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Selling on Kindle

Photography: Brian Vallelunga

It’s been called the iPod for book-lovers. But if Apple really had produced a hand-held digital reader capable of downloading and displaying books it’s unlikely that it would have looked like an Etch-A-Sketch for grown ups. It would have been sleek, cool and might even have turned trendy teens into avid readers. Well, maybe.

And yet despite its looks, Kindles sold out within hours of the launch… which does make you wonder about Amazon’s production figures. The shortages meant that on eBay, the readers were being offered for up to $1,500, more than three times their $399 retail price.

Booklovers, it seems, are prepared to forgive the Kindle’s uninspiring appearance when they can fill it with hundreds of inspiring volumes — and at $9.99 each.

Kindle Lights the Publishing Revolution
But if Kindle’s aim was to revolutionize the way people read books, it hasn’t done it. Most readers still prefer paper and ink, and bibliophiles like to admire books on shelves more than they want to see lists on a screen. But look a little closer and you might find that Kindle does have the power to create a real revolution — in publishing, and especially in publishing for entrepreneurs.

Kindle’s Digital Text Platform lets anyone make a book available for sale through the Kindle store. Authors can set their own price, and royalties — at 35 percent — are much higher than those paid by mainstream publishers.

Like any self-publishing venture, seeing your book on Kindle isn’t quite the same as seeing it in a bookstore, but seeing the figures on the checks from Amazon is certainly nice — and seeing that people are reading it can help to build the sort of fan base that’s vital to a personal brand.

And it seems to be remarkably easy to generate sales.

Stephen Windwalker, an author and blogger at indiekindle, reports that in December 2007, he placed three short-form articles on Kindle. He sold more than fifteen copies within the first couple of weeks — and a hundred more by the middle of January 2008.

“I did nothing to market them other than fill in keywords and categories for the Amazon search engine,” he writes.

It’s possible that Windwalker is being modest. His website reports that it’s had more than 1,400 readers in the first couple of weeks of March which might suggest that having a focused, if small, reader base — such as by developing a reasonably successful blog — is a good start when self-publishing on Kindle.

How Do Authors Sign Kindles?
It is clear then that selling reading material on Kindle might have as much to do with online marketing skills as traditional book-selling strategies. Kindle authors can’t do signings but they can keyword their works carefully, place articles in different categories to see which generate the most sales and track the results.

That’s the sort of thing that online publishers have been doing for years to make sure that their pages are generating advertising revenue.

The best strategy for someone looking to sell through Kindle then looks like being to build an online presence first; offer higher valuable content through Kindle to see which categories and keywords are the most lucrative for your field; and then expand to full-length e-books and guides.

And that’s when things can start to get interesting.

The ease of publishing ebooks means that they’ve had a bad press. The Web is filled with 30-page, pulp-filled volumes that promise great wealth and cost the earth. It’s one of the reasons that major publishers have for the most part steered clear of letting readers download books even as the music and movie industries have reluctantly made their peace with the digital age.

But self-published books on Kindle stand alongside works by Dan Patterson and J.K. Rowling. They don’t look like they’re self-published so they don’t carry the stigma of either self-publishing or the sort of ebooks that are marketed by long, one-page sales letters.

That means that smart Geekpreneurs could put their ideas and strategies into book form, write about their approach on their blogs and websites, sell individual chapters to hone their marketing… then start selling their books through Kindle.

And if their book takes off, they might well find that they’re getting offered a print contract too.

[tags] selling on kindle, kindle [/tags]


  1. J.T Dabbagian Says:

    So, how does one go about selling on the Kindle? I don't see any info on amazon's website on getting a book on Kindle.

  2. Stephen Windwalker Says:

    Very good post, and thank you for the mention.

    Just to update, as you noted, I've been doing a better job lately of playing catch-up in the marketing department, between my indieKindle website and a very useful AmazonConnect blog at http://www.amazon.com/gp/pdp/profile/A3OTNCU58DS95B/ebest.

    I've now sold nearly 6,000 "copies" of my various Kindle editions of books and articles since December 1. The fact that one of my pieces on the Kindle as a gadget has been among the top 3 Kindle store bestsellers for the past month or so is enormously helpful, both for its own sales traction and also, in a kind of "rising tide lifts all boats" way, for my other content. In the Kindle store as elsewhere at Amazon, nothing breeds sales success like sales success, but ASEO (Amazon search engine optimization) is a close second.

    For answers to the question posed above by J.T Dabbagian, I recommend that readers check out the Kindle store's bestseller list for "Publishing" at http://www.amazon.com/gp/bestsellers/digital-text/158234011/ebest. I can't vouch for everything there, but my articles (chapters excerpted from my forthcoming book "Beyond the Literary-Industrial Complex: How Authors Can Use New Self-Publishing Technologies to Unleash an Indie Movement of Readers and Writers" (Harvard Perspectives Press, 2008) are a good start.


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