Is The Bottom Falling Out For eBook Retailers?

Diesel eBook StoreWhen Bibliocracy stopped being an ebook retail store last year, I didn’t care much since I never made money from the three ebooks I got to post for sale. When Sony closed their ebook retail store earlier this year, I shrugged my shoulders since I didn’t make much money over the last four years. But when Diesel abruptly closed their ebook retail store last month, I checked the numbers and realized that I didn’t make much money there either.

Is the bottom falling out for ebook retailers?

The short answer is yes, based on my ebook sales numbers over the last four years. Bibliocracy was an independent ebook retailer that wasn’t successful. Sony and Diesel were part of the Smashwords premium catalog, which lagged behind the Big Three—Apple, Barnes & Noble and Kobo—in sales. No surprise that these three ebook retailers have raised the white flag.

Amazon is now a distant fourth behind the Big Three for selling my ebooks. The “world’s largest market” is typically 20% or less of my annual sales. I expect that number to become smaller this year. The general trend for most Amazon authors over the last few years is declining sales. If Amazon stops selling ebooks, I wouldn’t miss them as a publisher.

The longer answer for Diesel is an antitrust lawsuit against the Big Five publishers over the agency pricing model that allow publishers to control the prices of their ebooks and prevent ebook retailers from offering discounts to compete with other ebook retailers. Diesel may have a strong case since the publishers are reluctant to grant the smaller ebook retailers the same terms that they given Amazon and Apple. As many independent bookstores have complained for years, this two-tier system makes it difficult for them to compete with the larger retailers.

As the ebook market continues to grow, it’s not unusual for the bottom of the market to shake out weak businesses. If Kobo stops selling ebooks, I’ll start worrying about the overall health of the ebook retailer market. Until then I’m going to keep on writing, publishing and selling my ebooks wherever I can.

Bibliocracy The eBook Retailer Bites The Dust

Bibliocracy LogoEarlier this year I mentioned Bibliocracy, a small ebook retailer, in passing when adding multiple sales links to increase ebook sales. After I submitted three ebooks for sale, the submission page shut down. I periodically checked to see if the submission page re-opened (nada) and any sales were made (nada). An email arrived yesterday that ebook retailer has closed for business to transform itself into a social media darling called Bibliocracy Nation.

That saves me the trouble of sending a withdrawal notice for my ebooks.

After I halted my ebook publication for another summer break, I made a series of decisions to simplify my life as a writer and ebook publisher. One of those decisions was to withdraw from smaller ebook retailers like Bibliocracy and eBookPlus, especially if they can’t carry my entire ebook catalog, and focus on publishing ebooks for the big three: Amazon, Scribd and Smashwords.

As much as I want to see my ebooks break into new markets, I don’t want to deal with the hassle that comes from formatting the ebooks for each particular market. With my catalog at 50 titles this year, adding another 25 titles next year and perhaps 25 titles every year after that, I need to streamline this process as much as possible.

Focusing the top three ebook retailers has advantages and disadvantages.


Since Amazon introduced their exclusive KDP Select program in 2011, sales for all indie authors have fallen off the cliff. Those who left other ebook retailers to join Amazon at the hip are hurting the most by relying on a single shrinking income stream. Whereas Amazon was 20% of my sales for the last few years, it’s 10% or less this year. If Amazon sales keep sliding into the abyss, I may abandon the world’s largest market by the end of 2014.


Making money on Scribd remains something of a mystery. I never had a direct sale in the three years that I published my ebooks there. That may change with the new “all you can read” subscription plan. The reading engagement time on my ebooks have gone up across my available titles (the remainder of my catalog will become available next month), suggesting I might have an audience on Scribd. But… I’m still waiting to see the money. If that doesn’t change by the end of 2014, I’ll abandon this market as well.


Besides being 90% of my sales, Smashwords ranked as the number one producer of indie ebooks, continues to expand into new third-party markets (i.e., the Oyster subscription service and Flipkart in India) and added new features (i.e., author interviews, pre-order distribution and series manager). If Smashwords ever has a third-party distribution agreement with Amazon and Scribd, that would streamline my process significantly.

If I do return to smaller ebook retailers, it’ll be after I published my first 80,000-word short story collection next year. A single full-length ebook will sell better than a flood of short ebooks in a smaller market.

Read An eBook Week 2013

Smashwords has a special promotion every year during the Read An eBook Week (March 3-9, 2013) for authors to offer their ebooks for FREE or at a discounted price. My entire ebook catalog is available for FREE (no coupon code), FREE (coupon code RW100) or 50% off (coupon code REW50).

If you download and read one of my ebooks, please leave a review at the Smashwords website. Or send an email to chris at cdreimer dot com.

FREE eBooks

  • A Pumpkin’s Life (poetry)
  • A Silicon Valley Writer Volume 1 (2008-2009) (blog postings)
  • An Ironic Flash of Life (flash stories)
  • Once Upon An Albatross… Volume 1 (1999-2005) (blog postings)
  • The Cabbage Patch Doll Fight: A Christmas Shopping Tale (essay)
  • The Devil Came A-Collecting (short story)
  • The Giggling Mongoose: Kitchen Elementals (flash stories)
  • The Unfaithful Camera (short story)
  • The Uninvited Spook (short story)
  • The World’s Best Coffee (short story)
  • Walking Into The Night (short story)

FREE eBooks (Coupon Code RW100)

Discounted eBooks (Coupon Code REW50)

  • A Few Short Stories Omnibus Volume 1
  • A Few Short Stories Omnibus Volume 2
  • A Few Short Stories Omnibus Volume 3
  • Essays From Silicon Valley Omnibus Volume 1
  • Marigolds For A Vampire (novella)

Add Multiple Sales Links to Drive Your eBook Sales

Although my ebooks are available at multiple ebook retailers, I listed only two direct sales links—Amazon and Smashwords—for each ebook page on my author website. I never considered adding sales links for the other ebook retailers until I read “How to Sell eBooks at The Apple iBookstore” by Mark Coker on the Smashwords blog.

I’m always surprised how often I see authors complaining that all their sales are coming from Amazon, and then I look at their website or blog and see they’re only linking to a single retailer, Amazon. Support all your retailers. Not just Apple, but Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo, Diesel, every one. Your blog, website and social media promotions should provide direct hyperlinks to your book pages at every retailer, so your fans can purchase your book at their favorite retailer.

The easiest way to add multiple sales links is to create an HTML template with all the links for Amazon, Bibliocracy, Diesel, iBookstore (Apple), Kobo, Nook (Barnes & Noble), Scribd, Smashwords and Sony commented out (see the code snippet below). Copy and paste the template into each web page. Remove the comment code and paste the corresponding URL into the anchor code to “activate” each link as needed.

Multiple Sales Links Code

Multiple Sales Links

For a brand new ebook, the Amazon, Scribd and Smashwords sales links are immediately available as I publish on those ebook retailers first. Except for Bibliocracy (a new ebook retailer I’m experimenting with), I activate the remaining sales links when the ebook becomes available through the Smashwords third-party catalog in two months.

As for the graphical icons of each ebook retailer, I download the logo off the corresponding website and use Photoshop to create a uniform set of graphic files. (Be sure to read the affiliate guidelines before using the Apple iBookstore logo.) The CSS (cascading style sheet) code controls the spacing of the icons on the webpage.

With the multiple sales links set up, you can add affiliate codes to earn extra cash and track the clicks from your author website to the ebook retailer.

  • Amazon, Apple and Sony uses a tracking URL from their own website.
  • Diesel and Smashwords has a tracking code to add to the ebook URL.
  • Kobo and Nook uses tracking URLs from LinkShare.

The downside of being involved with so many affiliate programs is that reaching the minimum threshold for payment can take a long time. Writing a page per day will eventually turn into a novel, affiliate earnings will some day amount to real money in the bank.

After putting the multiple sales links on my author website two months ago, readers are clicking from my author website to their favorite ebook retailer and the affiliate-related sales are higher than usual.

A Fraudulent eBook Purchase At Smashwords

I get email notifications whenever someone purchases one of my ebook titles at the Smashwords website, which is less common than the sales I get from Amazon. About 99.98% of my sales on Smashwords come through the third-party premium catalog (i.e., Apple, Barnes & Noble, Sony, and many others). I was happy to have a sale. And then I read the notification email. Five copies of my newest flash stories ebook in a single transaction. This was a fraudulent ebook purchase.

How did I know that this particular transaction was fraudulent?

All my direct sales through the Smashwords website are single-copy orders for an ebook. Although it’s possible to purchase multiple copies of a single ebook to gift to other Smashwords readers, five copies in a single transaction was irregular. Even more so when I don’t have a large enough fan base to send copies flying off the virtual shelves. If I did, such a transaction would be buried—and perhaps undetectable—in a lengthy sales report.

If you’re a Smashwords author, you have to read the site updates on a regular basis. Reports of credit card fraud appears from time to time when such activity impacts numerous writers, usually after the sales reports gets updated and prior to the quarterly payments being paid out.

Why would someone use a stolen credit card to buy ebooks? The two most common reasons are:

  • Buying single copies of numerous ebooks to post on an illegal download website for others to read for free.
  • Testing the buying limits of the stolen credit card by purchasing multiple copies of a single ebook.

After I logged into the Smashwords website and clicked on the comments link at the top of the page, I reported the transaction as being suspicious. My sales report got updated forty-eight hours later to reflect that the original transaction voided due to a fraudulent credit card payment and the $4.05 USD I earned from the sale reversed.

Traditional authors were often advised to go through their quarterly royalty statements with a fine-tooth comb and report any irregularities to their agent or publisher. Indie authors must do the same with the sales reports from the ebook retailers. Credit card fraud hurts everyone in this business.

Get Amazon To Price Match Your FREE Smashwords eBooks

If you want your ebooks on both Amazon and Smashwords to reach the widest audience possible, you need to have FREE ebooks for readers to sample your work. Smashwords makes this easy by letting you set the price to FREE. Amazon, however, doesn’t allow you to set the price to FREE. The workaround is to get Amazon to price match your FREE Smashwords ebook.


For Amazon price matching to work, your Smashwords ebooks are enrolled in the third-party premium catalog (i.e., Apple, Barnes & Noble, Sony, and many others) and the price set to $0.00 (FREE). You will need to wait six to eight weeks or so before the newly published ebook or price update appears at least two prominent ebook retailers.

  1. Open in your web browser to two ebook retailers that has your FREE Smashwords ebook. Apple and Barnes & Noble are usually the first to update.
  2. Open the corresponding Amazon page.
  3. Click on the “tell us about a lower price” link underneath the product details on the Amazon page.
  4. A small pop-up box will ask for the URL and price for the lower-priced ebook.
  5. Copy and paste the URL from the first ebook retailer and set the price to $0.00.
  6. Do this for the second ebook retailer.

If you do this every day for a week, your Amazon ebook will be price-matched to FREE the following week. This may happen sooner (a few days) or later (two weeks). You need to be persistent until the price change takes effect.

Amazon has price-matched seven of my FREE Smashwords ebooks and given away 2,571 copies over the last three months, resulting in a slight increase in sales for PAID ebooks and reviews on the FREE ebook.


Price matching works well if your Amazon ebooks are in the 35% royalty tier, which is about half the royalty rate from Smashwords and has fewest restrictions.

If your Amazon ebooks are in the 70% tier and/or the KDP Select program, you’re making money on Amazon’s dime and have to play by their rules. I’ve heard reports that Amazon have threaten authors with canceling their accounts if an ebook in the 70% tier are found for a lower price elsewhere. If you’re in the KDP Select program, you have to remove your ebooks from all other ebook retailers and can only promote your Amazon ebook for FREE only five times out of every 90-day period.

You will get some flak from the “professional” writers who publish their ebooks only through Amazon (especially in the KDP Select program), accusing you of breaking the rules and warning dire consequences when Amazon finds out. Relax. The “professionals” writers signed their souls over to Amazon are now chafing at the restrictions imposed on them and watching enviously as indie writers have greater success at all ebook retailers.

If Amazon does threaten to cancel my account for whatever reason, I’ll be happy to inform my readers that they can find my ebooks elsewhere. Although Amazon is “the world’s largest market” (a favorite mantra from the “professional” writers), my Amazon sales are 20% or less of my overall ebook sales. In short, I don’t need Amazon. As an indie writer, I’m not obligated to help Amazon sustain their ebook monopoly at my expense.