Focussing your distribution

There is a saying that goes “Money begets more money, ” meaning that the more money you have, the easier it is to make even more of it. The rich get richer, because they can make more lucrative investments.

Talking to many authors over the months, I think we can also draw a parallel here to books. “Sales beget more sales” is a mantra I think most authors will agree with. The more you sell, the more your book will be recognized, the more word of mouth it will generate and the higher it climbs in recommendation- and sales charts.

I am pointing this out, because I want to make you think about your distribution strategy for a moment.

Many authors try to cover as many bases as they can. Any outlet they can get their books listed in, they will do so. The believe is that it is a way to maximize exposure and thus generate more sales. Even if a small distribution portal makes only one sale every six months, it is still a sale, right? Money in your pocket and a reader.

I had the same idea initially but changed my approach over time. I delisted my books in all outlets that do not really perform. That means, I took my books off Google, I took them off Diesel, I took them off Smashwords and a number of other more specialized outlets. For the longest time I didn’t even upload my books to Apple’s iBookstore any more either.

Instead, I am driving all my potential sales to Amazon, Barnes&Noble and Kobo these days. These three are the key players in the market. I have even stopped referring potential buyers directly to the Jason Dark website to purchase their books and instead direct them to the major three also these days.

I am sure that by now you are wondering why I would do such a thing. Surely, I must be losing sales. “No,” I say.

I am no longer diluting my sales, is what I say, and the reason is very simple. “Sales beget more sales.” I am trying to drive every sale I can to Amazon for the simple reason that every single sale made through Amazon, improves my book’s ranking. Improving the book’s ranking improves its exposure. It gets listed higher and more often and as a result I am increasing the chances of the book getting noticed and making another sale which, in turn, makes it climb higher yet, further increasing its exposure and hopefully leading to another sale, and so on. With more sales in a channel the odds of getting additional reviews climbs also, and as we all know, customer reviews are one of the most critical drivers in the entire sales game.

It is very noticeable, I think, that books that make it across a certain magic threshold, suddenly begin to climb at an accelerated pace. They have been discovered. I attribute this phenomenon entirely to the “Sales beget more sales” effect. The sales themselves are perpetuating the book’s success by generating more sales.

So, instead of allowing my book sales to get lost in a labyrinth of a vast number of channels, I am focusing my distribution to the three major players. Companies like Smashwords take pride in the fact that they give you access to many small and some premium channels, but ultimately all of that is for naught. Good luck releasing your book as an iPhone App. Now you’re not only competing with a million other authors, but with about 50 million app developers too, as if things weren’t hard enough as they are. All of that extraneous glitter that companies like Smashwords dangle in front of you is really just a sign of how unfocused they are. Instead of getting their core product – the easy one-step preparation and publishing of eBooks for authors – in shape, for years now they have been chasing down a frazzled track in my opinion. And trust me, their core product needs some serious work.

Every author I talked to in the past 16 months tells me the same story. The real money comes only from Amazon, Barnes&Noble and Kobo. Everything else is a trickle. Now, if you funnel that trickle and put it to work for you at one of the big three distributors instead, you may actually have not only those few sales, but you may generate even more by pushing your book further up the search results and rankings.

You may not agree with me, or you may simply be afraid that you might be losing that one extra sale in an obscure channel, but I hope that if nothing else, this has given you some food for thought.


22 Replies to “Focussing your distribution”

  1. Phil Bowyer

    This is awesome advice. I only sell on Smashwords (.com – no premium catalog), Amazon and B&N. I do pre-sales from my website.

    I’ve stayed away from Kobo because of their affiliation with Borders, and their elitist attitude towards self pubbed authors.

  2. Guido

    I’ve never heard of any elitist attitude towards self-pubbed authors that Kobo has. I’ve been working with them directly for well over a year and it’s been very pleasant. Unlike most of the other distributors, I have “actual” people there that I can write to or call to get answers.

  3. Daniel R. Marvello

    I think you nailed it. I reached the same conclusions for when I release my upcoming book. Amazon and B&N are it. Kobo may be a player too, but I was under the impression that you can’t submit directly to them like you can with Amazon and Pub It! I’ll have to look more closely at that I guess.

    Smashwords is an awesome concept, but the Meatgrinder is just too limiting. I may list with them for some distribution, but not expect much. I think one strategy is to optimize a Kindle and EPUB version of your book, upload directly to Amazon and Pub It!, and let Smashwords handle the rest.

    As for “sales beget sales,” I’m with you all the way. I believe that marketing is essential to get the ball rolling, but after that, it is completely up to your book. No amount of marketing makes a bestseller out of a bad book. However, a good book usually goes viral and sells well no matter how little marketing the author does after the initial push, as long as the price is fair.

  4. Guido

    I believe Kobo has limitations as to who they will work with. I know they don’t want to deal directly with every author, so you will most likely have to have a catalog to get their attention.

  5. A.J.Abbiati

    Hey Guido,

    Interesting advice. For me, I’m not sure the micro-trickle I’m getting on Smashwords would give my Amazon and B&N trickle a bump, but I get the premise and will keep it in mind. I’m not a fan of the meatgrinder at all… So limiting compared to the excellent job you can do formatting your own epub or mobi directly (using your guide, of course).

    Right now, my biggest problem is my day job, which has kept me from writing for over two weeks now. if only I was independently wealthy….


  6. Tyson Adams

    I agree with your points. But when is the cutoff? If your book has limited distrubution (not everyone shops at Amazon) then is there a point when your sales ranking is good enough to branch out? Essentially take the success and expand it into new markets?

    Cheers, Tyson.

  7. Guido

    I’m not sure if there ever is a cut-off. Once you have reached critical mass and the title takes off you probably wouldn’t have to worry about it any more, but then, why switch at that time? You’re not going to get any more readers. Those are not really new markets.

    While not everyone buys at Amazon, no one buys at Smashwords. Why ever should they? When people buy books they look at bookstores – Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Borders/Kobo. No one goes on the web and says, “Okay let me see what really cool new books gave been released” and then goes to Smashwords.

    The reason all those many little distribution outlets don’t generate any sales is because there are better, bigger and more trusted stores. Just by example, I make 99% of all my online purchases at Amazon. If Amazon has it, I buy it there. I won’t even look if anyone else carries the item, and I think a lot of people are like that. It is just faster and more convenient that way as a consumer.

  8. Joseph D'Agnese

    So what is the deal with Apple? I thought they sold a gazillion iPads and everyone covets one. But are sales through them not really happening for authors?

  9. Guido

    Apple did sell a gazillion iPads but people either don’t read on them or – what I think is more likely – they do not use Apple’s iBookstore to get books. The iBookstore is so ridiculously minimalistic that it is virtually useless. Unless you know exactly what you are looking for you don’t find anything there. The search engine is so basic it doesn’t even look up for tags or contexts. All it does is look up book titles and author names. So, I suspect that a lot people who read on the iPad are using the Kindle app – which is what I’m doing – because again, when I am looking for books I usually look at Amazon and not at some second or third tier distribution portal.

  10. Eric

    I think that what you are trying to do is create a “critical mass” at the major 3 sales site. Your logic makes perfect sense and it should be interesting to see how that works. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and ideas with the rest of us.

  11. Todd Russell

    If a reader’s favorite site is Diesel, for example, and s/he enjoys the advantages that site offers (their Reward program) by shopping there then your admission of “only” wanting to deal with the top three is snubbing their preferred store.

    Sorry, Guido, I’m not agreeing with this line of thinking, but good luck if it works for you 🙂

  12. Guido

    Nothing wrong with disagreeing with me. Everyone has to do what they feel works best for them, of course. My write-up was really designed only to make people at least stop and think about it for a moment.

  13. Phantomimic

    I think you have a point. I was planning to publish my first e-book on as many platforms as possible but if I spread my marketing efforts and dilute my sales I will be not be benefiting from that “spike”. I think you are right.

    However, after some time has elapsed and it is obvious, even after price changes and promotion, that your book will not sell anymore like it used to, it may make sense to place it in other platforms.

    Just a thought.


  14. Guido

    If your sales slow down I don’t think it is reasonable to expect it will suddenly pick up in those marginal channels. Especially when your sales slow down and every single sale counts, because it can catapult you up 60,000 ranks on Amazon, it becomes more and more important to focus those sales on individual channels.

  15. David Gaughran


    I found this post very interesting. I agree with your idea of focusing your sales on your big channels.

    However, there is no reason why you can’t focus your promotional efforts on the big channels, and remain listed on the rest to pick up any stragglers.

    In all my mailshots, tweets, blog posts, forum posts etc I only provide links to my two biggest channels. That focuses my sales. However, I can still list in the other places.

    If someone is on Diesel, and your book isn’t there, they won’t even know about it. It’s not like they will then head off to Amazon.

    One final thing you might consider. International customers.

    Customers outside of USA, Ireland, Australia, Canada, UK, and the Amazon Germany countries get hit with a $2 surcharge on every single e-book. B&N don’t even let international customers purchase there.

    I send all those guys to Smashwords. That’s 5% of my sales and growing (and will grow a lot more as the international e-book market does).

    Plus for my 99c titles, I get 56c a copy, so it’s actually 8% of my revenue. That’s not nothing. And I would lose all that if I didn’t list there.

    I hate the meatgrinder as much as anyone, but I will put up with it for 8% (and growing) of my revenue.

    I need to go through Smashwords to get to B&N anyway (I am international).


  16. Guido

    This is an argument hear a lot, but honestly, I do not believe there are people who buy exclusively at Diesel or other third-tier bookstores. It makes absolutely no sense because their selection is so limited. If someone says I buy exclusively at Amazon, yes, I get that, because they carry everything, but Diesel or or Drive-Through or something like that? Sorry, no, I don’t buy that argument, personally, though I can see how others may think that way.

  17. David Barron

    Because of the sorely lacking “Meatgrinder”, I only use Smashwords for short story distribution and go direct to the “Big 3” with collections and books. Aesthetically, no big worries about the layout for a short story; Economically, at a buck a story, 60% is better than 35% (and I copy/agree what David Gaughran says, regarding Int’l Customers); Promotionally, widely spread stories drive customers to the (cash-cow?) collections and books available on the main sites.

    As you say, Smashwords needs to focus on their core product before I can trust them with books.

  18. Matt Bone

    Very interesting angle, Guido, I haven’t thought of it this way before. I agree with the main thrust of focusing your efforts on a smaller group of sellers, though personally I’d still leave my books on the rest. As David Gaughran says above, there’s advantages to having other options for your customers (especially as I’m a UK writer and similarly can only get on B&N via Smashwords).

  19. Michael R. Hicks

    Guido –

    I’m going to play a bit of devil’s advocate here, just for fun! 🙂

    To me, there are two distinct issues here: distribution and promotion. I completely agree that it makes the most sense to focus your promotion efforts on your biggest-selling channels, and for me that’s primarily Amazon.

    However, I disagree that one shouldn’t distribute to a wider array of channels, which for me is via Smashwords. Why? Because it doesn’t cost me any extra time beyond initially adding the books to Smashwords (Meatgrinder issues aside for the moment), and every sale I happen to pick up through those secondary channels is still money in my pocket. The vast majority of what I’m making is coming through Amazon’s Kindle store, but I’m certainly not going to turn away the money coming through the pipeline from the other channels (oddly enough, I’ve been making more sales through Apple than B&N – go figure!). Over time, that can add up to a considerable amount.

    I also don’t agree with the dilution theory. I suspect that most readers have a primary retail venue and tend to stick with it. For example, most Kindle users are going to buy from Amazon, most Nook uses from B&N, etc. Limiting your distribution isn’t going to affect that, although focusing your promotion efforts certainly will.

    I don’t spend much effort promoting for the secondary channels, but for those readers who frequent those venues, my books are there for them to buy (and more folks are hearing about my books through promotional efforts directed at Amazon Kindle readers, for example, and then go to look for my books at their favorite outlet, like Kobo, etc.).

  20. Guido

    You’re making a very good point there, regarding the separation of distribution and promotion. It is not like one couldn’t work without the other. I see where you’re getting at.

  21. Carradee

    I’ve tried a few e-book vendors, through the years, but now I buy exclusively from Smashwords. I have to want an e-book BADLY to buy it elsewhere—and even then, I can’t buy on Amazon. I have no way to use any of the Kindle Reader apps; my computer’s an old PowerPC Mac, and the app requires an Intel processor.

    I see your point about limiting distribution possibly making it easier to increase rankings in those particular venues, but I also agree with Michael Hicks about folks having a particular venue of choice. So I’m not convinced that you’re right.

    Even if you are correct, and limited distribution makes it easier to reach the self-sustaining sales threshold, once you reach that threshold, you’re limiting potential sales, because you can’t reach that threshold in venues where you don’t distribute.

  22. Daniel Coleman

    Definitely some food for thought, Guido. And some very insightful comments as well. Currently I have 3 books in 2 genres spread over who-knows-how-many distributors. For promotion, I definitely think funneling is important, but I’ll have to consider the distribution issue.

    One distribution form I have given up on is paperbacks. I know it’s slightly off topic, but when I look at the Money and Effort In vs Results, paperbacks are a money sink.

    Thanks for giving me something to think about!

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