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C.C. Hogan

Could Amazon improve their service for Independent Authors?

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Dear Mr Bezos....

To get my book marked down to zero was actually easier than I thought it was going to be and the team at Amazon have been very helpful.  My book Dirt is the first in a long saga of books that will probably number 12 or more books. For an independent author who is broke, trying to promote this is a huge fight.  So, making book one permanently free is very important.

The book is not just available on Amazon, I should point out, but on Smashwords, itunes and other places.  On Smashwords, where it is free, it has been downloaded 50 times and several people have now bought book two.

On Amazon, however, you cannot set a price at what is called perma-free. The accepted workaround is to employ your friends to hit the link that says "Tell us about a lower price," and Amazon might lower the price to match the free version elsewhere.

It is very hit and miss though - for Dirt on the UK site there is no link to report another price, so you are stuck and you might have to do it with every territory individually.

So, I sent an email to the KDP team, explaining what I wanted to do and why it was so important, and they have lowered the price for me. Already, people are reading the book - not very many, but a few.

It has made me think about what else Amazon could do to help Indie authors in such a way as to also help readers and probably Amazon as well.  The list is a little eclectic, I admit.

Descriptions

I have already made a post about creating rich text descriptions when uploading your book to the KDP console, but this is really an awkward thing to do and to get right.

I would love to see a proper Rich Text editor (with limitations) added to the KDP console.  In this way authors could make beautiful descriptions without pulling their hair out and messing the pages up, and the book pages will look better for it benefiting everyone.

Through the same editor it would also be useful to be able to make specific cross links to other books on the Amazon system using some simple wizard.

Once that is done, then PLEASE can we preview our listings before hitting the publish button?  To be able to check what you are doing without waiting for it to go through the publishing process each time would be very nice and make a lot of sense.

This is probably the easiest of my suggestions to implement, to be honest.

Series Manager

The current way of linking books together in a series is not only clunky, but it causes problems. By doing so you end up pre-pending your title with a series title, which can look idiotic. 

I was very impressed with the Smashwords idea and something similar on Amazon would be perfect. With their system you create a series as an independent item and then add books to the series. You can customise how the books are labelled in the series and change the order easily through the manager.  You can give the series a specific image. In theory I suppose you can have books appearing in more than one series (I haven't tired). For instance, with Dirt, the book belongs to series one, but it also belongs to the entire saga. 

In this way, the title of the book stays as is and the series is listed separately on the page - either as just a link, or graphically showing the series, I suppose.

In addition, this could be linked to a bulk deal - create a special price for the entire series.

I would think authors might like to link lots of their books this way, not just a dedicated series.  All their thrillers with a particular detective, perhaps.

Cross-Region Comment Manager

This is something that does probably relate to books more than any other product. 

I have to admit that I am very confused about how comments migrate across from one region to another.  However, the current system can be confusing to both author and reader.

If I release a book in a language, for instance English, then the chances are that it will be the identical product across all regions.  If as a customer I read the reviews, it will make no difference to me from what region that review comes from most of the time.

Currently, if I look at a book on the UK Amazon site that has only received reviews on the US site, then by the book title, the number of reviews is listed as Zero, even though if I scroll the entire way down, some US reviews will appear.  That does not work.

A comment manager would allow the author to decide whether to combine reviews from regions or not on a book-by-book, region by region basis.   This system does not allow the selecting of comments individually, but would allow, for instance, all UK comments to show on the US site and vice versa.  However, I might not want to include the comments from the German site which may well not be in English.

IP Aware Linking

Currently, if you wish to have one link that will work out what the customer's local store is by IP address and send them in the right direction, then you have to use a third party service that takes an affiliate cut from Amazon, or do some pretty clever php scripting yourself.

If you do not use a service like this, then your potential customer can end up all over the place. For instance, if I go to the Dirt listing on dot com, a box on the right tells me I should be shopping on the UK Amazon site. If I click on that link, then I don't go to the Dirt page on the UK site, I simply see a huge list of all the books with the keyword "Dirt" somewhere.

A good solution is far better done in the hands of Amazon as the eCommerce provider.  There are two ways they could do this.  The fastest way would be for them to sort out that right hand box so that it linked directly to the UK, DE or wherever version of the page.

The better way would be for you to be redirected.

If they want to make it a little more customisable, then on the KDP console, they could add a check box that said "Redirect customers to their home country." 

I know this effectively puts a couple of companies out of business, but it is daft to have to use a third party solution.

Of course, there is an argument that with books and games then you could make the country specific site irrelevant, but I suspect that would cause Amazon tax issues.

Customisable SEO for Social Links

On this website, which is NOT Wordpress, but a custom system built with Processwire, when I write a post, I can create a specific image just for use by Twitter and Facebook using their Twitter Card and Open Graph system. I make an image 1024 x 512 pix wide and lay it out how I think works best on those networks.  That size is particularly useful to both.

A standard book cover, on the other hand, is a less useful size and proportion.  On the KDP console, it would be useful to have a range of SEO related tools so that for each book the author can put in the right length text, the right sized image and so on that makes best use of the social networks.  This is not a hard thing to do, but it just ups the anti a bit - especially as Smashwords has no social meta tags at all, which is right pain!

Perma Free

This is where I came in. In the current climate, making the digital version of a book free makes a lot of sense, especially when associated with a series, or as part of an author's portfolio.

The KDP Select system has worked very well for some people, but as Amazon face more and more competition from companies like Smashwords and Barnes & Noble, then it risks losing out to their more open method of making something free.

Now, KDP Select offers other things too that are unique to the Amazon ecosystem, so I am not suggesting it is removed, but I think an easier way of pricing books free would make sense.

The ideal is that any book can be made permanently free, like with the competition, but if Amazon were not prepared to go that far, then at least allowing a book that is part of an obvious series, as with Dirt, or where an author has several books already published via Amazon would be a good compromise.  The author/publisher should be able to price the book as free or not as they wish.

Createspace

I am not sure whether anything can be done with the strange relationship between Createspace and Amazon KDP.  Originally, they were completely separate companies and this might explain why, for instance, things like the description field on each allows different HTML and so on.

It would make a lot more sense for the author if there was one dashboard to deal with both so that the author had proper control on how the versions of the books work together.

However, I can imagine there being some huge barriers in the process.

 

So, there you have it...

It is not an exhaustive list, so please, if you have any other ideas, leave a comment. 

Generally I think Amazon is a very good service.  I am not experienced enough with it to know whether Select really does work or not (I have heard arguments both ways) and I know people are not always happy about things like Kindle Unlimited. 

To a certain extent, it is what it is and though it is still the powerhouse in the indie sector, iTunes and others are giving it a run for the money.  I am certainly not interested in bashing Amazon, I need it, but I do think there is tinkering to be done that would make the service better for all without breaking the distinctiveness of the brand.

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