How to sell more ebooks on Amazon

The other day, Amazon provided very profitable proof that the old trope “the money’s in the list” is as valid now as when first coined more than a decade ago. See also: what’s the best ereader?

How to sell more ebooks on Amazon

I’ve experienced its truth myself through two of my businesses – one an online information site, the other a seller of physical goods – whose large, qualified email databases have been a large part of their success. But Amazon’s marketing muscle, much of it email-based, left me feeling very insignificant, albeit a little richer.

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I wrote a book as part of an experiment to see whether self-publishing non-fiction could be a viable online business and, if so, to work out a reproducible formula for success.

The book was launched in October 2012 in ebook and printed formats, the latter being printed via Lulu and sold from our own online retail shop and on Amazon. When I began the experiment, I anticipated that Amazon’s Kindle platform would be the most profitable, and I was right.

So I removed the book from Kobo, Barnes & Noble and Apple’s book stores, where sales didn’t justify the effort of managing them. Over the past 18 months, the book has sold well in both formats, generating a five-figure turnover – not bad considering it took only four weeks to write and format.

Withdrawing from those other platforms also permitted me to join Amazon’s KDP Select programme, so that my book can be borrowed by Prime members, and made it eligible for the self-managed Kindle Countdown Deals, where you set short-term discounts.

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As reported before, this kind of promotion has worked well for me, and both times I’ve run it I made more profit on the sales, despite the lower cover price. Then, however, two things happened in April that sent my sales into the stratosphere.

The first was that a Kindle relationship manager got in touch to ask if I’d like my book featured in the Spring Sale section, which operated over the two-week school holiday. To qualify, I agreed to sell the book for 99p – the normal price is around £3.50 – reasoning that the cut in profit per sale was a cheap price to quantify the effect of putting Amazon’s marketing muscle behind me.

As soon as the deal period began, I saw a fourfold increase in sales, which increased to a factor of ten by the start of the second week. By selling more, the book rose through the rankings and hence became more visible across the Kindle Store. This increase swamped the reduced profitability per book and left me looking at a 250% increase in revenue (and a highly successful outcome to the experiment).

At around the same time, Amazon launched a much-improved sales dashboard for Kindle publishers, and when I logged in on 15 April, I thought the spike in the sales graph was a glitch. By close of play, I’d sold 200 times more books than on an average day, with the result that it rocketed into the top 50 paid-for Kindle books (out of around two million), occupied a prominent position in the Movers & Shakers chart and peaked at fourth position in the non-fiction chart.

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