Why Amazon is Critical to Book Sales – And What To Do About It

Today’s guest post is part of the virtual book tour for How to Sell More Books on Amazon, by Dana Lynn Smith.

I sometimes hear self-published authors comment that they don’t want to deal with Amazon because it’s too much hassle, the profit margin is too low, or they disagree with Amazon’s policies. But regardless of whether authors want to sell through Amazon, that’s where customers want to buy books.

Just how important is Amazon to book sales? According to a study by Morris Rosenthal, Amazon generated $6 billion in media sales during 2009. (Amazon’s media division includes books, ebooks, music and DVDs, but the majority comes from books and ebooks. Media sales represent a little more than half of Amazon’s total revenue.)

Rosenthal says that the second largest online bookseller, BarnesAndNoble.com, had $573 million in revenue, less than 10 percent of Amazon’s total media revenue. Barnes & Noble earned $4.3 billion in revenue through its physical (bricks and mortar) bookstores during 2009, while the struggling Borders/Waldenbooks chain had about $2.7 billion in revenue.

In addition to its dominance of online book sales, Amazon controls a significant share of the total book sales market in the U.S. According to a report from Spencer Wang at Credit Suisse, Amazon accounted for 22 percent of total book sales in 2009 (19 percent of print books and 90 percent of ebooks). According to Wang, Barnes & Noble had 17 percent of the total print book market, Borders had 10 percent, mass market and specialty retailers had 24 percent, and independent bookstores and other channels represented 30 percent.

Wang predicts that over the next few years Amazon’s share of the ebook market will fall, due to competition from Apple, B&N and Google. But he thinks Amazon’s share of print book sales will rise, giving Amazon 33 percent of the total book market by 2015.

What does all of this mean to authors and indie publishers? One of the basic rules of marketing is to make the product available whenever, wherever and however the customer wants it, and it’s clear that customers want to buy books on Amazon.

So, how do you maximize your sales and profits through this important channel?

First, it’s vital that your book be available on Amazon. There are several ways to do that and each has pros and cons in terms of effort and profit margins. My favorite method of gaining access to the Amazon sales channel is to make a book available for printing and distribution through Lightning Source, which is owned by Ingram, the largest book wholesaler in the U.S. And as ebooks continue to escalate in popularity, it’s also important to make your book available in Amazon’s Kindle store.

If you’re publishing through a subsidy publisher or you have an inventory of printed books that you need to sell, you may be able to make a higher profit than you get through your normal Amazon sales channel by selling directly to customers through the Amazon Marketplace.

The next priority is to maximize the selling power of your Amazon book page. Make sure there’s a book cover image on the page, update the book description with compelling sales copy, participate in the Look Inside program, encourage reviews, and update your personal profile and Amazon Connect author profile.

It’s also important to get as much visibility for your book as you can, to increase the odds that shoppers who are browsing or searching for books on Amazon will find your book. There are several ways to do that, including adding keyword tags to your book page, reviewing related books, and creating Listmania lists and So You’d Like To guides. With Kindle ebooks you can easily add keywords to your book data, right from your Kindle publishing page.

Be sure to take advantage of every opportunity to maximize your sales and profits in the world’s most popular bookstore.

Learn more about selling your books on Amazon with How to Sell More Books on Amazon, by book marketing coach Dana Lynn Smith. This new ebook, available in both PDF and Kindle format, outlines strategies for boosting visibility on Amazon.com, increasing sales, and improving profits. For more book marketing tips, follow @BookMarketer on Twitter and get Dana’s free Top Book Marketing Tips ebook at www.TheSavvyBookMarketer.com.

Be Sociable, Share!


  1. says

    Dear Dana,

    I would add two points. One is to make sure that your Kindle edition and print editions are linked, so that no matter however the customer finds you on Amazon, they know that there is more than one way to buy the book.

    Two, investigate what browsing categories your book shows up in. Go to the categories you think you should be in, and search for your book title. For example, for my book , Maids of Misfortune, the most important category should have been mysteries-historical but it didn’t show up until I worked with Amazon to get it there. Now when someone wants to look at a historical mystery-mine pops right up-and my sales increased dramatically!

    • says

      Great tips, Louisa. I think it may take several days for the linking between print book and ebook to happen, but if it’s not done in a week or so I would definitely contact Amazon. With the Kindle book, it’s super easy to enter categories and keywords because you can do that right from your publisher page.

    • says

      Rick, the Amazon marketing tips are suited to all types of books. But there are some differences in promoting fiction and nonfiction. For example, non-fiction buyers tend to comparison shop before choosing a book, so the Look Inside program more critical for nonfiction.


  1. […] while it is really had to find straight up and quotable sales figures, it looks like Amazon’s media [books, ebooks, music, DVDs] is 6 billion. Kindles are also on sale at stores like Target and Best Buy. How many Kindles are actually sold, […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *