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Amazon is changing the Goodreads game

A couple months ago, I tweeted:

Well, the changes are moving from mostly aesthetic, user experience enhancements to actual new features. A couple weeks ago, I got one of the usual emails from Goodreads notifying me there was a Giveaway for a book on my To Read list. That happens regularly, but when I clicked through to enter the Giveaway, I saw this:

Goodreads Kindle Giveaway

Now, if I were still blogging about fantasy basketball, this would be like the equivalent of Hassan Whiteside’s free agency decision coming up this summer (ie: a big deal to people involved in the game, but fairly meaningless to the general population). I would have been all over it, reporting it as soon as I saw the alert on my phone. But here it’s been a month since the official Goodreads blog post about it, and 2 weeks since I first got the email… It’s probably been reported all over the writing/marketing/self-publishing blogs and KBoards, but I don’t really hawk those like I used to. Plus, this way I get to provide my own, unbiased opinion and analysis. Yay?

What’s the big deal?

That little image nestled in there next to the word Format. It says Amazon Kindle.

Who cares?

Well, author’s (and publishers) have always been able to give away hard copies of books on Goodreads. It’s a great marketing tool, since Goodreads promotes the Giveaway for you on the site and there are plenty of people who enter giveaways for books in genres they like without knowing anything about the book beforehand. But creating a paperback version (even using Amazon’s Creatspace) is a lot of extra work compared to making an ebook available for Kindle.

Not only that, but giving away ebooks is a lot cheaper. Giving away a paperback (or other hard copy) costs the base price of the book (printing and shipping). For The Valkyrie Project, that means about $7 per copy given away. In contrast, the Kindle giveaway costs a fixed price of $119 and you can give away up to 100 copies. I’m not sure why you’d do less than 100 if your goal is to get copies into the hands of as many people as possible (which is usually the goal with any indie marketing effort). So obviously, that’s only $1.19 per copy – almost 6 times cheaper.

So that’s huge by itself, but I also believe that giving away ebooks on Goodreads is much more likely to yield reviews (the lifeblood of books and authors) than making the same ebook free on Amazon via KDP Select. I don’t have any actual proof, but it’s logical because people who join Goodreads do so to keep track of books they’re reading and review them. There’s really nothing else to do there. People on Amazon generally want many other things in addition to books.

And, as they point out in the blog post, when someone reviews your book on Goodreads (or even most of the time if they just add it to their To Read list), it will show up in the feed that all of their friends will then see on the site.

Once this rolls out to the general author population on Goodreads, Amazon will have provided authors with yet another fantastic marketing tool. And now is the part where you can chime in with your worries that by giving away only Kindle copies, authors and readers are locking themselves into Amazon’s platform. I am well aware that is exactly what Amazon is trying to get everyone to do. But it’s not any different from, as one of thousands of examples, Apple Music giving away 3 months free to try to get people to join that service, or Tidal music getting Kanye’s album exclusively for 2 weeks before everyone else to try to get people to join that service. I don’t want Amazon to gain a monopoly on ebook sales, for sure, but I also hope that people who worry that Amazon is going to begin acting like a monopolist and exploiting authors remember that without Amazon, there likely wouldn’t even be a market for ebooks big enough to sustain the careers of as many authors as now make a full-time living from their writing. (I’m certainly not one of them, nor do I ever think I will be, but I am happy that writers now have that option and can actually earn a comfortable living as a midlist author instead of living on ramen until striking gold and then eating only cavier)

Really, this is just another step in the evolution of Goodreads, Kindle Unlimited, and Amazon as a whole, an iterative process in which Amazon figures out (or guesses) what customers want and gives it to them. And while it may not be exactly what authors want (for example – you don’t get the contact info for winners of the Giveaway), smart authors will use it to get what they want (by putting email list signups links in their ebooks, or perhaps making note of the winners on Goodreads and following up to see if they leave reviews on the site).

Bonus New Feature

Something else Amazon/Goodreads added in May was Goodreads Deals. I’m hesitant to say that this feature will be much less important/impactful than Kindle Giveaways because I feel like it could turn out to be just as big a deal in the right circumstances (and in the perfect circumstances, even more so). But, it isn’t clear — even from the blog post aimed at authors and publishers — how books get listed as Goodreads Deals in the first place… Indie authors can’t discount prices on ebooks. They can only price their ebook relative to their paperback version to make it look like a better deal than getting the hard copy.

If the Goodreads Deal becomes something that can be sent out when an author makes use of their Kindle Countdown days on KDP Select, then it will be a useful way to contact potential readers (especially if you get a lot of people to add your book to their To Read lists by chaining it with the Giveaway feature above).

The more likely option, when beta testing is complete, is that Goodreads Deals will be similar to rental lists from sites like Bookbub or Freebooksy, where authors can apply to be part of an email blast (and probably give Amazon some money for the favor). One clear advantage that Amazon has over the other free and discount book lists is that it gets a 30 or 70% direct cut from all of the books sold, rather than just an affiliate fee. In order to appear somewhat more impartial, they do allow for deals on the other major ebook retailers, but Amazon certainly knows that they have 60-80% of the ebook market, so they can afford to include the other companies. It’s a small price to pay to please Goodreads users and continue to have the opportunity to eventually move them into the Kindle and Amazon ecosystem (through the Kindle Giveaways, of course).

monopoly

The Cheapskate’s Guide to Acquiring Audiobooks

Before I instruct on the surprisingly simple art of acquiring audiobooks in a remarkably monetarily efficient manner, let’s get 2 things out of the way.

1. This post presupposes that you don’t need to purchase a particular book at a specific time (e.g., as soon as it comes out). For example, I have 700+ books on my To Read least in Goodreads, so reading a new book by an author (even one that I really like), is not something that I generally do. I actually plan the books I’m going to read a year in advance (call this obsessive if you like, but I do allow myself to deviate from that plan. I just like to have goals and I’m a slow reader, so if it’s important to me to read a book, then I want to make sure I get to it). Okay, so if you can also wait patiently for a Twitter or Facebook or email announcement that an author or their publisher has discounted one of their books, then you’re halfway there.

2. The second prerequisite is that you prefer audiobooks to the exclusion of almost anything else. For me, this is more out of necessity than anything else. If I’m going to sit down with my iPad or my Kindle Paperwhite (or any other eReader), it’s almost certainly because I’ve got a technical or programming book that I need to (and sometimes even want to!) get through. So in order to “read” fiction books, I have to make use of times when I’m cleaning the floors, or weeding, or mowing the lawn, or even just walking to work.

Okay, so, given that you’re still reading, or skipped over that part to get to the goods… It’s really quite simple.

Cheap Audiobooks

Say, for example, that you – like me – have heard good things about Starship Eternal, so you head to Amazon to check it out…

Screenshot 2015-05-30 13.26.21

If I was in Kindle Unlimited, I could read the Kindle edition for free, so that’s probably the ultimate cheapskate way to do it. I have a “shipping only” version of Amazon Prime that I got because someone “shared” it with me, so as long as they keep paying for full Amazon Prime, I get my Prime shipping but no Amazon Instant Video nor Kindle Library nor Kindle Unlimited nor anything else. Plus, remember, I’m a slow reader who relies on audiobooks anyway, so the Kindle edition, while the cheapest option at $3.99 is going to cost me reading time on other books that don’t even have an audiobook. (Can you imagine Java 8 in Action in audiobook? Spoiler Alert: It’s not going to work.)

But the audiobook version is $26.95 (or $14.95 if you subscribe to Audible). That’s a big difference.

Luckily, there’s an easy way to close the gap…

Screenshot 2015-05-30 13.26.06

Wait – does that really say “Add Audible Narration for $2.99” when you buy the Kindle edition?

Indeed it does.

And $3.99 + $2.99 is much less than $26.95. Less than $14.95 too. In fact, it’s more than 55% off the Audible subscriber price!

And that’s really all there is to it. I’ve done it for 10 different books now and the only consequence is that I’ve got a lot of great audiobooks to read.

Here’s another even more extreme example:
Screenshot 2015-05-30 13.32.36

You can get The Winds of Khalakovo for $2.98 vs $29.95 for the Audible edition by itself.

And just to clarify, this isn’t just for author’s who are offering these books themselves (independently published). I’ve bought Perdido Street Station, Blackbirds, and No Return like this. If you go check right now, all of those are a lot more expensive, but since we’ve already assumed that you don’t need to buy one of them right now, you can wait until the author or publisher decides to throw a discount your way and then go take shameless advantage.

In Which The Physical World Manifests Itself As Annoyance

or: Where I Come Up With A Really Pretentious Sounding Title That Actually Somewhat Contradicts The Content Of The Post

So there’s a book I wanted to read. I’m not sure why, because it’s not that great a book. I think I wanted to study the magic system a bit, but now that I’m reading it, the whole magic system is just kind of… magic… The rest of the book contains many things I feel like I can learn from though, so probably still worth it… except that…

I am a cheap ass bastard and didn’t want to shell out $5.99 for (the Kindle version of) a book that I wasn’t really sure I was going to like in the first place (turns out to be a great decision in this case). But the problem with being a cheap ass bastard is that I get books from the library. Now, the library, for it’s part, has done a wonderful, remarkable job of making books available in electronic forms (both eBooks and audio downloads). This particular book, however, was not available in any electronic forms. Just paper.

Arg.

Paper.

In order to read this book while waiting for something or someone, I have to carry it around with me. I can’t just take out my phone and load up my Kindle (or other eReading) app and have it sync my location with my iPad and my actual Kindle (soon to be a Kindle Paperwhite). I can’t read it in bed at night (or in the morning since it’s still dark when I wake up in the winter). Soon I’ll have three different ways to read eBooks without any lights.

Plus, it’s just one book. The whole “read anywhere” thing is probably the most common reason that people say they love eBooks. But when you’re like me and pretty much constantly reading: 1) fiction book, 2) tech/programming book, and 3) non-fiction book, only having a single book in a form that takes up as much (or more) space and weight than a reading device that has all three options (and more) feels very encumbered.

It’s only 274 pages, so that’s a relief… But I’m not gonna lie, after this, I’m tempted to download the eBook version of any paperback books I own just to be able to read them more quickly and easily and pleasurably*. I know that’s technically illegal and I haven’t actually done it yet, so don’t come after me right now… but in those cases, I have already bought (or was given) a hard copy, so the author (and publisher) is getting their money. I’m sure if you asked the authors, they’d be happy to let me read whichever version was best for me (in fact, I’ve seen and heard a couple others say basically that when asked what the best way to buy their book is. “Buy whatever version is best for you. Then buy whatever version is best for your friends. *wink*wink* *laugh*”)

Finally, the promised contradictory message contained in the title of the post: Obviously, since I’m still using a device that exists in the physical world, then there isn’t really a way to get away from reading books in the physical world, even if the content is contained on sheets of transistors instead of sheets of paper. So really, the physical world is manifesting itself no matter how I choose to read. It’s just the paper part that’s the annoyance.

burning-book

And, scene.

* Did anyone else immediately think of a 50 Shades joke there?