Home » Amazon, Bookstores » There are exactly zero defensible reasons for authors to link to Amazon

There are exactly zero defensible reasons for authors to link to Amazon

28 June 2013

From Melville House:

A heated discussion about the lowly book link has burned its way out of The Bookseller this week. Keith Smith, owner of Warwick Books and Kenilworth Books, wrote a post for that site calling out a handful of authors by name for linking toAmazon or toWaterstones from their sites rather than to indie bookstores.

. . . .

Two caveats: first, if you are an author self-publishing your own work exclusively on Amazon, none of the below applies to you. Thank you, goodnight.

Second, in the UK, the problem is a bit knottier than in the states. The American Booksellers Association provides its members with a basic ecommerce template to use on their sites. It is not the most graceful platform in the world (cue the laughter of 30,000 American booksellers), but it generally works. This is precisely what Smith is asking the UK’s Bookseller’s Association to do. To simplify things, let’s talk about the U.S., where most indies do sell books online.

For authors, the choice about where to link really is quite easy. There are incredible altruistic reasons that you might want to support an independent bookseller.

. . . .

You pick one store. Make it an indie. Maybe the one closest to your house. Make sure they have a website. Make sure your book is available on their website. Make sure the store is willing to ship books to customers. Link to your book through the store’s page. Tell the store you are doing this. If you have a big enough following and sales result, they will surely notice in a hurry anyhow. Even if not a single customer finds them through you, they will be happy. They will be happy with you.

. . . .

Amazon is so dominant that in most cases people looking to buy your book will navigate there first, not your site. Linking to it from your site does not effectively benefit you whatsoever, and barely benefits them. Linking to Amazon does not somehow put you on their good side. Bezos doesn’t even have a good side—that terrifying crazed laugh face wraps around the entirety of his fleshy cylindrical head. Maybe Amazon is a good friend to have—but unless you happen to be some kind of Attorney General with a dashing little mustache, you’ll never find out. They don’t care about you. Oh, and the affiliate program? You are hoping to get a kickback if people but things after getting to Amazon from your site? Yeah, indie booksellers have those, too.

Link to the rest at Melville House

Let’s see. I’m an author who lives in Tucumcari and I link to Tucumcari Books and Tackle from my website.

Of course, everybody knows there are neighborhoods on the web and all the people in Tucumcari spend almost all of their time in the Tucumcari web neighborhood checking out the latest news at Tucumcari High School, home of the Fighting Rattlers, and the city council meeting schedule. So most of the visitors to my author website will be within easy traveling distance of Tucumcari Books and Tackle and will go there to buy my books.

Anybody who lives in New York and, by mistake, wanders into the Tucumcari web neighborhood will, of course want to buy my books from Tucumcari Books and Tackle because TBT always stocks copies of all my books at prices far below the publisher’s list price and will ship anywhere in two days at no charge.

Ebooks? TBT has great iPhone and Android apps that let me download any ebook I want in seconds at really low prices, sometimes even free.

With no disrespect to either authors or independent book stores, if bookstores think links from author websites to local stores instead of Amazon are going to make a discernable difference in bookstore sales, they’ve lost any connection to reality. Ditto for publishers who think the same thing.

Amazon Derangement Syndrome strikes again.

Amazon, Bookstores

82 Comments to “There are exactly zero defensible reasons for authors to link to Amazon”

  1. Um… I can think of a defensible reason, unless writing is what you do in your spare time and you have other income…

    The only proven way – currently – of selling a really large number of eBooks, other than being famous enough to draw your own traffic – is to hit the bestseller lists by moving large quantities of books fast enough to get you noticed. This is possible on Amazon, but not on most independent booksites.

    We run our own store, and we encourage people to use it, as we (and our authors) make more money when they do – but for the building of a career in the current environment, the big booksellers are the only ones with the traffic, visibility, and clout to bump sales on a big-league level.

    As for print books, unless we offer returns, we are having trouble getting small or independent stores to even order our books, though we are offering work from bestselling, award-winning authors (like Melissa Scott and William Bayer).

    It’s a shifting universe, but linking sales to a site that can help build your presence makes sense.

    DNW

    • I disagree. For most genres, I think that readers on Amazon find their books through alsobots, recommendations, sales, and other criteria, so that placement on a bestseller list is a symptom, rather than a cause, of a book’s success. Also, Amazon’s algorithms put much more weight to a book with staying power, so if you shoot up the charts meteorically, your fall is going to be just as epic. Velocity is still a factor, but it’s a much smaller one in this new world of publishing.

      That said, one think I think we both agree on is that this guy’s advice is utter BS.

      • I troll the rankings all the time in my genre looking for what’s new and how things are trending, and so that’s usually how I buy new works from authors I haven’t heard of. I rarely buy through alsobots. In fact, my alsobots tend to be pretty bad. That’s just anecdotal, but no offense, so is your opinion.

        I don’t know what you mean about a meteoric rise leading to a meteoric fall… there’s nothing about gaining attention rapidly that determines you will have a sharp dropoff. People usually have a sharp drop because they’re running a KDP Select giveaway strategy. It’s the method that leads to the dropoff.

        • It has to do with how the Amazon algorithms work. He’s write. A novel that shots up high through a promotion is not likely to gain traction that way. It has been observed by a lot of people who watch their own and other people’s sales. If you get your book high on the Best Seller list through a promotion the chances of it “sticking” are extremely slim.

          • Right. I just mean that there is nothing in the algorithm that punishes you for gaining sales quickly (not exactly true, but true enough for this case). The 30-day dropoff is a result of a 2-3 day freebie promo spike leaving consideration by the algorithms. If you advertised you book and it started selling like mad, the dropoff wouldn’t happen.

        • For some reason Amazon wants their algorithms to be a big secret, but I like the way they work. I can sell a book after weeks of no sales and shoot up 500,000 places, but, yeah, you sink pretty fast. I think having numerous publications and being around a while might be a part of it. But, anyway, I sell the most through Smashwords at Barnes and Noble. I don’t know why. This is exclusive of freebies. Someone said they figure into the algorithms but I never noticed that.

          SO SICK OF PROMO. . .

  2. I see three problems immediately:

    “Make sure they have a website. Make sure your book is available on their website. Make sure the store is willing to ship books to customers. ”

    1. Local indie bookstore doesn’t have a website.
    2. If it does, it lists only the store’s location and hours, and does not offer mail order (it may offer phone orders).
    3. It won’t ship books (will only hold for pickup).

    • Thank you. Let me give you a sticker that says “sane” on it, so you don’t get locked in the asylum by mistake.

      http://www.tv.com/shows/the-simpsons/stark-raving-dad-1321/

    • And yet another problem, which I will repeat. My local indie bookstore refuses to carry my paperbacks because they’re made by Createspace, an Amazon company.

      But of course, since I’m an indie, what he said doesn’t apply to me. Why? Because indie.

    • Not always true. Powell’s Bookstore in Portland, for example does all three. They don’t carry my books or ebooks so I ain’t linking to them, but they might make sense for a traditional published author to link to which is, after all, what he specifically says he is talking about.

  3. Andrew Claymore

    Maybe this works better in a small country like England? If I lived in a country the size of south Alberta (no offense to the English, it’s not the size, it’s how you use it…) maybe a link to a single bookstore might be more likely to get my feet moving.

    • The UK is the 22nd most populous country in the world. How are we defining “small country” here?

      • Andrew Claymore

        (the size of south Alberta) Land mass, Jim.
        I might be enticed to visit a book store in Banff, because it’s an hour away, but not one in Halifax, which would take several days of driving.

  4. Loved your commentary, PG,. I’ve never seen you quite so sacrcastic, which I applaud. Such a charming article.

    It really bugs me that comments were not allowed on this article. The tone of this article is so smug and dismissive, I really wanted to respond.

    I especially liked this:

    “…if you are an author self-publishing your own work exclusively on Amazon, none of the below applies to you. Thank you, goodnight”.

    From a small Publisher based in New York. Just lovely.

    First, this article assumes that only one link is possible on an author’s website. You could not, for example, link to BOTH Amazon and an Independent bookstore.

    Regardless, for any author hoping to be discovered and/or make any money their best bet is Amazon. If you link to Amazon you access Amazon’s million + customer base. For a Publisher to tell an author not to do that is taking money directly out of the author’s pocket, and interfering with their chances of discoverability. This is an attempt to strike back at Amazon (which won’t work, I can’t think of a more ineffective way to strike back at Amazon) at the author’s expense. Putting their authors last and asking them to sacrifice income for the Publisher’s agenda is inappropriate and unethical.

    So Melville House treats author’s needs as completely unimportant and – from the tone of the article – with disdain.

    Just what an author should look for in a Publisher.

    • LOL Mira. We’re talking about people unfamiliar with authors who have any degree of control over their career, remember? That’s probably why he made that little (massive) logical slip.

  5. If you have a big enough following …

    I hear the best way to do that is to cut out the market champ.

  6. “Bezos doesn’t even have a good side…”

    Finally, someone gets it.

  7. “Amazon is so dominant that in most cases people looking to buy your book will navigate there first, not your site. Linking to it from your site does not effectively benefit you whatsoever…”

    Huh?

    • Yeah, I didn’t get that either. Say you’re an author with a blog (and fans that read it). In what fantasy world would writing a post about your new book, complete with Amazon link “not effectively benefit” you?

    • And there’s that Amazon Associate link, which gives you a percentage of any sale made from someone clicking on your link and then buying something at Amazon. But no, there’s no benefit to linking to Amazon.

    • See, it’s because writers are hobbyists, and shouldn’t expect any kind of income from writing. So, besides more money and more readers and more exposure, you have nothing to gain by linking to Amazon.

  8. Every time I see something like this from Melville House, I’m always reminded of the fact that Melville’s publishers generally treated him like garbage, even going so far to set fire to left over copies of one of his works when the author himself, who had written some of the greatest works of sea-faring literature, couldn’t afford to buy them even at a reduced cost. Of course, Amazon’s the great white whale these days, and this is very Capt. Ahab. I wonder if they recall how well that worked out in the book?

    • A spot check indicates that the Melville House books are for sale on Amazon.

      Maybe they should stop doing that. I mean, given that Amazon is “breaking down humans, infrastructure, and literacy as we know it.”

      Oh, I forgot: they’re the publisher. The authors and readers are the ones who should make the sacrifices.

      “Amazon will not give a shit whether you link to them or not.”

      Sure they do. They give enough of a shit that they will actually pay you money for doing that, and not that lousy “net” deal he’s touting, either.

  9. Where is the value proposition in this? Booksellers and publishers keep putting the onus on writers to save them from the big Zon with the same selling points, altruism and the love of literature. What’s in it for me? If I’m trying to make a living writing, I can’t afford altruism that impacts my ability to pay my mortgage. All this does is ignore the fact that unless they find some way to compete with Amazon by offering value propositions to both writers and readers, they’re going to fail. Guilting your suppliers is a new business stategy to me.

    I actually want them to stay in business. Amazon as the online Walmart won’t be good for writers or publishers in the long term. But I look at the stupidity of some of B&N’s decisions, for example, over the past few years, and it’s kind of hard to bemoan their lack of success.

    • “I should give charity to Warner Brothers? What, is Warner Brothers out on the corner with an eyepatch and a tin cup?”

      Oh, it’s not a new strategy. I used to represent a tiny little content production entity which routinely sold properties to multibillion dollar public corporations. They would often respond to license negotiations with, “We just can’t afford this.”

      They spent more on plant services for their lobby than the typical license advance. But they were always on the verge of bankruptcy, to hear them tell it.

    • We thought you were cool, man. We’re all on this crusade to save literary culture, and here you are, trying to bring us down.

  10. And what about affiliate links? I make about $5 a month via the affiliate program. $5 in my pocket is good enough reason for me.

  11. With the amazon associates program you earn an percentage of the money the customer spends that day on amazon. If your reader buys your book then buys other things you might end up making a lot of money.

  12. Wait. So … this is serious? I assumed it was satire. I tried to read the whole thing, but I had to stop at the fleshy cylindrical head quote. If this is real, then I feel sorry for whoever wrote this. It must be terrible to be so disturbed and so un-medicated.

  13. I wonder how long it will take before the publishers get the absolutely brilliant idea of putting a clause in the contracts that authors must link to physical bookstores on their websites. And maybe forbid them from linking to Amazon or being an Amazon affiliate. That’ll really stick it to the Zon.

    Seriously, every time I see an article like this, I wonder how in the world these people stay in business. Don’t any of them give a thought to their customers?

    • They see their customers as bookstores, not readers. They’re middlemen selling stuff to other middlemen, inserting themselves between the money and the talent in the time-honored way.

      They’re like the traders hauling silk and spices across the Central Asian desert, right after some Portuguese dude figured out how to sail around Africa, or a guy who bought all the gas stations on a big chunk of Route 66, right before the Interstate opened up.

  14. The caption on the photo of Bezos says: “This guy has never heard of you.” He also states that Amazon “doesn’t care about you.”

    And yet, they’re still giving me an avenue to make money off of my writing. Weird.

    • Ah, but he’s not “nurturing” you, Dan.

      • Nor is he “validating” you.

        Indies forgoing nurturing and validation to earn a living wage off their writing when they should be sacrificing, like real writer’s do to support the publishing ecosystem…oh the humanity!

      • It’s like my Dad all over again! *sniff*

    • ‘Tis true, Jeff Bezos doesn’t know or care about me. Someone else he doesn’t know or care about had a problem with KDP that wasn’t being handled competently and so she emailed him directly. His speed in solving the problem for her gave onlookers whiplash. And then she got something like $50 or $100 for her troubles. I realize that kind of treatment of midlist authors is pretty standard for the publishing and bookselling industries, but it was refreshing to see Mr. Bezos take a break from (presumably) kicking orphans down stairwells to handle an author’s problem.

      • Kathlena Contreras

        “…but it was refreshing to see Mr. Bezos take a break from (presumably) kicking orphans down stairwells to handle an author’s problem.” LOL! Thanks for this!

    • Last weekend I went to the Winchester Writers Conference and met the people on the Amazon stand. They were enthusiastic and friendly and had come specifically to talk to authors. Not only that, they were asking authors how Amazon could improve their services and really listening to the answers.

      • “Last weekend I went to the Winchester Writers Conference and met the people on the Amazon stand. They were enthusiastic and friendly and had come specifically to talk to authors. Not only that, they were asking authors how Amazon could improve their services and really listening to the answers.”

        HA! Amazon wants you to think they’re innovating with higher levels of customer service and a culture of partnership between writers as product suppliers, using new programs and services to better connect them with readers…they want you to think that BUT THEY LIE!!!

        It’s traditional publishers who make up the only institution that truly cherishes readers and cares for writers needs. I only hope the rest of the world realizes that…before it’s too late.

  15. Terrence O'Brien

    After four paras, he says, “I’m going to try to be brief and blunt here,”

  16. This is so false it deserves a double facepalm.

    “Amazon will not give a shit whether you link to them or not.”

    Right. Which is why the affiliate program is a thing.

  17. “Link to YOUR local indie.”

    Sure. Because in this day and age of searchable public records, I want everyone on the internet to know exactly what neighborhood I live in so they can find my address based on the public record of property sales and then look up my political affiliations with my name and address and god only knows what else from there.

    I agree with whoever thought this was a satire. Not one defensible reason? Money. Two types of money: affiliates program kickbacks AND direct sales. I have links to all the different places to buy my books on my site, under the individual books. On my sidebar are Amazon links. Do you know which links WordPress tells me visiors click on? Hint: IT’S NEVER ANYTHING BUT AMAZON. I am not going to enroll in Select and not sell elsewhere, but in terms of translating web interest to direct sales, it’s 100% Amazon. Consumers buy along the path of least resistance. One click to reach the Amazon product page for my book they thought sounded good, and one click to buy it. Versus…the comparatively cumbersome experience of entering all my information on a new site, including having to get up and get my wallet in order to get my credit card out, all so I can pay either more for the book or the same but with a time/effort penalty? No, thanks. I’ll either buy from Amazon anyway or say screw it, book didn’t sound that good anyway, and move on.

    Lest anyone mistake the truly epic evilness of the path of least resistance:

    One click to rule them all:
    One click to find them.
    One click to bring them all
    And in the empire bind them.
    In the land of Amazon, where shadows lie.

    Three clicks for the Big Six (or is it Five?);
    Seven for the bookstores, with their walls of stone;
    Nine clicks for indentured authors, doomed to cry;
    And one for the Dark Lord on his dark throne.
    In the land of Amazon, where shadows lie.

    • Third type of money: Higher royalty on CreateSpace books bought through Amazon as compared to through your local bookstore via extended distribution.

    • Obviously, authors are supposed to sacrifice EVERYTHING for the traditional publishing and bookselling industry. Even your privacy and personal safety. You OWE it to them.

    • Lily, that is such a great point.

    • LOL! Okay, you win the internets today. 😀

      Also, good point. It’s ridiculously egotistical for me (or any writer) to expect the readers to go to all this extra effort to… what? I’m not even sure what the benefit is supposed to be. Obviously Amazon IS benefitting the publishing houses, or they wouldn’t be selling books through that site, so what’s the problem again…? [sigh]

      Angie

  18. “Amazon is so dominant that in most cases people looking to buy your book will navigate there first, not your site. Linking to it from your site does not effectively benefit you whatsoever, and barely benefits them.”

    He totally contradicts himself here. He acknowledges that most people, by default, want to shop at Amazon. Of course, they also know how to navigate there, but they might not actually do it. In fact, they probably will not if you’ve ever studied the marketing funnel or online behavior patterns. Which means giving them a *direct link* to your book on Amazon is more likely to result in a sale than requiring them to type in Amazon.com, possibly not find your book due to occasional searching mechanisms or a misstype, maybe get distracted on the way, etc. Therefore, to say linking to Amazon, “does not effectively benefit” is a complete and utter falsehood.

    It’s also not just about increased sales for the author, it’s about convenience for the reader. Why should they have to open a new account at some small store that may not even have decent information security for their credit cards? (Having worked in information security, it’s fairly laughable what some of these smaller outfits will have). Why should they have to pay for shipping when Amazon is often free or cheap? Why should they have to worry about it being in stock when Amazon is freakishly good about that?

    I link to Amazon because they make me money but also *as a service to my readers* because I know Amazon will take care of them.

  19. I don’t remember the BPH’s crying when independent booksellers were closing down. BPH’s were happy to sell on Amazon and through B&N, etc. What don’t independent booksellers sell? Ebooks, and anecdotally, SP trade paperbacks. I have nothing against setting up a relationship with a local bookseller and mutually scratching each other’s back. I totally get why they hate Amazon. They can’t compete on distribution, pricing or promotion. So find a niche market, offer your customers what Amazon as an impersonal online retailer can’t.

    But no matter how it’s cloaked, when BPH’s go after writers for choosing to SP, it has nothing to do with book quality or losing a wonderful nurturing influence or damaging the quantity of literary works that can be published. Its all about the bottom line. The business model that is publishing at the top is broken.

  20. I’ve made the point before: book stores should not expect support from authors unless they offer the same support to authors. In other words: prove that his books are on the shelves. And not just for a few weeks after release. Permanently.

  21. Most online buyers already have an Amazon account, they’ve bought from Amazon before, and they trust Amazon to deliver as promised.

    Why send buyers to a site that could force them to set up a new account, a site they don’t know and don’t trust?

    When using a credit card online, trust and convenience are key.

    David

    • @ David – good points.

    • The one thing I use Smashwords for a lot is to give people free copies of my books. (It could be easier, but it’s not bad, and it’s much easier than Amazon.) I still get about 30% of potential gift-ees saying, “I don’t wanna sign up for an account to read the book.”

      People. Are. Lazy. (I do not exclude myself.) Making things easier for them is ALWAYS beneficial.

      ETA: There are other reasons than laziness not to want to sign up for new accounts on strange sites. It’s just that that *is* one of them.

  22. I invest my own time, money and effort in running my website in order to promote my books. I want the site to work as well for my potential readers as possible so I provide links to enable them to buy my books online. I choose to make those links go to Amazon.co.uk because I know they have all my books in stock and I know they will give my readers good service.

    Interestingly, the website of the bookseller who started this controversy has a large, very prominent link to Kobo on the home page so he obviously doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with linking to a big multinational company himself.

  23. Well, darn, now I’ve got brains all over my keyboard again. And I just finished cleaning up after the “Self-publishing is destroying literature” post.

  24. In the comments of the original Bookseller article on this, a trad-pubbed author made a very interesting defense of linking to Amazon:

    She said she makes more from the affiliate income of that sale, than she does in royalties from her publisher.

  25. Dear Mr Kurtz

    Would you like some cheese with that whine?

    http://www.amazon.com/Parmigiano-Reggiano-Aged-Years-Pound/dp/B00AIBJZOI/

    Regards

    All the authors making money from Amazon and not from you and the rest of the traditional publishing industry.

  26. I don’t link to just Amazon. I link to iTunes, to Kobo, to Barnes & Noble, to XinXii, to Nook UK, to WH Smith.

    I don’t do that because I ‘support’ these retailers, but because it’s where my readers are.

  27. …were readers mentioned at all in this article?

    (command+f) Nope. What a shock.

    Dear authors: If I go to your site and read a description of a book that sounds interesting, I will click on the link. I’ll pick the Amazon link if they are labeled. If it’s just a “buy here” link, and it leads to somewhere other than Amazon, I will be pissed–especially if it’s something I don’t even recognize. If your book sounds really interesting, I may do a title search on Amazon. But if it doesn’t, I’ll just move on to the next thing and probably never buy your book.

  28. Kathlena Contreras

    Hey, PG, I’m only about three hours from Tucumcari. I could totally do that! 😀

  29. My short response to this article:

    There are exactly zero defensible reasons to state that linking to Amazon is a bad strategy.

  30. Please don’t link to small local bookshops. It’s far less convenient for your readers, who end up with a bazillion separate accounts with a bazillion separate online shops, and have to type all their details in a bazillion times, often fighting against idiotic web forms that simply won’t accept their address* or phone number** or email address*** or whatever. Far better to just use Amazon. Also, Amazon have awesome customer service, better than most brick n mortar shops.

    * too many insist that all addresses have a state or a county, or don’t have enough lines

    ** many won’t accept phone numbers from other countries

    *** many won’t accept addresses with a + sign in them

  31. As a self publisher, I am a business owner. My focus is to sell as many books as possible with the least effort possible. As business owners, independent bookstore owners would have the same focus.
    Amazon is by far the highest seller of my ebooks and the don’t require me to do much more than just upload.
    If independent bookstores want me to help them out, two things need to happen,
    carry my books without me having to lug them around from store to store and beg for shelf space.
    make it easy for me to sell my ebooks through your site.

    Good luck to the independents, I think they are a valuable part of the community, but I’m not here to help them run their business.

  32. Veronica Torres

    Using Amazon affiliate links is also a way to ~somewhat track how well your marketing efforts are going.

    Sales through my affiliate links are because I push that link out there in the world.

    If I do a Facebook posting, and then see traffic to my affiliate link, then I can assess the effectiveness of that FB post. Sort of…

    I can say that if a book has 20 sales and my affiliate account is credited for 10 sales then the other 10 came from someplace other than my direct posting of the link.

  33. Robin Wolstenholme • I just went to a local independent bookstore website. The books I was searching for were listed, however, No Description, No Author Bio. Just the basic book numbers, that’s it.

    So, linking to that instead of Amazon would be self defeating. Support to change some perceived injustice needs effort from more than just the author or publisher side.

    Second thought is that these stores are not actually carrying your book, but are reselling it, which means (in the CreateSpace POD scenario) that you are cutting your profit in half basically if you link to the indie bookstore because you would be selling at extended distribution royalty rates. A good business move? I’d say not.

    If Local Independent Bookstores want the support of local independent authors or publishers then they need to start playing along by arranging purchases directly with us to purchase books and find some space on their store shelves for a few copies or a book signing.

    I have a 16 year old (15 when published) author whose Children’s book isn’t even listed by the Local. Now, tell me they would not benefit by giving a high school student a little support and putting few of his books on the shelf. When contacted they couldn’t even take the time to respond to an email fully documenting a list of potential books.

    That’s my take. It’s a process that takes effort by both sides. They don’t get support out of some misguided and misplaced sympathy because Big Old Amazon is a successful business model. Amazon gives service and cooperation. Indie book stores do not, in my experience. And I have experience in multiple states.

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