Amazon and Reviews

Another thing I learned last week at NINC involves posting reviews at Amazon. Many of us have noticed – or been notified of – reviews being removed from the Amazon website, because Amazon perceives that the reviewer and the author know each other. This is obviously an effort to keep people from abusing the review option by having all their friends give their book five star reviews, but is kind of annoying for reviewers who receive copies specifically so that they can post an honest review.

The solution is this: so long as you include the language “I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review” in your review, the review won’t be removed.

I would include this language as well if you win a copy of a book in a contest or giveaway and end up reviewing it. If the book was gifted through Amazon, Amazon will know it, and this will ensure your review doesn’t evaporate after you spend the time to write it.

How simple is that? And now we know!

Notifications

There’s another new way for you to get news about your favourite authors.

I told you a few weeks ago about the new feature available at Amazon on their author pages. You can now click to be notified when any author has a new book released. There’s more detail about this, as well as links to my Amazon author pages, in my post from November.

Also, as of this week, BookBub has added a feature for subscribers – if you are a BookBub subscriber, you can ask to me notified when a specific author has a new BookBub promotion. This is supposed to work even if you unsubscribe from BookBub, so it must be a separate newsletter list. You can read more about the Author Follow feature on their blog right here.

I think it’s great that portals are finally simplifying the process of having readers know what authors are up to. You might not want to subscribe to a lot of author newsletters, and you know that you will go back to your sales portal of choice or to a favourite promotion site. What do you think of these features? Are you using them, or do you plan to?

DRM Free

“DRM” means digital rights management. Essentially, DRM locks a digital book file (or any digital file) so that it can’t be easily moved between devices. The idea is that it stops piracy. What’s clear now is that it doesn’t stop piracy – people who pirate digital books can break DRM very easily. What DRM does, then, is inconvenience readers who have bought a legitimate copy because it keeps them from moving the file from phone to tablet to e-reader to computer.

When I first began to re-publish my backlist, I used DRM because my publishers had always used DRM. I really didn’t know much about it, and just replicated the processes I knew. By the time I published to platforms other than Amazon, I knew better and didn’t use DRM. My newer titles don’t have DRM either. Having DRM on a book file isn’t something easily changed – it’s not just a toggle – so the book has to be unpublished and then republished as a new title. It seemed complicated and I heard horror stories.

This fall, we’ve been updating all of my book files, formatting them all over again and updating the end matter. As the new files are available to be published to Amazon, I’ve been removing the DRM. It’s actually a much smoother process than I’d anticipated. We’re almost done. Right now, these titles are newly available at Amazon without DRM:

The Moonstone
Once Upon a Kiss
Love Potion #9
The Last Highlander
The Time Travel Romance Boxed Set
The Beauty
The Warrior
The Beauty Bride
The Rose Red Bride
The Snow White Bride
The Ballad of Rosamunde
The Jewels of Kinfairlie Boxed Set

Still in the works are The Countess, The Temptress, The Bride Quest II Boxed Set, The Rogue, The Scoundrel and the Rogues of Ravensmuir Boxed Set. I’m hoping they’ll be all done by the end of the month. 🙂

Amazon Author Pages

Amazon is one of the few portals that offers a page for each author published there. On the Amazon author page, you’ll find info about the author, a list of his or her books, and often a feed from the author’s blog (like this one. Hello, Amazon peeps!) They recently redesigned the author pages and among the new features is an Add to Favorites button.

If you click on this – and you’ll probably need to be signed into your Amazon account – you’re opting in to be notified of that author’s new releases. I think this is a really cool feature, so wanted to be sure you knew about it. The button is right under the author photo.

Here’s my Deborah Cooke author page at Amazon.

And here’s my Claire Delacroix author page at Amazon.

The Warrior’s Prize Pre-Order

The Warrior's Prize, a medieval romance by Claire Delacroix and book #4 in the True Love Brides SeriesAs I’ve mentioned to some of you already, Amazon is allowing pre-orders of indie-published titles now (YAY!) but only for 90 days in advance of publication. The Warrior’s Prize goes on sale December 29 and is available for pre-order at Apple and Kobo, but I had to wait until today to list it at Amazon.

It’s now listed at Amazon, right here.

You might notice that it says the book is 27 pages long. That’s the length of the placeholder file I uploaded. The actual book will be 100,000 words long (300 pages or more) just like all of my other full length medieval romances.

FALLEN and KDP Select

Fallen, an urban fantasy romance by Claire DelacroixAs most of you know, I recently republished FALLEN, the first book in my urban fantasy romance trilogy, The Prometheus Project. I decided to enroll the book in Amazon’s KDP Select promotion.This program requires that the book in question be available exclusively at Amazon for 90 days. It also allows the author/publisher to make the book free for five days – you can schedule those days in advance, and this is the only way for author/publishers to ensure that a book is free on Amazon. (Amazon may choose to match a free price offered at another portal, but that is at their discretion and timing.)

I chose KDP Select for FALLEN because the Prometheus Project is different from most of my Claire Delacroix titles. It’s an urban fantasy and romantic suspense series set in a dystopian future world – as opposed to a medieval romance. Last year, I had a similar situation with the Coxwell Series. These contemporary romances are different from the bulk of my Deborah Cooke titles, which are all Dragonfire (paranormal romance and paranormal YA). Last summer, I put Double Trouble in KDP Select, then made it free when all four books were available. That kickstarted sales for the entire series at Amazon. Of course, the drawback is that this program only works at Amazon. After Double Trouble came out of KDP Select, I published it at other portals and made it free there. Amazon did match the free price for a while, and overall the strategy worked very well in establishing sales for the series.

My plan was to use the same strategy again, esp given the similarities in the two situations.

One difference this year is that author/publishers now have the ability to create pre-orders. A pre-order means that the book is displayed to customers on the portal in question, but that it is not actually available to be purchased and downloaded. The customer orders the book, and the sale is fulfilled on the on-sale date. On that date, the customer’s credit card is charged and the book is delivered. The idea with pre-orders (which are standard practice for big publishers) is that sales can accumulate over a longer period of time and all be counted on the same day. Ideally, this creates a spike in sales on that on-sale date, and drives the book onto bestseller lists. At least, it’s easier than trying to get every potential customer to remember to buy the book on the same date. Of course, not every title is driven on to the bestseller lists with this strategy, but it’s still a handy tool.

I decided to use the pre-order option for FALLEN. My thinking was that I could upload the book while all the metadata was fresh in my mind, pre-set everything, and let computers do what they do best. The book might gather some advance sales. It might not. The point was that I wouldn’t be scurrying around in January, trying to remember the keywords and locate the copy for this title. The book would complete its term in KDP Select on January 12. The pre-orders were set to be fulfilled on January 15. I loaded it all up and moved on to the edits for Guardian.

Last week, I received a message from Amazon that I was in violation of the terms and conditions for KDP Select. We went ’round and ’round, but the upshot of it is that they interpret “not for sale at any other portal” to mean “not distributed to any other portal.” Pre-orders, in their view, are a violation of the terms of agreement. I argued my side, but it was clear that my perspective would not prevail. As a result, FALLEN is no longer in the KDP Select program.

And the upshot of that is that FALLEN will be available at other portals tomorrow, November 1, instead of on January 15. If you pre-ordered a copy elsewhere, your order will be fulfilled tomorrow.

Amazon MatchBook

Amazon has announced a new program, which they’ll be rolling out in the next few weeks (according to their announcement to authors). I think it’s pretty cool, and since it may impact your buying decisions, I thought I’d tell you about it.

MatchBook allows authors and publishers to enroll books in a matching program. Here’s how it works: if you have bought a print edition of a book and if that book is enrolled in the program, you’ll be able to buy the digital edition of that same book at a discounted price. (Of course, you’ll also have to have bought the print book new from Amazon for this offer to work.) The digital edition must be at least half price for consumers who qualify.

So, this means that all of you who have libraries of mass market romances, just for example, will likely be able to replace many of them in digital editions at a discounted price. It doesn’t matter if you bought the mass market original, the trade paperback or book club original, or the new trade paperback edition – any of them will qualify you for the discounted digital edition, if the author/publisher has enrolled that book in the program.

I’ve set all of the titles under my control to be 99 cents for readers who have bought them new from Amazon. I’ll continue to do that in future, sooooooo – if you intend to buy in both print and digital, you might want to buy the print edition first, just so you get the discount.

MatchBook was just announced and it’s not clear exactly when it will go live for consumers. The announcement said ‘weeks’, so I’d expect it to be rolled out soon. It looks to me like an inducement for those readers who haven’t yet bought an e-reader to make the switch, maybe to be advertised just in time for holiday shopping.

We’ll see how it shakes out, but now you know!

 

The End of Free?

We’ve talked about authors making books free in past posts here on Wild West Thursday, and about the way that free can give visibility to an author. (Here’s one of my earliest posts about free, and some reflections on implications, then a more recent one about free’s effectiveness.) The benefit of free is particularly seen in linked titles — for example, when Double Trouble was free, sales of One More Time, All or Nothing and Third Time Lucky increased dramatically. In a nutshell, making Double Trouble free gave the Coxwell series the visibility it needed to populate the algorithm at the various online portals and to find readership.

Free, however, doesn’t directly make money for the online bookseller. It creates expense but not revenue. It requires capacity in the network and storage space on the servers. There are many authors who don’t use free strategically to drive sales of other titles. Before Christmas, the rumor was that there were over 2 million titles that were free on Amazon, and that 3000 – 4000 titles went free every single day on that site through KDP Select. With that kind of volume of titles available free, it’s fair to say that a culture is being established that ALL books should be free—or at least that an ever-growing number of readers are coming to believe that they need never again pay for a book.

It stands to reason that online booksellers would want free to go away. The question is how will they do it — and the problem is that it works so very well to promote linked titles. (I talked about this a bit in January.)

Amazon is one portal on which authors can’t set a free price. Every book must have a minimum price of 99 cents. (B&N is another portal that doesn’t allow authors to make a book free.) Amazon chooses to match a free price elsewhere, or not, at their own discretion. What authors often do is make a title free at Apple, KOBO, and/or Smashwords (which feeds content to both of those portals as well as B&N and others.) Amazon then may choose to match the price. The other option is to register a title in KDP Select, which allows the author to pre-select 5 free days in a 90 day period, but also requires exclusivity of that title for those 90 days.

In my experience, going free everywhere has been much more effective. It has helped to build my sales on every portal by populating their respective algorithms, which diversifies my income source. It also doesn’t require exclusivity, which is something resented by readers who shop at portals other than Amazon. You can probably guess that having done this has weakened my own relationship with Amazon: in December 2012, probably 95% of my online indie sales were made at Amazon. In December 2013, that would have been closer to 60%. My sales at KOBO and Apple exploded in the last half of 2012, and B&N grew significantly, as well. That’s a big change and if my experience is mirrored across the entire publishing platform, that’s an issue from Amazon. (Last week, I saw an industry report that Amazon’s market share had dropped from 90% to 60%, which indicates that my results are typical.)

In December, I had several books free on all portals, which were driving sales of linked titles very nicely. I was all ready for the Christmas gifts of e-readers and finding new audience with those free titles. To my surprise, Amazon unmatched free on my books just before Christmas, returning them to their regular prices. My marketing plan, at least on that portal, was completely trashed. I think they must have had some pushback from customers, though, because they were matching free again before New Year’s. The momentum had been lost for my titles, though, so I returned them to regular prices elsewhere, too, and changed strategies.

By mid-January, though, free was back in place at Amazon, much as it had been a month before. It appears that the first attempt to get rid of free – by teaching new Kindle users that content must be bought – was unsuccessful.

Tomorrow, the next stage in the plan goes into effect: Amazon has changed the rules for Amazon Associates accounts. These are sites that drive traffic to Amazon with buy links and receive a percentage of all purchases made by those customers who follow their link. Although the amount of money per unit sale is small, sites that drive high volumes of traffic—like many of the services that advertise free books to readers—do well enough to pay their expenses. As of March 1, however, Amazon has changed the terms of payment. If most of the downloads/sales driven by an associate’s links are for free books or if downloads of free books exceed a specified number of units, that associate will forfeit payment from Amazon for that month.

This is an interesting strategy and it remains to be seen whether it changes the game or not. Either way, get ready for more discounted books and fewer free ones. Will Amazon continue to encourage authors to sign up for KDP Select? I suspect they will, and as getting rid of the free price-match may be a means to compel authors to use KDP Select to get books free on Amazon. We’ll see.

But the funny thing is I had booked a sale for March well in advance of this announcement. I feel psychic!

Jewels of Kinfailie Boxed Set by Claire Delacroix

March 4 – 31, the Jewels of Kinfairlie Boxed Set will be discounted from $9.99 to $2.99. That’s three  full length medieval romances and a linked short story for less than $3. It’ll be on sale at Amazon, KOBO, B&N and Apple.

Check back on Monday for one-click buy links.