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Amazon Archives - In 30 Minutes Guides

How to create Amazon Marketing Services Product Display Ads for books

By | Tips, Video

Last year, I wrote an article for the IBPA Independent magazine on how to use Amazon Marketing Services advertisements for books. It got a fantastic response. In fact, I am still interviewed and give presentations about this topic today. But I wanted to create an AMS tutorial on video that demonstrates how to make AMS Product Display ads for books.

AMS Product Display ads are an alternative to Google AdWords or Facebook targeted ads, and enable your books to show up product pages of other Amazon books. The video covers:

  1. Targeting shoppers viewing specific products or categories, or by interest.
  2. How to set cost-per-click (CPC) bids and daily budgets
  3. Advice about competing titles
  4. The importance of AMS headlines
  5. Scratchpads for headlines and AMS keywords

Setting up an Amazon Marketing Services Product Display ad requires an AMS account through Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) or Amazon Advantage. Scroll to 02:15 if you already have an account.

Amazon Pay WooCommerce extension: Why we’re turning it off

By | Blog

We recently set up e-commerce capabilities on in30minutes.com to make it easier for our customers to purchase In 30 Minutes guides, our line of technology cheat sheets, and EasyGenie genealogy forms. It wasn’t easy. Besides dealing with the WooCommerce settings in WordPress, there was additional work required to get an SSL certificate for the site (to protect our customers’ information and enable secure transactions), set up Stripe for credit card payments, load items into the store, and test the workflow.

Besides Stripe, I also enabled PayPal for transactions. That was straightforward, and afterwards the PayPal button appeared below the Stripe/credit card options on our shopping cart. So when I saw that Amazon offered similar functionality via the Amazon Pay WooCommerce extension (available via the WooCommerce site), and it allowed merchants to access the customer information (a big deal for shipping and other forms of contact) I was enthusiastic. A significant number of Americans (between 24% and half of households) have Amazon Prime accounts. If adding the Amazon Pay button makes it easier for customers to buy our products on our own store, that was great. I created my Amazon Merchant Account, installed the Amazon Pay WooCommerce extension, and followed the integration instructions.

The first thing I did was test the shopping cart. I was not happy with what I saw:

amazon pay woocommerce extension

Instead of the Amazon Pay button appearing with the Stripe and PayPal options (blue arrow), the Amazon Pay WooCommerce extension forces the button to the top of the screen (red arrow) with a giant prompt asking customers whether they had an Amazon account. It’s the first thing customers will see, even before the products they have ordered. Ideally, the Amazon Pay button should appear next to the Stripe and PayPal options, not at the top of the page with a giant banner screaming for people to use it. Neither PayPal nor Stripe demand such behavior from their merchant partners, so why should Amazon?

I am not the only person to have problems with the setup of the Amazon Pay WooCommerce extension screen options. And they apparently cannot be changed, short of messing around with custom PHP work.

So, the choice is simple. We’re deactivating the Amazon Pay WooCommerce extension. Maybe they’ll add an option to remove the banner and relocate the button to the bottom of the page where it belongs. Until then, visitors to our store are welcome to use PayPal or a credit card to make purchases. Our products are also for sale on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other locations.

Google Play Books: So much promise, so few results

By | Blog, Industry

I’ve lamented the state of competition in the ebook platform wars in the past.

Take Apple, which had so much going for it 3 or 4 years ago compared to Amazon, with a vastly superior e-reader (the iPad using iBooks) and sales that regularly topped $200 per month for my In 30 Minutes series of how-to guides. Apple’s hardware/software advantage did not last. Amazon eventually closed the hardware gap with the Kindle Fire, and continued to make improvements to the Kindle software and ordering processes. Meanwhile, Apple’s bloated iTunes/iBookstore has continued to frustrate users attempting to buy or review books, contributing to a stagnant sales picture. So where did Apple place its platform improvement efforts while Amazon was catching up, you ask? Creating a superb closed-garden authoring tool (see my iBooks Author review here) which has done little for sales in the iBookstore and makes it impossible to export the efforts to any other channel.

Then there is Google Play Books and the partner center for authors and publishers. Google is the only other deep-pocketed company out there that could ever hope to compete with Amazon in the ebook space, but it too has dropped the ball with its marketplace. I have been selling ebooks there for 3 years, and sales have never been good. But there are a host of other problems that stymie content producers and make it difficult to consider it a serious contender to Amazon KDP.

Google Play Books review: What’s wrong with Google Play Books

Where to begin? How about the unilateral discounts that Google Play applies to pricing. It’s gotten so bad that when I create a new ebook listing in Google Play, I have to refer to this Kboards forum post that lists the amounts you need to input to Google Play books in order to display the desired price:

Set Price = Discounted Price
99c = no change (royalty = 52%)
1.49 = no change (royalty = 52%)

2.49 = 1.92 (Discount = 23%. Actual royalty = 67%)
2.99 = 2.09 (Discount = 30%. Actual royalty = 74%)
3.49 = 2.65 (Discount = 24%. Actual royalty = 68%)
3.94 = 2.99 (Discount = 24%. Actual royalty = 68%)
3.99 = 3.03 (Discount = 24%. Actual royalty = 68%)
4.50 = 3.44 (Discount = 23.5%. Actual royalty = 68%)
4.99 = 3.82 (Discount = 23%. Actual royalty = 68%)
5.18 = 3.99 (Discount = 23%. Actual royalty = 68%)
5.25 = 4.04 (Discount = 23%. Actual royalty = 68%)
5.99 = 4.61 (Discount = 23%. Actual royalty = 67.5%)
6.48 = 4.99 (Discount = 23%. Actual royalty = 68%)
9.99 = 7.99 (Discount = 20%. Actual royalty = 65%)
8.99 = 7.52 (Discount = 16%. Actual royalty = 62%)
15.99 = 9.99 (Discount = 37%. Actual royalty = 83%)

Then there’s the lack of a sales dashboard on Google Play Books. Even Nook and Kobo understand that authors and publishers want quick insights into how their books are selling, and provide an on-screen look at monthly sales:

Nook Sales sample vs Google Play books

Google Play Books Partner Center, on the other hand, doesn’t have any sales dashboard. It’s only possible to download a .CSV file that contains raw sales data. If you’re handy with Excel or Google Sheets, you can probably set up something that handles basic currency conversion and get a USD total for monthly sales, but if not, you’re out of luck.

Google Play Book reviews include scraped and fake reviews

And then there are the reviews that appear next to my books in the Play Store, written by people who have never downloaded or read them. To be fair, this is a problem with Amazon too, but at least Amazon displays “Verified Purchase” next to the reviews so shoppers know which ones are more trustworthy. Potential customers who venture to Google Play to check out my ebooks are likely to encounter drive-by complaints about the topics covered (“you can get this information on YouTube for free!”) or issues that have nothing to do with my books (such as the person who had a problem recovering a password from some online service). Because Google can’t screen or properly identify real reviews, I’ve taken the step of removing links from my websites to the Google Play Books product pages for half of the titles published. The Google Play product pages have become a liability, and I don’t want to send customers there.

Buy hey, I suppose I should be happy that I at least have access as a publisher, and basic support questions get answered. Nine months ago, Google Play Books closed its doors to new self-published authors and small publishers:

Over the course of the last four weeks there has been a media firestorm about the sheer scope of pirated content on Google Play. This has forced the company to close their Play Books Publisher Portal. In a message in the Google Product Forums, a Google rep said “We’ve temporarily closed new publisher sign ups in the Play Books Partner Center, so we can improve our content management capabilities and our user experience. We’re working to reopen this to new publishers soon. Thanks for your patience.”

As far as I know, Google Play Books is still closed to new authors.

Do you use Google Play Books as an author, publisher, or reader? What has your experience been like? What needs to change?

What should independent authors do about Kindle Unlimited and other predatory platforms?

By | Blog, Industry

This post originally started out as a comment on Mark Coker’s blog post about the demise of Oyster, but it has actually been brewing for a long time, since the launch of the Scribd and Oyster ebook subscription services and the appearance of Amazon’s predatory Kindle Unlimited subscription plan. I’ve decided to expand my thoughts on the In 30 Minutes blog and seek feedback from writers.

I have long thought that in the battle of the platform marketplaces and their business plans, the content creators — whether they be musicians, filmmakers, or authors — seldom get a seat at the table. We have seen this happen with Spotify, where artists get scraps while the platform owners and investors (including the big music publishers) grab money and control. Following the launch of the Oyster and Scribd ebook subscription plans, I wrote:

“As for the venture-funded book subscription services, I’ve taken a look at Scribd and read some of the recent news about Oyster, too. I find it very telling that Scribd.com heavily promotes unlimited books for readers, and offers resources for publishers and partners, yet there isn’t a single page in their support section that explains to authors what they will be getting from the service. Clearly, authors are not a priority.”

Amazon Kindle Unlimited buffet - Depolo_cc_2-0_attribution_flickrAlthough Coker was eventually able to get a reasonable rate from Scribd and Oyster for authors participating in his Smashwords distribution service, it was overshadowed once Amazon decided to jump in with the Kindle Unlimited subscription plan. It’s cheap, fully integrated with the Kindle, and absolutely terrible for most participating authors. Just like the $10 buffet at the local Chinese restaurant, the cheap, all-you-can-eat subscription plan that Amazon launched requires cheap stuff in order to work. It’s great for readers, it’s great for Amazon, but for the authors and content creators? Not so great. Authors who participate (via Amazon’s KDP Select self-publishing service) are getting crumbs in the form of a per-page reading rate that is the same for all ebooks. In the long run KU is terrible for authors, except for a tiny minority who can achieve scale. This will reduce the size of the pie and leave a lot of talented authors struggling or even giving up.

I think it’s time for indie authors to look at the music and film industries to not only see where things are headed, but what can be done to preserve or strengthen our collective power. Withholding the best content from marketplaces (as HBO has done with Netflix and Amazon Prime, and some artists have done with Spotify) is one strategy, although it’s unclear how effective it can be unless lots of content is withheld and there are viable alternatives for audiences to turn to.

Sharing data and shining a light on the ugly reality of treatment of content creators is another, as artists have done for years with Spotify and Taylor Swift did most recently (i.e., Spotify’s claim it had paid out $2 million, vs. Swift’s revelation that it was 1/4 that figure).

However, one thing artists and filmmakers have been unable to do — in part because of the industry structure involving studios and publishers with misaligned interests — is band together to demand a seat at the table, and fight for their rights. In the publishing world, while some author organizations have taken a stance against Amazon, they represent relatively small numbers of authors. I think there is a huge opportunity to unite the population of indie authors (including self-publisher authors and professionals) who are not represented by these organizations, and are not beholden to the large publishing houses. With a strong voice, the ability to shine a light on the good and bad players in this industry, and the power to issue recommendations, it may be possible for independent authors and other content creators to finally get a seat at the table or take action when platforms behave badly.

What do you think? Is this an effort worth pursuing?

(Note: This post reflects my views only. I welcome dissenting views and discussion in the comments below, but please be respectful)

Image: Chinese Buffet, Steven Depolo/Flickr, used under Creative Commons 2.0 Attribution license

What UK readers think of Google Drive & Docs In 30 Minutes

By | Blog

Google Drive & Docs UK
Amazon in the United Kingdom has a separate set of reader reviews for In 30 Minutes titles. I was delighted to see 4-5 star reviews dominating the Amazon UK product page for Google Drive & Docs In 30 Minutes. Here are a few samples:

Martin:

“A colleague and I had written a technical book that took us 5 years. We communicated by email with attachments that were limited in size. So any images that were too large for email were copied onto CD and posted.

Now four years later we are embarking on another technical book with another author who lives and works in the USA and Luxembourg.

So this time we are using the “Cloud” to collaborate and we all use Google, so “Google Drive” was our choice. So that we are all using the same sheet we needed a procedure to follow and “Google Drive & Docs in 30 Minutes” turned out to be just right for us. Chapters 2 and 6 covers every technique we will need. So I give it 5 stars for my review!”

Anne:

“This was very useful trying to get to grips with the way Google Docs works. I wanted to get rid of all connections with Office and Open Office and I was struggling. And not sure what could be done online and offline. Now I know.”

One of the most interesting Amazon UK reader reviews came from Andy_atGC, one of the top 100 reviewers on Amazon UK (#76 at the time of this writing). To attain this status, you have to have lots of reviews, and Andy has 1,500 and climbing. Here’s what he had to say:

“Google Drive is a multi-platform, free mini-office suite from Google. It has versions for the PC, iPads and iPhones, and Chromebooks (it is a major component of the Chrome OS) and there is a client for Android which allows Google documents created on one device or computer and in its Google Drive folder to be viewed on any other compatible platform. Google offer little or no written instructions on its use and this book is one of a very few to fill that need.

The component apps are undemanding, far less capable and complete than Microsoft Office and those such as LibreOffice or OpenOffice or any other similar package. However, for basic letter writing, inter-office reports, simple spreadsheets and presentations Google Docs will probably meet most people’s normal needs. One thing that it can do that the more complex products cannot do quite as readily or at all is to allow group contributions. One person can edit another’s work provided that they are members of the same network or have access to it via a provided link; instead of saving its files to a local hard drive, memory stick or some other device they are all in the Cloud. It will therefore allow remote contributions from many people, simultaneously or independently, to a magazine, book or other large publication.

The book is a short one, barely more than 100 pages, is easy to read even for those with minimal computing knowledge and is sufficient to cover most of the offered functions in some depth. However, not all options within a function are covered but there is more than enough to get you started. Thanks to its brevity and easy writing style, it should satisfy most of the package’s users.”

I appreciate honest reviews from any reader, no matter where they reside. Currently the Google Drive & Google Docs book is only available in English, but I have explored how they can be ported to other languages, either as a translation or a licensed title.