Before I get started, I wanted to let you know that this isn’t one of those, why you’ll never be a bestseller type articles, it’s an article about mathematical odds. The odds about Amazon’s KU program and the amount of competition you’ll face on just Amazon alone. There’s this prevailing notion that it’s simple to become a bestseller on Amazon, after all they make it so easy to publish that it seems success is inevitable, right? Yet what a lot of indie authors don’t understand is that we need to know the industry before we publish. For example, how saturated is the market? Should we bother creating an audio book? What are the odds for authors published through Amazon to actually make it to the bestseller’s list?
Using Amazon’s own numbers, I’ve put together some facts that will either confirm your suspicions or utterly shock you.
How Many Books?
It’s estimated that Amazon holds 65% of all new online print and digital sales in the U.S. and that percentage is expected to go up as Barnes & Noble (their second biggest competitor) changes their business model which will now focus less on books.
(These numbers are from Amazon.com as of January 12, 2017):
They sell over 33 million books on their website which includes:
- 19 million Paperback
- 6 million Hardcover
- 8 million Digital
- 305,000 Audio
- 500,000 Large Print
That means if you have 1 book, your odds are 1 in 33,000,000 and the more books you publish, the better your odds get. Now I know these sound like astronomical odds but when you consider that most major publishers and indie authors don’t market their books at all, your odds improve ever so slightly.
On a side note, your odds of winning the lottery are around 1 in 13,000,000. Just thought I’d throw that in.
Is Going Exclusive The Ticket To Exposure on Amazon?
In 2011, Amazon created a program called Amazon Select that would help self-published authors get better visibility on their website. For 5 days you could set your book’s price at free, but as you can imagine there was a catch, authors had to agree to a 90 exclusive period. That meant no selling your book at any other retailers. This seemed like a no-brainer and many authors signed away but it’s now 6 years later and Amazon’s website contains over 912,000 free ebooks as I type this (January 12th 2017). Some of these books are permafree while most are enrolled in Select.
I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t mention the most controversial program in self-publishing history and that’s the Kindle Unlimited program. It’s Amazon’s subscription service where readers can read, or listen to an unlimited amount of books and magazines for a monthly fee of $9.99. As of today, Amazon boasts of 1 million titles in that program.
So How Do We Stand Out From The Others?
If you’re feeling demoralized after reading all these stats don’t, selling books was never easy just ask any publisher. Yet as we speak the barriers that once prevented indie authors from getting into libraries and major chain stores are slowly disappearing. So it is truly the best of times and the worst of times for the publishing industry. Now begs the question what do we do about it? Here are a few suggestions for improving your odds:
- Create a reasonable business plan and make yourself accountable.
- Build a platform
- Publish during popular shopping holidays; Thanksgiving, Christmas, Halloween, etc.
- Make your book available at retailers and libraries.
- Network with influencers and other indie authors
- Have a marketing budget because effective marketing costs money.
It goes without saying that the earlier you start the better, this way you can pivot and maneuver in case of a catastrophe. Just this past year alone, several sites like All Romance Ebooks, Ellora’s Cave, and Pixel of Ink closed their doors for good, citing Amazon or the market at large as the reason for their closing. Needless to say, this forced some authors to scramble and find alternatives.
The Moral of This Story
The moral of course is that success comes in many forms not just bestseller lists and awards. For some of us, just being able to make a living doing what we love is more than enough validation. And though the competition is tough, it is possible to break through with a lot of hard work, smart marketing strategies and of course, perseverance. However we still need to be realistic about what we’re willing and able to do because honesty is the foundation of any great career.