirate crew. This first level of asset creation and ownership is the one we writers have most control over, and thus it has been the first to experience radical transformation. We'll also discuss how we can equip our pirate crews to influence level two and level three of asset ownership in our favor.