The E-Book Experiment: Product Availability

* If a customer has to hunt down your product, many times they will instead switch to what they CAN easily find. For many people time is money.

Part of this goes back to “Knowing Your Customer”, but this also comes down to product availability.

If you have a new product, and you advertise it like crazy, would you also fail to make sure it’s available in all the obvious places? Do you really think the customer is going to go on a treasure hunt? Or :shudder: wait until you are good and ready to deliver it?

No, you have it out there as fast as possible, during the marketing blitz and in as many venues and formats as necessary to gain the largest market saturation as possible.


Brick and mortar points-of-sale for print books are diminishing, and they are dominated by the NY big 6’s willingness to pay for shelf space and prime display areas. Yes, that’s right, bookstores sell shelf space.

We’re going to look at the one big leveling playing field where shelf space is open, unlimited, uninhibited, and not ransomed off to only those with deep pockets: e-books.

While the e-book reading market is still settling (for example problems in varieties of DRM and proprietary formats), there is more than one way to read the books. You don’t need a dedicated e-book reader. Smart phones, iPods, iPads, and the home computer or netbook are all options. Anyone with a few minutes can quickly browse, find a story, pay for it, download it, and be reading in no-time.

E-books have another advantage. They are not tied down to a specific location. A reader doesn’t have to get into their cars and find a local bookstore, if there is one. Good marketing dictates that you make the e-books available in as many of the online markets as possible. Now days there are a lot of big selling avenues, including Amazon, Barnes & Nobles, iBookstore, Kobo, Fictionwise and soon Google Editions and Borders.

This is great for publishers. It means impulse buys on a level never seen before.

That is, if the product is out there. For some big authors they are not. Does that mean the books aren’t out there? Of course they are, as pirated books. These authors are not making a penny in the digital revolution. Readers want to read digital, and telling them ‘no’ just means they will find another way to do it.

Windowing has been mentioned in a previous post in this series. A business needs to sell in order to stay in business. Is windowing a good idea if it’s estimated that a book will lose 40% of its sale power if delayed 90 days or more after the initial book release? The readers are looking for the product, not finding it in a manner they want to read, and moving on to other products. Oops, just lost a sale!

Some publishers are limiting themselves to only some online bookstores and formats, such as what Penguin is currently doing (claiming contract negotiations). Penguin is telling readers to go to one of the other online stores. Readers are telling Penguin to buy them an e-reader that they can read the different format on. Obviously Penguin is declining to do so.

As an aside, while negotiating with Amazon Penguin COULD have released e-books through their own website (if they had one set up to commercially sell to the public) such as a version without DRM that could be converted into the Kindle format. This would have allowed them to make money on the books while showing the Kindle users that they were still important to the company. The Kindle users wouldn’t feel like the only way they could read the books was to break the law by stripping off the DRM and then converting, or not reading the book at all. Did they do that? No. Big fail, Penguin!

Until the formats and DRM restrictions are dealt with, it is foolish to take out an entire segment of your reader base. It creates reader dissatisfaction and bad feelings against both the publisher and the author.

In physical bookstores there is the problem of time on the shelf. Bookstores are keeping new books for shorter times before ripping off the cover and ‘returning‘ the book for full, or nearly-full credit (estimates now are 1460 days in the big chains). For a book, and an author, ‘Shelf-space real estate‘ is the key to finding the wandering eye of a browser in a bookstore. Yet look at how few authors have more than a handful (much less one) of their backlist still in print. Just like TV show premiers, the window for a project to succeed or fail has shortened to the point that most WILL NOT succeed.

There simply isn’t enough time to catch the consumer eye, much less to build a following. It is the equivalent to waiting for lightening to strike.

But how does this ‘shelf space’ apply to e-books?

Say hello to The Long Tail

What does this mean? It means a book doesn’t go out of print, is always available no matter how much time has passed since its initial release. As long as one has the rights, they can stay on the virtual bookshelf for an indefinite amount of time. Newly released works will mean new sales of old books and vice-versa. A long tail of income coming in over a long period of time. Get enough of these long tails going at the same time and then you might be talking about serious regular income.

Look past the big splash. How much will this book make over a life-time?

There is big money in that long tail, over the long term. That is, if the book and back-list remain out there.

In traditional publishing the backlist disappears. If you are fortunate enough to find readers and they want to read past works, it means they must hunt down the books in the used market and the author does not make a penny more. When looking on a bookstore shelf, if the reader doesn’t see the other books from an author it increases the chances of an author disappearing after one book does not sell well. Fewer chances to catch a reader, less chance of selling other books by the same author to the readers, and less chance of a reader remembering the author and coming back.

Meanwhile, an e-book can remain out there on the ‘virtual shelf’ almost indefinitely.

The wave of the future, if anyone is willing to see it for what it is.

Some of the big publishers are starting to see it. Along with rights grabs there have appeared new language in the boilerplate contracts that, if the author isn’t careful, will give the Big Publishers your e-rights for the entire life of the book. With a pittance of a royalty. Not only will the author’s earning power be diminished with the low royalties, but all control over distribution is taken away, making them victims of any of the bone-headed limitations their publishers decide is the ‘right thing to do.”

Make it easy for the reader to buy your product. That means you cast as big a net as possible. This is one area where some of the Big 6 get it, and some do not. Author beware on who they decide to work with. Watch the language of the contracts and their long-term effects.

To me it’s a headache I really don’t want to be apart of.

There are smaller companies that are much more nimble to reacting to changing distribution channels and formats. They have books in all the major, and minor, distribution channels. They also have the books for sale through their own sites in multiple formats, meaning a reader is sure to find what they need, and able to read on whatever hardware they choose.

I want to share my writing. I want to find readers and keep them. That means wide distribution and availability with a full backlist available at all times.

I prefer to be nimble.

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The E-Book Experiment: Product Availability

2 thoughts on “The E-Book Experiment: Product Availability”

  1. You’ve completely botched the definition of the long tail. But then many people do. The long tail is selling a little of lots and lots of products in very small niche markets. All the indie writers selling 1,000 books a year on Amazon constitute the long tail.

    • With all due respect, no I didn’t. I was talking about keeping items on the ‘book shelf’ for a long time, especially after the the initial push. “A long tail of income coming in over a long period of time.” These aren’t big incomes, just trickles, but they all together they add up. You are correct that an Indi writer selling 1000 books a year of one book, and add those up across several books doing the same thing, is going to have several long tails adding up to a decent amount. Oh, and filling out a virtual book shelf, as well. 🙂 I think this is a wonderful thing for Indi authors.


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