Is self-publishing pay to play?

Is self-publishing pay to play these days?

When looking at the evidence, it certainly seems so.

If you visit any page on Amazon, it’s chockers full of ads. They seem almost mandatory to sell on the platform. Some people even encourage defensive ads, where you run ads on your own page to keep away competitors’ ads.

You can only conclude that you need to spend big money to sell and if you don’t have big money then, well, tough.

In this post I’m going to show that this need not be the case.

But you’re going to have to step waaaayyy back and throw a lot of assumptions out the window.

Let’s start with who says that you have to spend money to sell.

Well, there is Amazon, because it makes the option available to us. The option is there so people will take it. And if even some of those people are successful, they will perpetuate the need for ads by talking about their success.

The narrative goes that those who are not successful didn’t do ads in the right way, but wait! Here is a course to help you.

People who sell the courses have a vested interest in making people believe ads are necessary. Moreover, the people who buy the courses also have this interest, because if the course didn’t work, most people are unlikely to admit that they wasted their money. People are like that.

Then there is the vast sea of hopefuls, who hope they once will be successful if only they can afford to spend enough money on the right ads. Hope is also a human thing and is darn hard to abandon. Heaven knows we should never abandon hope, but that’s another story.

Hope in selling books or any business is a bad thing because it perpetuates the sunk cost fallacy and creates barriers against cutting from our business those things that simply don’t add anything.

But here is the most important take-away: our aims are not aligned. We want to sell books and Amazon wants to make as much money as possible. If they don’t get it from buyers, they will get it from sellers: they sell ads to us.

Amazon is well on the way to enshittification (more about this, see this post by Cory Doctorow and many others like it on his site), whereby both to get eyeballs on their platform, you might need ads, and where they have locked in huge numbers of people who can’t see a way to survive without giving Amazon an ever-increasing share of their money.

Maybe. Just let go of the Amazon-obsession for a while.

You can sell on any retailer, including Amazon, from the bottom up, where you drive the sales. If you get sales, the retailer will show your book to others, because the retailer likes selling stuff.

But you need a decent audience to be able to do this, and you’re new and don’t have a decent audience.

Do you:

Give Amazon as much money as it needs to get (and keep!) sales going?

Same as above, but replace “Amazon” with Facebook?

Or do you, you know, work on getting a bigger audience that you own? One that you can *send* to retailers (or, you know, your own website) to manipulate your own sales from the ground up?

Yes, building an audience can be slow. It’s best to start from the beginning, and not try to yoink an audience you’ve built in Kindle Unlimited to buy elsewhere (seen this fail on Kickstarter a few times recently).

Yes, the big tech companies are always going to preference their own products and people who buy ads.

But what if you could ignore that and sell in a place where you might have fewer sales, but you get more money per sale, for example $6 vs $2.91 on your own website? Or $25 vs $2.91 on Kickstarter.

As a bonus, you get to know who these people are. If they are part of your Patreon community, or your Discord, you can even give them perks or chat with them.

There are an ever-increasing number of ways that we can sell to readers direct. You do not have to take the necessity to buy ads as a given if you can own your audience.

Selfpublishing Unboxed

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