Create Your Own E-Books (Part 3) - The Amazon Effect & Kindle Tools

6/11/2012 5:44:08 PM

The Amazon Effect

No author can ignore the amazing success of the Amazon book store. Its Kindle tablets are already big sellers, with Kindle ownership, and e-book reading, growing every year. In fact, Amazon reported a 500% increase in Kindle e-book sales for the fourth quarter 2011, compared with the same period in 2010. The successful appearance in the US last autumn of the Kindle Fire, with its colour screen and general purpose capabilities, signals its intention to push the brand into iPad-style tablet territory.

Description: Selling eBooks The Amazon Effect

Selling eBooks The Amazon Effect

Unsurprisingly, Amazon is keen to encourage new and established authors to bolster their e-book library. In fact, it's now seen as a serious competitor in the digital publishing industry, and is certainly powerful enough to compete with even the biggest publishing houses.

As Amazon is often the first website people use to search for a book, or to find reviews, it's a good place for an author to get discovered. Plus Amazon's unnerving ability to secure top rankings in search engine results can only be of benefit to your potential sales figures. Any book that manages to appear on the Kindle Daily Deal page can expect a very substantial rise in sales.

So what does Amazon offer for authors keen to take advantage of its huge customer base and ever increasing numbers of Kindle device sales?

One initiative is the Kindle Singles programme, aimed at the short story and small-format book end of the market. This shorter format, along with support for both fiction and non-fiction categories, makes Singles a particularly attractive proposition for new authors. It's also quite popular among journalists as a place for 'long-form journalism', where in-depth articles regularly reach 12,000 or 18,000 words. Check out Marc Herman's 'The Shores of Tripoli' as one example.

Description: the Kindle Singles program

A Singles e-book typically sells for between $0.99 and $2.99. While authors normally receive 70% of the sales price from an Amazon sale, when the price is $2.99 or lower this drops to 35%. For Singles the sales versus return sweet-spot currently appears to be $ 1.99, or about $2.08. This gives the author less than 50p per sale, so from a purely financial perspective the author needs to sell lots of copies.

Other publishers may well try to sell the same e-book for $10, with around 10% allocated to the author. So while there's an increased return for the author on each book, this is weighed against the public having to spend $10. All the signs indicate that the lower price model is by far and away the most successful one. Significantly higher sales volumes quickly compensate for the lower margins. So both customer and author win. And, of course, Amazon always wins.

Then there's the issue of Digital Rights Management (DRM) to consider. It's a digital encryption technology to prevent unauthorised copying, and is part of Kindle's proprietary file format. Do you want the rights to your book protected? Or are you quite happy to promote your book through shared copies?

As it happens, Amazon allows both scenarios, so it's possible to have a zero-cost 'this is an example of my work' e-book that's DRM-free, plus a selection of revenue-generating e-books that are DRM-restricted.

Kindle Tools

Description: Kindle Tools

As part of its author encouragement programme, Amazon provides a number of freely downloadable tools able to transform your words into an item on its book store. So what are they and what do they do?

KindleGen is a command-line tool for Windows, Mac and Linux platforms. As you'll be working with HTML, XHTML and XML files, Amazon suggests individuals should already have some familiarity with these formats. Importantly, there's a facility to convert Electronic Publication (EPUB) format e-books to Amazon's proprietary format - something to bear in mind when I cover the EPUB format later in this article.

If the command line isn't your thing and you'd much prefer a visual tool, there's a Kindle plug-in for Adobe's InDesign desktop publishing application. Using the richness of InDesign's graphical presentation interface, it's far easier to visualise how the final product will look. The downside? Well, Adobe products are quite expensive, with an InDesign licence costing many hundreds of pounds. There's also quite a steep learning curve that may deter many a writer. However, it does offer a free test-drive download.

Whatever you use to create your Kindle e-book, it's important to check your work before it appears on Amazon's site. The free Kindle Previewer for Windows or Mac OS X emulates the display of an e-book on a physical Kindle device. This allows you to experiment with different orientation and font settings - just as a Kindle owner would - to verify the layout, text and images display correctly. Previewer can open '.azw', '.mobi' or '.prc' files.

Of course, you can always download the free Kindle application onto your computer and check how the e-book looks with that. There's plenty of help available on self-publishing for Kindle, including a document formatting how-to, on its website, (see Resources).

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