External Distribution and Promotion of eTIPS eTextbooks

This blog post was written by Laurence Patterson, Edinburgh Napier University.

The largest distribution network in the world is, of course Amazon, used by millions of book readers each year, but also by millions of writers, as a means of self-publishing through their Kindle Distribution Publishing (KDP) service. For eTIPS, a joint project between Edinburgh Napier University and the University of the Highlands and Islands, the outputs were two eTextbooks that discussed students’ preparation for research. The eBooks were distributed primarily through the KDP service.

Some significant advantages come with using KDP – the files they require to be uploaded aren’t difficult to create and format – the artwork you use for the cover needn’t be too complex (indeed, they have a good selection of templates if Photoshop isn’t your thing!) When everything is loaded, and sales are coming in, you’re going to be able to access a good statistics package, telling you where and when people have paid for your publications. And you’re going to have immediate distribution, of course, to a global marketplace – Amazon’s network extends to Australia, to Japan, to India. Royalties are then paid to your bank account at the end of each month, based on the activity of the month before. The biggest problem is that, given the ease of the process, everyone is doing it, so your publication is going to struggle to be seen, unless you take advantage of some promotion opportunities offered by Amazon and by the wider community.

Readers will choose to purchase a Kindle eBook that they’ve heard of, which they think sounds interesting, that they believe is offered at good value. Price is a good motivator then, and publishers should exploit opportunities to play around with dropping and lifting those titles. Amazon KDP offers a couple of key promotional tools but, arguably, little in the way of instruction on their use. Titles can be offered to Unlimited customers for FREE download for a limited time – up to five days in any ninety-day period. Royalties are then paid not through sales, but by pages read. In contrast, publishers can use KDP’s Countdown Deal promotion to set a Kindle price to fall (or rise) over a select number of days, motivating a purchase at an early (or a late) stage. Both tools aim to draw readers’ attention to a Kindle title which, of course, might otherwise have been lost in the huge selection of available eBooks. The readers, themselves, need to make the effort to see the eBook record.

But premium services like BookBub and BargainBooksy offer publisher-paid promotion for eBooks, highlighting a price-drop across their mailing-list members. This strategy can work in the short term – since it might take fewer than 500 Kindle copies sold for a title to become the number one bestseller mark. These days, across Amazon, a mailing list with 250,000 members is likely to return good sales. At a cost of up to £800 for a single mailing-list promotion, publishers really do need to consider the pros and cons of approaching premium services, but lots of less-effective, much cheaper services exist – eReader News Today, Fussy Librarian and BookGorilla are examples.

At times, Amazon itself will advertise price drops on Kindle titles – ’50 Kindle eBooks at 99p’, ‘Christmas eBooks To Warm Your Heart’, and ‘100 Best Kindle eBooks of 2017’ are three recent examples of fiction promotions run by them. Publishers might be picked and contacted at random for these, but may request that their eBooks are included in future promotions by contacting Amazon directly. A popular title (i.e. one with lots of reviews!) is more likely to be picked up.

In general, then, publishers should embrace the need to spend money to promote their Kindle titles, and to plan how, and when, to do so. Consider who a likely audience is for your work, what approach your competitors are taking, and your available budget. The most important thing is to seek appropriate opportunities to bring potential readers to your Amazon book page, by price promotion over an extended period, careful selection of keyword and category. What they then see on the page will determine how attractive the eBook is to them – the book title, reviews, similar titles, the cover itself – and these can be tackled, updating, amended by you. The second most important rule is to keep going with this strategy!

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