Avoiding The Amazon Trap

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Let me start this post with an apology. I know the title is a little ‘clickbait-y’ and I’m sorry about that. I’m not here today to trash Amazon or to even try to tell you NOT to use their marketplace. I use Amazon. Like, more than I should probably. And you should use Amazon too. But as self-published authors, we need to understand what, exactly, Amazon is.

Maybe a silly question, but I think we need to clearly define what Amazon is (and is not) before we can talk about the best ways to make use of Amazon.

What is Amazon.com?

Amazon is a marketplace for ecommerce. Their website and peripheral devices (such as the Echo or Kindle) are designed to help you do one thing: find and purchase products. Amazon facilitates selling products, handling the transfer of funds, and ensures shipping of your products.

There’s one additional layer to Amazon that, as a creator with products to sell (books in this case) you need to be aware of: Amazon Prime.

Lulu (or any other self-publishing company) will never try to tell you to forego listing your books on Amazon. Simply leaving anyone with a Prime Membership (over 100 million memberships as of 2018) on the table is a huge mistake. For that reason alone, all authors should be making their book available on Amazon.

Falling into The Amazon Trap

Here’s a common scenario for a lot of new authors:

You finish your manuscript. It’s great, you’re happy! You do some editing, friends and fellow writers give you notes, you revise and edit again; at the end of all this, you’ve got a real book ready for publishing.

But you’re not trying to ‘go big’ with your book. You want to publish it and make a little extra money on the side, maybe one day you’ll get noticed and land a publishing deal. For the moment, you know self-publishing is for you.

You do your research. Looking at online retailers, publishing services, and various book marketing schemes. Again and again, Google points you back to a handful of platforms—including Kindle Direct Publishing. You can create a print book and an ebook and list them on Amazon with simple file uploads.

It’s just so easy. So you publish with KDP. You even get a professionally designed book cover from a graphic design friend. The book looks good. An Ebook for immediate download and a print-on-demand paperback. You buy a couple dozen copies to give (or sell) to friends and family.

Everything is awesome: you’ve published your book!

And if that’s what you’re after, Amazon is great. Simple, omnipresent, and you’ll even earn a bit for each sale. You don’t ever need to expand beyond your Amazon listing to make some extra income on your books.

That’s the Amazon Trap.

Freedom to Thrive

All companies naturally want to attract and retain customers. A huge part of retaining customers is giving them no reason to consider another company or service to fill their needs. So it makes perfect sense that Amazon does their best to be a one-stop shop. Remember that their goal is to provide you the means to search out and purchase exactly what you need. Getting that product in a matter of a day or two is the icing on the cake your Prime Membership bestows.

This natural business drive is what traps some authors. They become so indoctrinated and enamored of their Amazon listing, their sales rank, and their reviews, that they lose sight of the most important thing in marketing. Making connections. Building a network of fans. Of supporters.

There is a distinct and critical line authors cross when they self-publish. If you want to be a financially successful author (as in, you’re publishing not just to share your story, but to earn income from it), you need to also become a successful marketer. Doing so means shifting your focus from creating the content you want to share (your book) to creating content that will attract strangers.

Simply self-publishing your book does not in any way assure sales. A listing on Amazon or any retail site online only means that your book CAN be purchased online. You are responsible for driving readers to that listing.

It is incredibly vital to note that Amazon (and all online bookmakers and sellers, Lulu included) is simply a tool for selling your book. When your listing becomes the goal in and of itself, the opportunity to thrive as an author is diminished.

Building off our original scenario

You’ve got your book published and it’s sold pretty well. Better than you expected. A year or so goes by and you have another book ready to publish. But with this one, you want to really get behind the marketing a bit and try to sell even more copies.

What can KDP do to help you with this?

The answer is a cold, hard nothing. And really, why should they? That’s not what they’re about. KDP is an Amazon tool to get your product (a book) on the marketplace.

Okay, ‘nothing’ is way too harsh. Amazon does have a system you can use through your KDP account called Amazon Ads. Similar to the way Facebook Ads work, you can pay to have a promotion for your book appear to Amazon users who fit certain criteria (ideally those who might be interested in your book). Reedsy offers a good breakdown of Amazon Ads. One word of caution reading their article – the case studies use two successful authors as a basis for claiming Amazon Ads drive sales.

Which makes perfect sense. If you’ve already got a following and some name recognition, advertising will work better for you. The bottom line here is that Amazon Ads can help. Perhaps more so for an established author than for a novice or new author, but the potential to grow sales through Amazon Ads is there. Still, the impetus is on the author to market themselves, to drive readers to their product.

What is success?

What does an author need to do to successfully self-publish? Again, I encourage you to get online and do your research. You’re going to see a lot of advice that includes maintaining an author website, going to author events/signings, and generally just engaging in network building.

As you research marketing strategies, there’s one thing you might begin to notice. Marketing experts (not book marketers specifically) will often speak to the importance of using the right tools and using a variety of tools to achieve your goals. Rarely will a reputable expert tell you there is one and only one tool you should use to effectively market whatever you’re selling. Marketing is the art of finding and using the right tools to achieve the goals you have for your brand and product.

The Amazon trap is thinking you need only Amazon to effectively market and sell your book.

Diversity is the Key

If the Amazon trap is thinking you only need Amazon to be a successful author the obvious solution is diversity.

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors

Now is the time to reiterate: you should sell your book on Amazon. If that means publishing through KDP or creating a seller account and selling directly, that’s up to you. Amazon is a resource and you should take advantage of it.

Diversifying means looking for the maximum return for the minimum input. Here’s a Lulu example: Imagine you’ve got your book published on Amazon and you’re ready to release it. You need a couple hundred copies for events and filling pre-orders. If you go to KDP to order, you’ll pay print cost only, which is nice.

Or you could use Lulu to print, enjoy a volume discount, and save a pretty penny on that bulk order. Amazon won’t penalize you for printing your book elsewhere. Lulu doesn’t care that you’re published through KDP. You have multiple needs; you need multiple services to fulfill those needs.

The one consistent characteristic I see among authors who are successfully selling their books is a website to funnel their fans through. With your own destination online, you can direct everyone (from dedicated buyers to anyone just interested) to a central location that you control. They see your blog content; they see your book sales links, they can support you through a Patreon or Kickstarter if that’s what you’re about. The site is 100% YOU.

You would not believe how many author websites I’ve seen that look amazing, that include all the content and more I mentioned above, and then, after all this, link buyers to Amazon.

Y Tho? Gif

Using Amazon versus relying on Amazon

Including a link to your Amazon listing I get. But making it your primary sales link? That I don’t get. It defies logic and data (such as this 2017 study indicating that 88% of consumers prefer buying direct).

I think about it like this: imagine you’re an artist and you have your own small store where you have your art hanging on the walls. Someone comes in and looks around and sees one they like. They want to buy your art! So you give them directions to the local Walmart and send them there to purchase it. That’s what happens when you link a buyer to Amazon to shop.

More than that, you lose the opportunity to capture their contact info (for advertising and the like) and you give up a portion of your revenue to Amazon.

As I mentioned earlier, you need to have an Amazon listing. The number of Prime Members alone dictates the need for using their marketplace. The trap to avoid is thinking that Amazon is the end all of selling your book.

It’s 2019 and you have an abundance of options. There’s no need to limit your options when it is so easy to diversify.

Paul H, Content Marketing Manager

Paul is the Content Marketing Manager at Lulu. When he's not entrenched in the publishing and print-on-demand world, he likes to hike the scenic North Carolina landscape, read, sample the fanciest micro-brewed beer, and collect fountain pens. Paul is a dog person but considers himself cat tolerant.

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Thank you for the article! If I publish with Lulu and sell on Amazon (among other platforms), would my Amazon customers get to use their Prime membership to receive free shipping via Prime? Or would Lulu books not qualify for free shipping on Amazon? Thank you.

I am kicked out of Amazon , all my books are taken down. After repeated requests and complaints I do not have any satisfactory answer why it happened. My next book is ready , can I publish it on Lulu with global option?

I picked Lulu for my notebooks and journals to be able to choose quality of the images and paper which my understanding of Amazon was that may not be as good. However I understood being an Amazon seller and using their keyword search to craft listings as a good selling tool – when I have global distribution through Lulu and they sell on Amazon can I be an Amazon seller or is that a different thing eg publishing with them?

Thank you very helpful

I wonder if you could give me some clarification on the conflicting information I am hearing (offline). If a KDP account was terminated, is it allowable to upload the exact same book(s) to Lulu that was previously sold on the KDP account, and still have them available on KDP (through Lulu)?

Great advice! However, I am having a serious issue between Lulu.com and Amazon! Here is what’s happening. I published globally through lulu, which placed my book on Amazon. The book printed by Lulu looks amazing, while the book printed by Amazon and shipped to purchasers looks terrible! Lulu says Amazon is responsible, and Amazon says it’s on Lulu. I don’t know what to do about this issue since the masses have only purchased through Amazon. I am wondering if it’s possible to remove my book from Amazon (on the Lulu site), and republish it through Amazon KDP? Would this be possible? Suggestions?

GREAT advice! Over the years, I have had nothing but positive experiences with LULU and my books. One of my book covers was once featured in a short LULU video about cover art. That was a highlight for me!
I sell my books through LULU itself, amazon (I list there and mail the items out myself), and social media.
To further sales, I maintain and regularly update a website devoted just to my publishing. I promote this site whenever and wherever I can. As “CONCERNINGTHEKING” notes above, a well designed and maintained website is essential to modern publishing. And it can be done free. I set up my site using a blog format so people can leave “likes” and comments.
With LULU, we are limited only by our imagination – so avoid all traps such as that described by this post.
As I have often said, LULU is the most important advancement in printing since Gutenberg.

Taking the time to develop a professional website lets readers see how committed and dedicated you are to your writing career. They’ll sit up and take notice when they see how thoroughly you are promoting your work!

This article does not mention the key issue of royalty payments, as hinted at in John Curry’s response.
I have three books to my name:
My best selling book “All about Hauptwerk” has exceeded my sales expectations. But most sales are via Amazon. But unfortunately Amazon pay me £5 less for each sale than does Lulu, which means that either Lulu charges retailers too much, or Amazon is greedy, or both. Unfortunately so many readers will not buy directly from Lulu; I know that because when I announced the book on Facebook, and on musical and instrumental forums, so many potential readers said “When will it be on Amazon?”. They bought the book, but not via Lulu.
My first book “All about your Computer” had a problem – at first it was listed by Waterstones, and Blackwells, etc etc but after about 6 months or a year it was no longer available from most of the on-street retailers. I sought support over that, and was told by Waterstones that they had some kinf of issues or problems with Lulu, but that special orders could be supplied – but we all know that if a process proves difficult or protracted only the most determined purchasers will persist. I reported this issue to Lulu support but that really got me nowhere. As a result sales of that book are few and far between.
My third book (The Polychronicon – A 35 year Adventure) is a large 450 page tome in full colour and hard back about a very long term game of Dungeons and Dragons. It is very expensive (approx. £70) and apparently is in the wrong dimensions for Amazon retail. I’m not really worried about that though, as I did not write that book for its sales but rather as an historical record of certain events over 35+ years. If Lulu want to venture into Movie making, speak to me about this book!
Anyway, in short, authors lose money on Amazon UNLESS there is a dramatic boost on sales which cannot be serviced by selling on Lulu alone. In addition, my experiance is that there is some resistance amongst on-street resellers to stocking self-published works hosted on platforms such as Lulu. And what about book reviews? Lulu could perhaps help us get reviewed both in the print news-media and on radio and TV – how many Lulu hosted authors have been reviewed in that way?
OK – time to stop before this becomes my fourth book!
Kenneth Spencer

Soory – poor proof-reading there! Para. 3 – “kinf” should read “kind” and para. 5 – “experiance” should read “experience”.
An edit option would reduce embarrassment!

Thanks for the, very welcome, advice. I first published with Lulu in 2012. However, I didn’t make any real effort to ‘get the book out there’. Subsequent to that publication, I published a revised version of an academic document on Amazon’s previous PoD service. Sales for this were negligible. I have now published the revised version which is, though reasonably academic, more accessible. With this edition I am endevouring to attract significantly more custom–most;y through the use of my blog-site.

First my disclaimer. I am a successful publisher of wargaming books. I mean really successful for a small niche. I sell via Lulu, Amazon, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, my own site, face to face. Amazon is the majority of my income, but the other distribution channels give me more £ per sale. Quite a lot more. I am also aware that the bigger the Amazon market share, the less they pay in royalties. So my advice is publish the physical books through Lulu, but sell on both.

Clarity please. If a self published author goes with Amazon, does that prohibit the author from also publishing with Lulu? What needs to be done to use both?

This needs a really long answer, so I will give a short one. You can publish on lulu and when you have complete your book, click the button to distribute your book to other distribution channels, which includes Amazon (and other non Amazon sites)

I would be pleased to receive some revenue from my three books that you have so far published. I had arranged. payment to go through PayPal. This is for “Tales from Little Ness, which Amazon do list on their website.
Ken Crisp.

Hi Ken,

Feel free to contact our Support team for help checking in on your revenue and scheduled payments – http://www.lulu.com/support

Hello lulu, in my company we decided to do without amazon, we had been using it to sell computers for almost 8 years but things have changed a lot and there is more and more competition and sales are not done as before
Sure there are products that sell very well, but in our case it was not like that

Wow, so the guy at Lulu doesn’t think that an author being exclusive with Amazon isn’t a good thing?

I am shocked! Shocked, I tell you! Shocked!

That being said, I tend to thing that being exclusive to Amazon is really good for authors who are just starting out. Everything about writing and publishing involves a learning curve. Simplifying things is good. Concentrating on a single store definitely simplifies things.

Amazon is a horrible beyond measure business partner, though. They literally could not care less if any individual author publishes with them or not. They’re reticent to give out any information and can make – and have made – decisions that completely alter the playing filed at any time. If I were depending on writing to pay a mortgage, there is no way I’d feel comfortable trusting Amazon with my livelihood.

Good point about simplicity for new authors. The ideas about diversifying are definitely for authors more comfortable with their author brand and managing a variety of different business related tasks alongside writing and publishing.

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